I AM OHNY is a campaign we began in late 2011 to highlight and celebrate Open House New York’s diverse community of supporters. Robin Nagle is a cultural anthropologist, professor, and author of Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City. In her unique role as the anthropologist-in-residence at the NYC Department of Sanitation, Robin reached out to us earlier this year to get the ball rolling on a collaboration between OHNY and the DSNY, leading to several amazing new sites being added to the roster this past OHNY Weekend
“While I didn’t get involved officially until this year, I first experienced OHNY seven years ago,” Robin recalls. “When my son was in third grade, he and I went up the Highbridge Water Tower during Open House Weekend. It was a wonderful adventure.” Thank you, Robin, for working with us to arrange more adventures for New Yorkers!
What do you love most about New York City?
I most love many things about New York City. I love that the city’s energy feels boundless and utterly impersonal, like a force of nature. An ocean current doesn’t care if it helps you swim faster or if it drowns you. New York City is the same. It is the urban ouroboros, forever eating and birthing itself, fueled by the kinetic energy of its history and its people. New York generates its own perpetual motion, and if you’re lucky, some of that force osmoses into you. It is always changing and always exactly only itself. No matter where you’re from, if you decide to live here, you’re a New Yorker. If you live here for decades, you can look back and feel as if you lived in dozens of different cities – but it’s all New York.
What is your favorite building and/or neighborhood in the city?
My favorite neighborhood is any that’s still authentic – that is, any neighborhood that still has mom-and-pop businesses in its storefronts, that has at least one good diner, and that hasn’t been corporatized or overrun with chain stores. Authentic neighborhoods are in every borough, but they’re getting scarce.
My favorite building is the New York Public Library’s flagship cathedral (the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building) on Fifth and Forty-Second.
What was your most memorable OHNY experience?
That trip to the Highbridge Water Tower was pretty memorable; the neighborhood was new to us, and we met a rooster hanging out on the street on our way from the subway. The cast-iron spiral staircase at the Tower was a work of art, and the view from the top was spectacular. We watched a few people make their way up and then collapse to their knees in a trembling sweat; they were climbing the tower specifically to face their fear of heights, and we were impressed by their bravery. I was okay on the Tower’s main platform, but that was my limit. My son, however, went up and down the smaller interior spiral stair to the very top of the tower several times, and was delighted to discover that he had courage for something I didn’t have the guts to do.
More recently, seeing the public response to the Department of Sanitation’s participation in the Open House Weekend has been great. Kathryn Garcia, the new commissioner of Sanitation, made it a priority to connect the DSNY to OHNY, and so we worked closely with the organization to put three Sanitation venues on the schedule for this year’s OHNY Weekend. It took a lot of patience and time, but because the Open House staff made the entire experience positive for everyone involved, Sanitation is looking forward to many future collaborations.
If OHNY could grant you an all-access pass to any place in the city, where would you go, and why?
Water Tunnel Number Three.
OHNY is important to New York City because…
It invites people to see the many amazing insides of the city, which helps the public better understand and appreciate New York’s beautiful complexity.
From the Annual OHNY Weekend to its year-round public programs, OHNY offers you opportunities to see the city like you’ve never seen it. With your support, OHNY can continue to open the city to tens of thousands of people throughout the five boroughs, tying us closer to the places, people and stories that make New York the most extraordinary city in the world. Together, we are OHNY.