Sunday, October 28, 2012

New York, New York

Well it's been a rather busy week in New York. Although next week might be very quiet, with an impending hurricane likely to keep everyone working from home.

When I arrived I experienced the frustration of having to wait behind all the Chinese passengers who took over 5 minutes each to clear immigration, whereas when i finally got to the front, I took less than a minute. But that was soon forgotten as I spent some time re-exploring Manhattan with all it's incredible buildings, neighborhoods, eateries and diverse people. So far I've eaten at two Cuban restaurants, a Venezuelan restaurant and a German restaurant. I've managed to wonder around the East Village, the West Village and other bits in between; crossed the Brooklyn Bridge; experienced a not very thrilling walking tour of the Upper East Side; run all round and through Central Park (it's big - the run took longer than expected); run around the lower half of Manhattan; and spend some enjoyable time with some friends here.

It was interesting to finally check out the High Line, an old railway track turned into a public path, which I had read a great deal about. And it is very nice. It was certainly an expensive undertaking but it has been well executed and is incredibly popular. There's not much green space in Manhattan aside from Central Park so it's certainly welcome. All the runners and cyclists tend to hit the paths along the river, whilst the families take to the High Line. And in Central Park they all collide, making a very big park very crowded--especially at Halloween--as I found. I pity the cyclists and runners that choose a Sunday afternoon to exercise. Fortunately I'd gone running there early in the morning, and walking there on a weekday afternoon, when it was not too crowded. I also encountered a cute little haunted house put on the by the Park staff.

Last weekend I managed to tick a few things off my list. First was a visit tot he 9/11 Memorial (though the museum is not open yet) which is basically two large holes/waterfalls the size of (and in the location of) the old World Trace Center Towers 1 and 2. Nicely done as a memorial, but I'd not really want to work around that area and be constantly reminded of what happened. The memorial is so stark. It's not like a small fountain that could represent anything. I managed to spend some time in Whole Foods, a well-known grocery store that focuses on healthy, organic, and sustainable food. It's a wonderful shopping experience and they do sell great products. It's a bit like M&S but better, and more expensive! I believe there are a couple in London now too. I also managed to find a Chipotle, not yet in London but a copy of which recently opened in Beijing, which is a Burrito place that sells fast food but also sustainable sourced food. Again, my kind of thing since it's what i do for a living.

And I indeed spent 5 days in meetings, workshops and conferences, along with a thousand other people who work on making businesses more sustainable. There were some highlights, and many of these are on the BSR youtube page. Platon, a British Photographer with an excellent sense of humor and some incredible portrait photos; Jeff Jarvis with some thoughtful words on transparency and publicness in the internet age; the CEO of M&S talking about sustainable consumption and engaging consumers; and many others in between. It was as good as the conference last year in San Francisco and similarly nice to spend time with colleagues who we only normally communicate with by phone or email. There is no substitution for human to human interaction, especially when there's beer involved, or a German band playing covers of pop music!

It's funny how it's not just what you see or hear that helps you understand a city, but it's also what you don't see or hear. And comparing London and New York with Beijing, there are certain things you just don't see or hear: ambulances, fire engines or (active) police cars for example. I always knew crime was low in Beijing, but i hadn't really thought about the number of medical emergencies or fires. It seems the Chinese are not as careless, or not used to using emergency services. You certainly see police cars all over China, but normally parked and rarely in a hurry to go somewhere and sort out anything other than yet another minor traffic accident as some idiot decided to cut across three lanes at the last minute, or reverse on a highway after missing an exit.

You also don't see anyone doing any exercise in China: on the streets or in parks, or anywhere. There are the odd sports grounds, but they are rare. Maybe a few gyms for individual exercising or indoor badminton. Not many people outside playing any outdoor team sports. And though Chinese parks are not designed for sports at all, even in the couple with paths and grass, there's not much active exercising going on. It's not that New Yorkers or Londoners are the healthiest people in the world by any means, but clearly there is a sizable (yet small percentage-wise) proportion of the populations that you do see, in certain places out and exercising. Would it make a big difference if China had more convenient spaces for exercising? I'm not sure. My canal in Beijing is perfect for running alongside and I've rarely seen anyone every using it for anything apart from fishing. It's really only left to the kids to run around in communities, the elderly to stretch and do exercises, and to a few youngsters to grab one of the very few basketball courts (which you usually have to pay to rent) to play in.

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