Glass Buildings and a Case for the Birds

Chelsea are streets of optical illusions. The streets are glass tunnels. Just behind this door, behind that white wall of the gallery there lies a boatload of artwork. But all I can see are gleams of reflected light all along the street, and dark, unwelcoming entrances. Sometimes I wonder why Chelsea isn’t more beautiful if it’s the old swinging art gallery district. Forgive me if I venture that it’s time has passed. It’s been sucked dry and all that’s left are sharp remains of beautiful, messy times. I remember poking my head out of a Bushwick window on a warm day in June when Bushwick took the reigns. I was 23 and the only age I could have been because that Bushwick open studios was how artwork should been seen, I thought, where it falls out on the street. Now I am 28 and I feel out of the loop. It’s like, Why not make your door pink? Why try to compete to be more and more minimal? I am a bookmaker, this has in part to do with that. Book making really is just a very small and simplified version of architecture. I digress.

The highline from here is just a shadow crossing the streets, crowned with browning leaves. We are not there. I am with my mother, a bag full of books on my back. She’s a quick talker and frenetric on her feet. She only pauses when we come across a streak of red from the wing of a fallen bird. The only color to be seen for blocks. It looks like it fell a great distance to get down here to the grey streets, to the sidewalk of 26th street. “It’s the glass,” we say craning our necks to the sky where the buildings extend up like trees.

Later, I try to return to the location of the bird’s small tomb on Google Maps to take a closer look at the street and see what building was the culprit so that I can call them out once and for all. But when I set the little yellow human down on the street, I find myself in the middle of a gallery opening. And I imagine the person who took these pictures. This is very opposite from the street. This is very cramped with art enthusiasts and the building disappears within its own walls.

I continue looking for an image but find streets obscured in scaffolding. Nothing. I consider that perhaps there are no images of this building yet because it is so new. Hudson Yards was rezoned in 2005 and is going to open to the public in March 2019. The entire neighborhood is rumbling with potential. Most of the buildings surrounding Hudson yards have also be built in the last ten years in preparation for the massive economic boost that Hudson Yards is preparing to maneuver. I imagine all of the wealthy people who will live and walk there. All of the glass buildings. What will the birds do?

In 2013 The Vikings stadium broke ground at the heart of Minneapolis and The University of Minnesota for the Vikings, that team wistfully known as “the heartbreakers.” Almost making it every time. The stadium was built to look like a large Viking ship, and indeed, hull and all, peaks through buildings in dinkytown as if faring grandly along the plains of the Midwest. There were hundreds of complaints about birds flying into the large glass wall along the southwestern side. The solution involved a study that began in 2014 and is slated to end in 2019 according to an article written by Alison Thoet with PBS News Hour.

Autumn is the migratory period for these fowl. Often the traveling birds will mistake an indoor tree for possible food. Or the reflection of vegetation for food. These birds can be younger and less experienced, flying down from boreal regions to southern temperate regions. The Audubon Society has initiated Project Safe Flight, and nationwide studies  to find solutions for glass buildings. Most of the birds that fall victim to glass windows are smaller, lower flying birds compared to hawks that also migrate through Manhattan. Volunteers have discovered starlings, woodcock, and ovenbird as among the highest in fatality.

The Jacob Javits Center, the Northernmost bookend to the Hudson Yards development came across a similar issue according to a New York Times article in 2015. The author, Lisa W. Foderaro found that the Javits Center used patterned glass that is not visible to the human eye, but distinctly alerts birds of its existence.

As Hudson Yards revs its opening, here is a plea for the birds. Perhaps through patterned glass, through colored glass, through strong colors. If the complex should be buildings that would feign inclusion, warmth, a welcoming attitude, let it at least be authentic for the birds. Let the color on the streets be not the outcome of confounded songbirds, but artwork, but a flutter of wings.