Sunday, November 13, 2011

The water towers of New York

I am making poor progress on that Bucket List. I still haven't made it to Coney Island. But I am getting a bit more clarity on that water tower question. (The question being 'why are there so many?')

Whenever you look up in Manhattan, as the skyline so often draws you to do, you see a water tower. Often, more than one. They are those dirty looking cylinders, that sit on top of buildings old and new. I first noticed them from our little rabbit hutch, which has what a sage New Yorker told me is 'a classic water tower view'.
The view from Rabbit Hutch Towers - about half a dozen water towers, on a clear day.
Soon I started seeing them everywhere. This is because, in fact, they are everywhere.

A Soho water tower.

A water tower perched up high in Tribeca
A couple tucked away just north of Canal Street.

I like these friendly looking tanks, with their nice little pointy hats. I like the way they appear in every view, strangely anachronistic, yet completely at home in today's city.

Water towers were essential to create enough water pressure for tall buildings. I guess the engineering evolution of high pressure water pumps lagged behind the technology of whole steel-reinforced multistory buildings. That doesn't really explain why there are still so many now, when most of them must be redundant. Apparently they are viewed as so attractive, and such an intrinsic part of the New York city skyline, that many are protected landmarks.

I don't know of any other modern, Western city with so many water towers. In London we pretty much get our water fresh, via some leaky Victorian pipes, from the mains supply. And I would suggest, the London skyline is the poorer for it.

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