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New York City - some negative aspects

Manhattan from Empire State Building
Central Manhattan from near the top of the Empire State Building
Although unbiased opinion polls comparing America and Australia are hard to find, most people do appear to agree that in general Australia provides the better quality of life. While America excels in political and economic clout, technological innovation and the size and quality of its establishments, Australian society, they claim, is freer, friendlier, fairer and safer (no guns and a lower crime rate), has substantially less poverty, lower unemployment rates and a 3 years longer life expectancy, provides more affordable (though possibly less effective) education and better healthcare and legal systems, and in general has a better climate.

Indeed it's quite possible that uninformed travellers on a first visit to the USA, noticing the little things around them and unsheltered by organised tourism, might come away with the impression that this country is altogether less civilized and less progressive than Australia. Although I have been to the USA three times previously (sufficient to buoy a deep-seated anti-American prejudice), my most recent - and longest - visit in late 2016 still produced a few surprises, especially in New York which I had not visited before. I found this city to be one of the most lively and diverse places illuminating my world of travel, but, in keeping with some of my other travelogues and social comment, and in spite of the surfeit of positives that New York has to offer, many of which are well known the world over, I'll focus on the negatives, starting with a few generalities which are not confined to New York City, and taking into account some reminiscences of previous visits to America.

USA in general

Tipping:  15-20% for taxis, restaurants and hotels is more or less obligatory. Why don't they pay their staff enough?

Credit cards:  Paywave is almost non-existent and you have to sign or use your pin for anything other than very small amounts.

Currency:  Unbelievably they still have one-cent coins, all denominations above a half-dollar are paper notes and $20 notes appear to be by far the commonest, with ATMs sometimes dishing out nothing else. Notes of different denominations all look similar and their rather poor quality puts me in mind of Indian rupees.

Non metric measurements:   Why the Americans stuck with Imperial measurements I'll never know. It really makes them look archaic.

Purchase tax:  What a ridiculously clumsy way they've got for handling puchase taxes (yes, they have more than one kind). Presumably this explains the need to keep one-cent coins in circulation.

4-way stop signs:  What on earth persuades them to keep this dysfunctional hardware at so many road junctions?

Traffic:  Despite their superfast clunkity-clunk concrete expressways, traffic congestion on approach roads to cities is nightmarish. Inside the city centres - murderous.

Manual customs control:  Why create long queues with manual customs control at the border with Mexico when they have the technology to get people through much faster?

Airports:  My limited experience of America's busiest airports suggests that things have greatly improved, but long transits are still not well accommodated. For example, Singapore's Changi, with its movie theatres and gardens, has a much nicer environment and better signage than LAX or JFK.

Washrooms:  Most of them (public and hotel) are characterized by cheap toilet paper, no short flushes and wasteful showers. And the typical US-designed loo, with its deep-water pan, has an unpleasant habit of shooting back at you. (But the flush does work well.)

Solar technology:  In the whole of my stay in the USA, which included quite a lot of travel, I saw only one house with a small solar panel set-up. Is electric power really so cheap over there? I suspect America sources much less of its electricity from fossil fuels than Australia, which rates very poorly for greenhouse gas emissions - see here. (I've since discovered that America's approach to solar energy is way in advance of Australia's. They will surely follow the initiative of Las Vegas, an entire city powered mainly by a massive solar enrgy set-up in the desert. Not without its problems, but it seems China will follow suit with similar, much larger solar energy generators.)

Bogans:  I found most people in LA and NY to be polite and friendly, regardless of colour. But there's a particular species of loudmouthed white male inhabiting all American cities, who loves to make sarcastic, disrespectful remarks, as if behind your back, but making sure you've overheard him. Hateful! There's also a species of black male who tries to emulate the white man's technique, but somehow it doesn't quite work and just sounds funny. There's also a rather common species of female, black, white or mixed, who unfortunately was born with a voice so hard and brassy you just want to turn her off altogether...... (It feels kind of weird using "black" and "white" to refer to people; this terminology is quite inaccurate and I don't see why its supposed to be more politically correct than any other.)

Donald Trump:  Whoever would have believed this cuckoo would become America's next President? Does this reflect upon American culture, or did the people simply not have any reasonable choice? So far he's caused nothing but division in the US population and the world over. Let's hope beyond all hope that he proves to be a blessing in disguise.

