City Skies

At some time in 1880’s urbanites in a few cities across the world each made real estate deals with the sky. Essentially the terms of the deals went something like this: “You let us build massive and towering buildings deep into your side of the horizon-line and we, in turn, will give up all rights to a decent view of you.” The sky, being a generally aloof sort, didn’t deign to protest.

By the 1930’s many more cities followed, striking similar bargains with the sky.

“We’ll give up all sense of natural scale if you allow us to build.”

“We’ll sacrifice our conception of a horizon-line.”

“We’ll part with our view of the sun-set and sun-rise.”

“We’ll depend on others, with a better vantage point, to tell us where the
clouds are, what they’re up to, and where they’re going.”

“We’ll eschew use of the stars and depend on technology to tell us where
we are and where we’re going.”

“We’ll stop gawking and staring at you all the time.”


New York, being the shrewd merchant city that its always been, gobbled up more sky real-estate, quicker, and with more gusto, than just about anyone else. The sky had plenty of space after all, more than the pigeons and house sparrows need to stretch their wings, and we needed somewhere to put our chandeliers and ceiling fans, so it was a sort of “infest-destiny” that we colonize the sky.

Over time we developed so much of that once empty air that today you can hardly stand anywhere, on any street, and see more than a small, jagged, puzzle-piece of sky. The electric lights wash out the stars and the sun is something sensed or seen in reflection. Truth is most of us don’t even bother to look up. “We live and work in the sky, we don’t gape at it. Snort!”

For those of you who live in areas where atmospheric zoning-laws are more strict, and who look out your windows everyday to see vast horizons and giant skies, let me walk you through a day of our metropolitan skies:


A Bright Sunny Day


A Clear Starry Night

I’ve blacked-out the buildings to accentuate the actual sky quotient of each scene. Admittedly there is something cool about these odd “bolts” of sky in this context, (they remind me of Clyfford Still paintings, which “me likey” very much indeed) but I can’t help but wonder what does this sky deprivation do to the human brain? What is the effect of having no horizon? (other than, in the lack of sunset to ride off into, discouraging a heavy cowboy population.) What effects do the tightly packed high walls and lack of spacial depth do to our outlook? 

I love my city and applaud our audacious sky-conquering forbearers. The stacking of people has allowed for the mind-expansion part and parcel to a melting pot. It wouldn’t have been possible any other way. Never the less, setting the questionable psychological effects aside, I feel I need to point out one bit of possible shortsightedness in the upward expansion model-

Namely the totally crappy view we’ll have of possibly momentous events in human history! If anything of importance happens in the sky, we shlubs on the ground won’t be able to see jack-shit! I’m not talking about events as piddling as Forth of July fireworks, which, in the city are inevitably best viewed like:


I’m talking about potentially earth-shattering stuff here! For instance? Well:

How will the Fundamentalist Christians living in New York feel when the Apocalypse comes and, looking up, they can’t even get a decent view of the boiling sky or of all four horsemen at once?! Maybe two-and-a-quarter horsemen… a hoof here, a bloody scythe there? That would seriously suck for them wouldn’t it? All that effort to destroy the world and they can’t even enjoy the show?!

What would happen if one day Lucy actually did show up in the sky with diamonds? All those folks south of the border would be laying on top of their one-story shacks, smoking their legal fatties, enjoying the show of their lives! And what about us? We’d all get cheated out of some seriously groovy shit that’s what. And that poor Lennon-wannabe who plays Beatles songs on an acoustic guitar at the entrance to strawberry fields everyday… What about him? He’d miss everything and pull out his precious hair and weep like an 8 year old girl beneath his little round glasses! So sad.

What if God decided one day to finally stop being all coy and sneaky and annoying and actually made an appearance? What If he parted the clouds and stuck his big, fat, crowned head out for all to see? And what if on hearing his booming “Howdy y’all” you craned your neck, and looked up, intent on finally peering into the face of the almighty, only to have your view blocked by the Flatiron building?!  Fuck!

What happens when the anxiously awaited Mothership Connection is finally made? All those folks in New mexico will be getting beamed-up and probed all night long and us metropolitan folks will get shafted. We’ll be lucky to catch a glimpse of Muddbone’s silver platform boots before they all turn off the smoke machines, pack up their equipment, and take off. Mutha-humpers.

What if eventually any of the baker’s dozen of Republican pies-in-the-sky actually descend out of the thermosphere and come down close enough to earth to be visible with the human eye? What if it descends low enough for average folks to get a good hard look at it? What if… nah.

What happens when the ozone layer burns off completely and magnetosphere activity lights-up whole swaths of the night sky with gorgeous auroras? New Yorker’s will enjoy deep nostrils full of delicious methane, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides; we will be caressed by the velvety hand of massive levels of ultraviolet radiation; but even those of us whose eyeballs weren’t clouded with cataracts like grape-skin wouldn’t get to see much dancing light. We’d get screwed out of enjoying the Aurora Manhattanales that’s what would happen.

I could also mention how crappy a view we urbanites would have of the great big beautiful sun after it went Red Giant, turning into human char-broil without even getting any decent photo-ops for our trouble, but I’m confident we won’t be around long enough to bitch about that one.

I suspect the city officials have intuited this shortcoming for a long time, they were no dummies after all.

An example: Seems that way back in ‘37 there was talk of launching the Hindenburg out of Manhattan. Mysteriously, at the last minute, the Mayor and his inner circle scrapped the plan and the flight was switched to taking off from the Frankfurt airfield. I suppose they knew that a view like this:

just wouldn’t have made as cool an album cover.

Point is as great as the city is, as clever as our upward expansion has been, as majestic as our buildings are, our relationship to the sky and it’s goings on are forever compromised. How this ultimately effects us as humans I have no idea but as a New Yorker I can only hope nothing worth seeing ever happens up there. 

05.15. filed under: !. history. life. observations. 3