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The People, Place and the Pictures

By Katrina Bernhardt


While local residents can experience the breathtaking view of the Lower Manhattan skyline from sunrise to sunset each day, tourists, from faraway places like the Netherlands to areas as close as upstate New York, set aside time on their trips to spend a few hours down on the Brooklyn Promenade and in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Why come to the Brooklyn Promenade or Brooklyn Bridge Park? What’s so important about this particular destination during a trip to New York City?

For a family of four from the Netherlands, who chose to stay in Brooklyn during their trip to New York City, the skyline of Manhattan is a universal icon of New York. The opportunity to get pictures of it from a perfect viewing point drew them to the Promenade. After arriving on a Saturday night and taking a short walk around the historic neighborhood, on Sunday morning in October 2014, they were up on the Brooklyn Promenade capturing the iconic view of the downtown Manhattan skyline. When asked what they were taking pictures of, the mother responded, “the three of us with the skyline.” She further explained that she took the pictures of the skyline “because it’s so iconic, it’s why everyone comes here to see it.” The importance of their visit to the Promenade was primarily for the iconic pictures they had seen before, and were eager to get and experience the view firsthand. I curiously inquired after that, “what’s so important about capturing it for yourself?” There are tons of pictures online, so why take any of your own (of just the skyline)? She smiled and said, “the pictures you like most are always the pictures you take yourself.”[1]

Taking pictures was also important to a couple from London, England, who made the Brooklyn waterfront one of their first stops on the trip to New York this year. When asked what brought them to Brooklyn Bridge Park, they easily replied, “tourbooks,” and she told me how “it says that this is a good view to sort of see the skyline from a different point of view; so that’s why we’ve come down here, just to see the skyline from this side.” Certainly, the view captures all of downtown Manhattan in one frame, but the pictures they took of each other were, specifically “with the Freedom Tower in the background.” Their pictures were for the memories, “how it’s changed, and to show family.”[2] A Boston couple, visiting friends in New York City, wanted their own pictures for the same reasons, to capture the memories and have the pictures to remember where they’ve been and what they’ve seen.[3]

In addition, a few women from Argentina felt it was important to come down to Brooklyn Bridge Park because they “have seen it many times in movies, and it’s a very famous image of the city,” and they “heard there’s a good view of the skyline, and the Brooklyn Bridge, and this Promenade.” They took many pictures both of themselves with the backgrounds of New York and of just the New York icons, including ones of the Brooklyn Bridge , the Manhattan Bridge, the whole view, the skyline, and the Statue of Liberty. One woman expressed that, for her, “it’s important to remember where [she has] been, and to look at the picture, and say, ‘Oh, I’ve been here.’”[4]

Having the tangible memories has proven to be important for many, as a man with his family from France also supported, sitting on a bench on the Brooklyn Promenade facing the Manhattan skyline. Obtaining personal pictures of the skyline and with the skyline, and seeing icons of New York from the media and guidebooks are main focuses and high priorities for most tourists, and even locals. This demonstrates that major sources of the high rates of tourism in New York City, and, in this case, Brooklyn Heights, are the universal media and guidebooks that promote them.

After having been in New York for five days on their first trip, a man and his mother from Brazil, came down to Brooklyn Bridge Park, and while she sat gazing at the Manhattan skyline, the was closely drawing out the silhouette line of the skyline in a notebook. When asked what brings them to Brooklyn, she responded and he translated that they want “to get to know the city; it’s a part of New York.” They wanted to “see the skyline, Manhattan, from this part…it’s a good view. And also the bridge; that is very famous.” I asked what the importance of seeing it all together from that spot in Brooklyn is, and he gave a perfect response that, I think, hits the nail right on the head.

