Brighton Beach, New York

The golden sand of Brighton Beach stretches as far as the eye can see in both directions – Brighton Beach, that is, in New York.

As readers may know, New York City is made up of five boroughs – Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. Brighton Beach is situated in Brooklyn next to the famous beach of Coney Island. Once there, it was no good asking for directions as everyone there is Russian (and sits playing chess to prove it). My recent two weeks in New York weren’t spent sunbathing on the beach. Instead, they were spent with NYC’s Planning Department learning about how the City’s Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, keeps the planet’s tallest buildings in check which at least gave my travelling companion, Kerry, time to do some shopping on Fifth Avenue.

Along with my time with the Planning Department, I did a day with Giuliani Partners (Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s firm) and a day with Senator Hillary Clinton’s team. It’s not really appropriate to compare New York to Brighton generally though it was interesting to see how they are going about planting more trees, creating cycle lanes and widening pavements. Some pretty amazing projects are in the pipeline on the west side of Manhattan including improvements to Pennsylvania Station, the No. 7 subway line and Madison Square Garden. Nearby, a long stretch of former elevated railway line is being turned into a floating park.

Two weeks certainly wasn’t long enough to see everything though we did manage to get inside the Statue of Liberty but had to arrive at 7:30am just to get the tickets. Ellis Island, through which many of America’s immigrants passed, was quite an experience. Wall Street was smaller than I expected though Central Park was much bigger. The subway is closer to the surface than London’s tube, just beneath the streets, so is, in theory, easily reachable. In practice, it is very badly signposted which is a shame.

Watch out for my forthcoming column on New York’s skyscrapers where I will describe what I saw from the Empire State Building and at the World Trade Centre site on the 9/11 anniversary. During the trip, we saw at least six buildings that have at one time or other held the title of world’s tallest.

My Yank friends think I’m mad but I really do prefer the stones of our Brighton Beach in England. Sand gets everywhere!