Skip links

View From a Height

Photo by Carl Solder on Unsplash

Most of the blog posts here begin with a topic that interests me – something in the news, or something I saw on the street, or a good old photo – that I then write about. Today…that photo deserves to be spread around, so I’ll find something to say about it.

First, orientation. Mr. Solder was, in 2018, on the observation deck of the Empire State Building facing downtown (i.e., nominally south). The Hudson River is on the right, and the East River is slightly less visible on the left. You can see Ellis and Liberty Islands in the Hudson, to the right of the tallest building downtown, the new One World Trade Center. The suspension bridge in the far distance is the VerrazzanoNarrows, at the entrance to the harbor.

New Yorkers have been practicing density for a long time, and I feel like this photo captures that well. Even the low-rise areas are pretty thoroughly built up.

Finally, there’s a certain level of distortion here. The downtown cluster of skyscrapers is miles from midtown south, where our view is based, even though it doesn’t really look like it. One World Trade is just about three miles from the Empire State, for example. The combination of our height, the towers in the distance, and a shallow angle of view are probably the reason that the relatively low-rise areas of Flatiron, Greenwich Village, SoHo, and TriBeCa are visually compressed. To put things in perspective, 3 miles is a little under 16,000 feet, and the Empire State observation deck is a bit over 1000 feet above grade.