Poor Viewing Areas For 4th of July 2012 Fireworks in New York City

Years ago, the fireworks show on July 4th used to be held on the East River.  I remember going there and standing on the elevated highway.  The view was amazing!  It was also real close to where my mother’s apartment is.  If we wanted to, we could have just gone to the roof, but going to the river and watching it with the crowd was a lot more exciting.

This was my wife’s first 4th of July and I wanted to make sure we got a chance to see some fireworks.  I was excited too.  The websites and news reports I’d seen said that 40,000 fireworks were going to be shot off, total.  I imagine that includes the ones that don’t really go up and pop, but look like they’re spraying upwards from the boat.  Anyway, it sounded like it was going to be awesome, so we planned to spend the day out in the city and end the day with fireworks.

The Pond at Central Park
The Pond at Central Park (Yes, “The Pond”)

We did a little shopping and then bought some water before walking through the lower portion of Central Park and heading over to the river.  We were in high spirits until we saw the way the crowds were being managed for fireworks viewing.  To be blunt, it was done in an obscenely stupid way that left me with the impression that the city didn’t care if the average resident or tourist could see what was going on; it was set up to make everything as convenient as possible for VIPs who paid upwards of 200 dollars for private parties on the piers and in the park that runs along the riverfront.  You know, that area where people normally jog.

The 'view' at 59th Street
The ‘view’ at 59th Street. The viewing area was placed behind the row of trees that divides the highway, instead of on the side closer to the river, and behind the pier structure which blocks the skyline.

We started out at 59th street.  To get down to the river, you have to go through a checkpoint on the previous block where your bags are searched.  Then you can go down to highway.  The problem with the 59th street area is that the pier is built up into a huge two story structure and there is absolutely no view.  While we stood there, dumbfounded by the fact that it seemed like people were intentionally being herded into the worst viewing areas, I could hear a DJ saying, “Ya! Put your hands together!  VIPs!” coming from somewhere beyond the trees and high building in front of us, likely from one of the piers.

Somewhere around 56th Street
Somewhere around 56th Street. Shortly after this, we had to go back to 11th Avenue and reenter the viewing area through another checkpoint. Roads were blocked off for VIP access to the piers.

Also, the cops had different viewing areas sectioned off with barricades.  Instead of being able to walk down the highway, we had to go back up to 11th Avenue and walk down that way, then go through another checkpoint to get back down to the river to see if the viewing was any better.  At the second point, we wound up being behind the USS Intrepid and the row of trees.  There was practically no clear line of sight.

The Intrepid, blocking our view
The Intrepid, blocking our view.

When we tried to leave, the police tried to stop us.  One cop told us that going to the fireworks “is not just about seeing the fireworks; it’s the experience.”  I told him there’s no experience if we can’t see the fireworks.  What’s the point of spending the afternoon and evening in a crowd, looking at the butt end of an aircraft carrier?  When I argued with the guy, another cop told me that if we left, “That’s it, you won’t be able to come back in.”  Uhh?  What?  As we walked away, I heard him telling another woman that the fireworks are free, but the view might not be free if she wanted a good one.  The whole time, we could hear the thumping music of a VIP party coming from the riverfront.

Trees blocking our view.

We walked down a bit further but still couldn’t see.  Our view was blocked by trees.

Crowds at 34th Street
Crowds at 34th Street

We walked down to 34th street and saw the massive crowds.  We decided the whole thing wasn’t worth the trouble anymore, had something to eat, got some sundaes at the McDonald’s there and then stood in the street and waited for the fireworks to start.  We figured we’d just see what we could see and the rest we’d catch on YouTube later.  We weren’t the only ones with that idea.  As many people as we saw walking down to the river all day, until just before the fireworks started, just as many were walking back into Manhattan, annoyed and complaining about how the barricades were set up and how there wasn’t a good view anywhere.  Also, there were NO PORTABLE TOILETS.  There were thousands of people heading to the fireworks event, but we didn’t see a single portable toilet set up to accommodate people.  That seems like a gross oversight by the city government.

I think it was the better choice.  We’d have been annoyed if we’d stayed behind the Intrepid, or behind a line of trees that blocked our view.  As it was, I had to wonder what the city government was thinking saying the view would be good from 59th street down to 14th street.  From where we were standing on 34th and 10th Avenue, which is admittedly a narrow field of vision in terms of seeing the waterfront, it looked like we were seeing the north-most fireworks, because we didn’t see any flashes of light from further up the river.  I couldn’t help but wonder if the people at 59th street were able to see anything at all.  At least we saw some fireworks head on.

View of fireworks from 34th Street and 10th Avenue


View of fireworks from 34th Street and 10th Avenue 2

View of fireworks from 34th Street and 10th Avenue 3

If you’re reading this and thinking that it sounds like I’m doing nothing but whining, or that I’m hating on “VIPs” that are willing to shell out large sums of cash to stand on a pier, maybe I am.  There’s a reason for it though.  I remember being able to stand on an elevated highway with a clear, free, perfect view of the fireworks.  I heard the excuse for moving the fireworks to the Hudson River was because of concerns about the bridges that go over the East River, but I call bullshit.  It seems more likely to me that it was done to  give preference to people with money and create new opportunities for monetization of what’s supposed to be a national holiday.  The 4th of July is supposed to be about patriotism, pride and unity as Americans, but it has been warped into a business opportunity that emphasizes class struggle, not to mention the fact that it pisses off tourists that come here and are not be able to see anything.  That’s embarrassing.  Or at least it should be.

I’m not saying people should be able to stand on private piers for free; I’m saying the show was better done on the East River and should be moved back.  At the least, the people should be put on the side of the highway that’s closer to the river, rather than right behind a row of trees.  As it is now, the view of the fireworks from the ground is disappointing.  Very disappointing.  Unless you pay for a VIP ticket to stand on a pier or maybe go to New Jersey and view it from their shore, then it’s not even worth it.  You’d be more comfortable sitting at home and watching it on TV.