Hanging Out

Hosted by

This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

I spent the last few days in New York, mixing business meetings with enjoyment of Manhattan’s cityscape.

When I travel, I find myself making silent comparisons to Los Angeles.

When that contrast is with New York, I usually end up more convinced than ever that the cities are such intrinsically different places that any attempt to think of them as similar is kind of lame.

It was no different this time.

No matter how crowded L.A. becomes, or how criss-crossed with subways and street cars it may get in the latter half of this century, it will never truly be a compact, walkable, taxi-and-transit city.

The scale is all off for that. New Yorkers wouldn’t walk either if the major avenues were a half-mile apart, the hip  neighborhoods 45 minutes away.

The skeletons of LA and New York come from different species, and yay for that – it’s essential to what makes them both such great cities.

One way in which New York has the advantage is in one of my favorite city activities. That’s the activity of just hanging out, in public, sipping coffee or talking with friends or meeting someone new. Just watching the city live and breathe, part of the organism.

The 5th Avenue steps at the Metropolitan Museum are New York’s world-class venue for soaking it all in. And this Saturday, the steps were filled with, as usual, with young lovers and toddlers, grandparents and tourists, students of all kinds, and from all around the world.

The sculpture garden at the Museum of Modern Art is quiet and serene in comparison, but almost awe-inspring in the urban sensation you get from looking up at the forest of architecture styles that surrounds you.

Even Rockefeller Center can have a certain charm on a warm day, if the tourist throngs aren’t too overwhelming.

But it’s the newest addition to the menu of hang out options in Manhattan that offers the most drama -- and the most contrast to L.A.

The High Line, as you probably have heard by now, is an elevated park built on the right of way for a freight railway that ran along the western edge of Greenwich Village and Chelsea from the 1930s to 1980.

I had heard that much about it, and seen a few photographs. But in person the setting is much more alluring than I’d expected, especially at the hour I visited, just before dusk.

The High Line weaves among old industrial blocks, thirty feet in the air – the skyline and audible buzz of Manhattan on one side of you, the Hudson River and New Jersey on the other.

Beds of wildflowers, grasses and herbs make it an aerial garden – and every place there’s a dramatic perspective, there are chairs or a bench for just hanging out.

Spending time is expected and invited, not discouraged.

There’s no place in L.A. with an equally powerful combination of authenticity and accessibility.

The new, created environments all have drawbacks – the Getty has the power of a grand setting, but lacks immersion in the life of Los Angeles.

Maybe, if it’s well done, the park being discussed for over the Hollywood Freeway could achieve special status. But I won’t be holding my breath for that.

Where do you like to hang out? Stop by the LA Observed page at KCRW.com and tell us.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.