John's Reviews > Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan

Waterfront by Phillip Lopate
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Jan 01, 09

bookshelves: travel-regional, nyc-lit
Read in June, 2005

I taught this book during the summer of 2005 as the anchor text of a content-based ESL curriculum at CUNY entitled “Stories of the City, Stories of the Sea” – it was sort of an examination of how water shapes New York Cit, literally and figuratively. First off, I should say that this is not an ideal ESL text – the narrative is too digressive, the sentences are too complex, and his style could never be translated into 5-paragraph-essay format (which, truth be told, is all most of the student want to learn in order to pass the CUNY entrance exams).

That said, it’s a highly entertaining, well-researched work organized around Lopate’s own walking journey around the periphery of Manhattan island. He fills tales of his own adventures with historical and literary anecdotes, giving the entire waterfront a mythic grandeur. I know much of the area he’s transversed, but many of them felt new to me from his takes. Others, like his descriptions of the Fulton Fish Market, are sadly already history as the market was moved to the Bronx at the end of 2005 to make downtown area more tourist-friendly. (One of my students that summer, an Israeli named Kobi, spent the entire summer going to the market at night once he heard it was to be closed; he said it was one of the last great things about New York)

You can tell he’s the brother of an NPR commentator (Leonard Lopate), but he has enough spunk and a few breaks from standard liberal party-line analysis to make for a dynamic read. For example, he has a chapter entitled “Robert Moses: A Revisionist Take” where he reassesses New Yorkers’ and his own ingrained hostility toward the much-reviled Moses, shaped mostly by his attachment to Jane Jacobs’ pedestrian utopian ideals and his reading of The Power Broker. It didn’t change my mind about Moses, but it made for some interesting reading.
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