Fourth of July
Fireworks and real estate
Next Thursday in Brooklyn (7/13) I’ll be on a panel at an event called The Taste Economy, talking about worldbuilding with some great people who know a lot more about that topic than I do! Details here. It’s hosted by Dirt, where I’ve contributed several pieces in the last year. If you’re in town, come check it out!
New York, already a city characterized by verticality, stretches out its third dimension on July 4th when the sunset incites a collective scramble to get in position for watching the fireworks, which go off above the East River a little after 9 pm. Suddenly everyone is looking up—a surprisingly rare occurrence in everyday NYC life, considering how much there is to see above eye level. The multitude of available sight lines mapped to potential viewing locations—on the ground and up in buildings—produce an alternate spatial experience of the city, more purely geometric, that only lasts as long as that perspective’s brief period of necessity. Once the fireworks end and the smoke begins to clear, everyone reverts to their humdrum surface-bound existence.
Deciding where to watch the fireworks is a revealing exercise. For an event that is theoretically as public as possible, happening in the sky above a city of millions, access to the firework-viewing experience is surprisingly variable in quality. The sky isn’t really the problem; the constraints are on the ground. The best vantage point for firework watching, unsurprisingly, is a friend’s balcony or rooftop (the higher up the better) and a private space is better than a shared area. Luxury high rise apartment buildings have proliferated in the last decade along the Brooklyn/Queens side of the East River—the area closest to where the barges shoot the fireworks off—and those buildings have multiplied the availability and quality of close-up residential firework viewing while physically blocking previously existing views throughout the rest of the neighborhood. Williamsburg and Greenpoint are full of public and private places that used to be ideal for watching 4th of July fireworks but no longer are. This ongoing arms race in which big-city residential views are superseded by successively larger buildings is a familiar phenomenon whose effects are felt year-round, but 4th of July fireworks, again, are a moment when everyone has to think about something that usually only affects a smaller group.