NEW YORK CITY

This most renowned of cities turned out to be nothing like how I imagined it. America supposedly being an advanced country, I'd assumed its cities would have been kept up to scratch. While there's heaps for the tourist to do and see here if you like the kinds of things that large cities have to offer, New York gives an impression of an unkempt and largely unplanned European city but lacking in the deep history you find in that part of the world. Jam packed with awesome skyscrapers, of course, at ground level many of its prominent buildings have frontages of (what I would call, incorrectly) neo grecian style columns. It was well worth going to New York just to shake hands with all those famous icons, but I was surprised to find that Broadway is long but not broad; Wall St no longer has a wall and it's remarkably narrow along much of its length but contains some impressive buildings in the above mentioned style(s), in particular the Stock Exchange and the Federal Hall; Times Square is big but not square and has few distinguishing features apart from its enormous billboards and crowd congestion reminiscent of an Asian bazaar (well, NYC does have a higher population density than any other "western" city); they call it the hub of the universe.

Autumn colours in Central Park
Autumn colours in Central Park  (hover over to enlarge)

One of the most pleasant and fascinating areas of New York is Central Park (pictured). Larger than London's Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens combined (but smaller than Kings Park in Perth), it is bordered by some of the world's finest museums and art galleries, while the park itself has numerous points of interest and looks fabulous dressed in autumn colours. But, despite its size, you can never get away from the crowds, the hustle and bustle of tourists, joggers, cyclists, skateboarders, dog-walkers and horse carriages. This is well and truly an urban park, nothing like big enough to absorb all the people who want to use it and to provide an escape from the city. For tourists, the most annoying thing with Central Park is the lack of signage to points of interest.

In trouble:  New York is rundown, overcrowded and chaotic. But with all the construction going on, it looks like they're trying hard to do something about it.

Noise:  This is one of the noisiest cities I've ever been to. There's a continuous background of "white" noise, enlived by screaming police, fire and ambulance sirens and the clatter of garbage trucks, day and night.

Garbage:   NY has problems disposing of garbage, piles of which can be found at the edge s of many streets. Fortunately they do wrap it in plastic, which is more than happens in some Asian cities.

Streets:  I was surprised to find most streets are quite narrow and often hemmed in with old buildings made ugly with external fire escapes.

Potholes:  The sidewalks often had potholes, jutting pavers and dangerous edges, again reminiscent of Indian towns. Just watch where you're stepping!

Traffic control:  They actually have police controlling traffic at some junctions where there are pedestrian crossings. Although this is still common practice in some Asian countries, I haven't noticed it in Europe for at least 40 years. New Yorkers have not been trained to obey the traffic lights too well. As for cyclists - they don't take any notice of anything or anybody.

Beggars and lay-abouts:  You can't miss them, mostly "black" of course. Why are they still there in such numbers?

Effluent:   I mean human turds in subway entrances, presumably a by-product of the above. (Not the only US city with this problem!) But hey, have you ever tried to find a public convenience in New York? Again, watch your step.

Weather:  New York's weather is very variable, to say the least. With significant rainfall in every month, there's a 250C difference between midsummer and midwinter temperatures - almost like Brisbane in summer, colder than Canberra in winter.

Noisy metro:   The subway system is great and must do a lot to ease congestion in the city. But it's getting old and badly needs upgrading. It's really noisy, both inside and out. It appears to have very little welded rail, so most of the time you have to put up with the clickety-clack noise which I haven't heard on other railways for donkey's years. But most of the noise seems to come from steel upon steel echoing back off the sides of the tunnels. No rubber tyres like the Paris metro? (Not that they would necessarily make much difference - the Paris metro is also pretty noisy from outside the carriages.)

Skyscraper huddle:   Because NY is so densely populated with skyscrapers, it's difficult to find a building that really stands out. From street level the Empire State building, for example, is almost completely hidden in the forest. Somehow many other "stacked" cities such as Dubai, Singapore, Shanghai, Macau, Kuala Lumpur and Toronto have managed to avoid this drawback.

Construction:  Currently (2016), there's construction and maintenance going on all over the place in Manhattan, including the middle of Times Square.

Only steps in most subway stations:  Incredibly, most subway stations still have neither elevators (lifts) nor escalators, with only about one fifth of all stations providing wheelchair accessibility. How quickly this will change remains to be seen, as there are other problems with the system that have a higher priority.

My spouse and I were in New York in late October to early November and believe this is one of the best times to visit, if only for the autumn colours, and despite the mostly cold weather. We had an amazing time there, though partly for reasons that had nothing to do with sight-seeing. Most certainly we could have spent much longer there just to see all the main attractions. Yet, intriguing though this city is, from the tourism point of view I would put New York toward the bottom of my list, partly because I'm not a city lover, partly because NY is an expensive place to stay (unless you are lucky enough to be able to stay with relatives or friends), but mainly because most European cities are more characterful, more historical and more picturesque. Coming from Australia, it's a tedious journey to NY, probably best done as a stopover on a round-world trip.

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........Dabs of Grue..........2016.....................