Admiring the pretty lady

There are places and wonders in life that, if lucky, people get to experience. Such was the case for us a week ago, riding around the harbour in New York City.

We were there on business, learning about the latest innovations for digital communication, specifically internet-related advertising opportunities. That information can be shared another time. This week it’s all about the lady.

An eccentric math professor turned night-time bus tour host provided an excellent tour of the main attractions. He was able to rhyme off facts with the precision of a drill sergeant barking out orders. What really caught our attention was that some 130 million Americans can trace through their heritage to find a relative who came to the United States of America via Ellis Island. They, too, would have seen the Statue of Liberty on arrival.

Boats are not typically a compatible mode of transportation with our DNA, but for one night and one hour, we were able to bob along looking at the sights. The enormity of the World Trade Centre footprint, lights that rival the Hong Kong skyline at night, various neighbourhoods and districts were quite awe inspiring. But the lady – she was impressive.

She was a gift from France in 1886 to commemorate the independence of the United States. Texans, Canadians, Australians, Chileans, and British travelling with us on the water taxi all stepped up for a photo with Lady Liberty in the background.

Close to that site was Ellis Island, the point of entry for immigrants. Most were granted admission while the unlucky and unhealthy were sent back from where they came. A rail system, complete with numerous loading platforms, would strike off from there to points west, south, and north. What awaited them in their new home was a chance at the American dream.

A few points of interest were the tenements that housed primarily Irish, Chinese, and Italian immigrants at various times and decades.

The buildings, poorly lit and many without indoor sanitary services, highlighted the plight of families trying to start fresh in a new land. A nagging statistic, if we heard it correctly, was an infant mortality rate of 53%. Regardless of its accuracy, one can only imagine the heartache of those times when children had a 50-50 chance of survival.

Hollywood has done its share of movies chronicling those times, where gangs were so prevalent and so ruthless that the constabulary would not even enter certain neighbourhoods for fear of their life. Those were times of survival, where the will to live superseded a civilized society.

Our guide that evening lamented his youth, when Times Square was a dismal bordello of violence and turmoil. Today, the Square represents a tourist attraction of lights and sounds – and is as safe as we consider downtowns in this country to be.

The number five caught our interest too. Five storey buildings were an attractive height in the early 1900s. Some were prefabricated cast iron structures, which inevitably were replaced by steel skeletal structures. We have always thought of three storeys as a very pleasing height in this country, and wonder why local planning permits the erection of single storey facilities, devoid of upper floor rental opportunities.

Necessity still rules as a key ingredient of innovation; New Yorkers had to grow upward due to their limited footprint in Manhattan.

Luckily, Central Park still remains a jewel within the city. Its enormity and presence was highlighted from atop the Rockefeller Centre where looking out, the park was little more than a dark sea surrounded by a city of light. How odd that today, we have so little insight as to invest in natural areas within urban centres to benefit future generations.

Certainly the photos taken will form part of the family history we hope to share with the kids. The Statue of Liberty will be an important part of that trip. With more good luck, the girls will get a chance some day to experience it for themselves and we hope to be there to see that look of endearment shared by those on our boat that night.

Although Lady Liberty’s roots are French and American, the notion of freedom, and ultimately opportunity, remains one of the most sought after commodities around the globe today.