Saturday, August 9, 2008

Union square, a center for urban energy and youth

Union square, is a vibrant melting pot of urban energy and youth in the city of melting pots. Its a small park between 14th and 16th streets and university place and park av. All around are shopping centers from whole foods, barnes and noble, urban outfitters to starbucks.

But what makes union square a real center of city pop culture, urban kitsch is its youthful energy, year round. No matter when one lands up there, there is a always people sitting along the open plaza with steps leading in the park. In the summer, specially, the place is a buzz till late , late in the night.

You can see them all - single person strong anti-war protesters, to environmentalists to artists selling there wares. Throngs of college kids or late 20s , early 30s type gather here to do their own form of expression. Music rules here - not uncommon to see varied performances by single artisists or groups of them .

Just take tonight for an example. It was like 12.15 am and i got off the union sq station to head home in stuy town. The weather has been exceptional today and a gentle breeze uplifted my spirits (had just watch the latest Mummy movie which was really bad ).

I stopped by at union sq steps. A large gathering had come together in the center. It was an impromptu rap gig that was going on with some 5-6 dozens of kids rapping away to glory with a DJ giving them ample sound effects. It was pretty awesome - the music was really original and spontaneous.

A side group , of 10-12 were doing their own rap jam - a sort of continuous jam session but as rap. They had a guy who was play the mridangam (an indian drum). This group was really creative with each of the 5 rappers really going after one another (the topic was porn !)
I hung around for 10-15 minutes. Nearby bunch of kids were ploughing there skating boards and trying all sorts of antics. But the coolest dudes were the ones on BMX bikes (see above)- they had setup some barriers and each biker was taking turns at doing jumps over the barriers - twisting and turning and zipping through the air as they did their jumps!

It all reminded me of the carefree abandon of college days in india. In med school we would stay awake till 3-4 am and spent all the time playing cricket inside the dorms or carrom or chess with endless round of tea and eggs wrapped in buns would be served by the local canteen staff. It wasnt too long ago , but it wasnt yesterday too (some like 10-12 yrs ago).

Ofcourse, there is no local canteen guy serving, indian style tea (chai) - but the spirit and the energy is the same. As i walk past the park and head home, i see curious onlookers trying to decipher the running digits on the huge wall next to the regal cinemas - you may have noticed it too . Its the metronome and after a long time i finally figures that the numbers show the current time (running left to right ) and the time remaining in the rest of the day (from right to left). I save them the trouble and offer to explain the numbers.

And as the hustle and bustle of union square recedes, i wonder what Gandhi would have said about all the youthful energy and expression (yes, Gandhi's statue is set in the south west corner of the park).

I m sure he would have approved of these youth who have made union square a symbol of social and political activism and cultural definition. Perhaps, one day, i could get a new york film academy (located on the north eastern part of the park) grad student to do a documentary on this urban mecca!

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