"When you think of New York, we usually picture only Manhattan, and 5th Avenue, and Central Park, et cetera, but New York is so much bigger than all that. There’s Brooklyn; there’s the Bronx; there’s, you know, a whole lot of places that are so different and so rich, so culturally fulfilling. And for me, coming to Brooklyn, to this older part of the city, you know, it’s kind of very nice, because you get to know all the lifestyle. It’s more quiet here, so I think you can really appreciate what New York has to offer, apart from all the craziness of the center."[5]

Brooklyn Heights offers this calmer and quieter place to see New York City, and view the skyline as a whole. The viewing platforms in Brooklyn Heights, namely the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and the Brooklyn Bridge Park, give people a wholesome view of Lower Manhattan and some of the major icons of New York City. In fact, the skyline itself is a major icon because it is a collection of city structures that displays this rich culture and history of New York City. Beyond the loud, busy inner workings of the city that he mentioned, he finds peace in viewing the skyline of the city from an outside perspective in Brooklyn Heights. Perhaps it is this same sentiment, in addition to the popular appeal for pictures of the skyline, which draws many out of the crowded, central borough to the Brooklyn Heights waterfront.


Beyond the bustling streets of crowds and bright lights within the city, the skyline sums up the history of the city. While the distractions within the busy city can take away from the cultures, symbols, and history that lie deep within it, several different tourists viewing the skyline pointed out that the old, historic buildings, such as the recognizable Woolworth Building and nearby courthouse, contrasted with the new, modern architecture, such as the Freedom Tower and Frank Gehry’s skyscraper at 8 Spruce Street, scattered throughout the skyline. A man from Colombia commented that he really likes the downtown area because it has a great mix of old and modern architecture. It has representations of the past and present that, he thinks, work well together.[6] This accumulation of buildings over the centuries, and the demolition and rebuilding on various plots of land throughout Manhattan, are evident in the skyline. Spotted throughout the downtown Manhattan skyline view from Brooklyn Heights are buildings from various time periods that illustrate the changes in architecture, style, and the culture of New York over time.

A local Brooklyn Heights resident disagreed with the purely positive outlook of the Brazilian tourist that the skyline is beautiful with all of the different buildings juxtaposed in the skyline view. He claims that “the New York skyline is not a nice skyline. It is a story. It is the story of the different periods of growth, and even if you look at the Rockefeller Center, a period of decay, and the building expresses, ‘well, we did this big project, you know, to fill gaps.’ So, it’s not Chicago; it’s not beautiful, but it tells its own story.” This carefully thought-out response provides an insight that contradicts the ideals and grandeur in which the media and tourists paint New York City.

The skyline depicts New York’s history and story, and perhaps that is what makes it so iconic and beautiful to many. It displays evidence of the changes in history and the effects of different historic events on Manhattan. Most recently, the construction of the Freedom Tower, completed in early 2014, which stands where the Twin Towers once stood about thirteen years ago, now joins the iconic skyline as an important icon of its own. Just as it memorializes the tragedy of 9/11 in 2001, many buildings in the skyline stand strong from the time they were erected and have a story behind them that they represent.

The story contained in the skyline never ends; it continues to grow with each new addition. The continual changes in the skyline contribute to the durability of the view over time. The view’s durability is also attributed to the curious aesthetic of the skyline. While many can’t place their fingers on what exactly it is about the skyline, full of concrete, steel beams, and glass, that makes it beautiful or visually appealing, it remains such a desirable view that can almost never be exhausted. The durability of this view is the source of people’s persistence to come to the Brooklyn Promenade and the Brooklyn Bridge Park year after year to gaze at the growing city skyline. Residents and tourists alike may see the skyline as beautiful, but the New York skyline was not, and is not, designed to be purely aesthetic or an artistic whole.


[1] In-person interview with family from The Netherlands, October 18, 2014.

[2] In-person interview with couple from London, England, October 18, 2014.

[3] In-person interview with couple from Boston, Massachusetts, November 2, 2014.

[4] In-person interview with women from Argentina, October 18, 2014.

[5] In-person interview with a man and his mother from Brazil, October 18, 2014.

[6] In-person interview with a man and his son from Columbia, October 18, 2014.