Friday, January 23, 2015

Geography on Set; Andy Mineo's "You Can't Stop Me", Washington Heights

I have a fairly decent geographic memory. When many of my older cousins began to drive, I was the young one helping them navigate the east side of metropolitan Detroit. I like connecting real places to my experiences, and connecting real places to scenes we see in the media. This strong sense of place is described as topophilia (a love or affinity for place). (This was one of the first terms I remember learning in planning school from Dr. Rex Lamore at Michigan State University, and it's stuck with me ever sense.)

I plan to make this a bit more of a "series" in connecting the settings of television shows, movies, music videos or other media, to real places. I did this last week for the setting of April and Andy's possible new house on Parks and Recreation, so, I guess this is the second installment of what I will call "Geography on Set". I plan not only to show the actual location of these settings in media, but a bit more about each neighborhood, including demographics and development patterns.

Not only do I enjoy all things urban planning, I also enjoy hip hop. So, when I saw Andy Mineo's "You Can't Stop Me" video a few days ago, I decided to explore the video's Washington Heights setting a bit more. I've heard Andy talk a great deal about his Washington Heights neighborhood in his songs and interviews, as well as the local church that he helped plant.

Entrance to the 163rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue subway station

Now, "You Can't Stop Me" features some pretty crazy video editing and unique special effects. You might even think something is wrong with your computer at points, as some of the video lags and is pixelated. Trust me, there's nothing wrong with your computer. Also, here is some of the meaning behind the meaning of "You Can't Stop Me" straight from Andy's website. In an interview from last year Andy says, "It’s a motivational record that says, 'You know most of the time we’re the ones that stop ourselves from being everything we’re supposed to be. So you can’t stop me, and even I can’t stop me.'” These are hints of the lies that we believe about ourselves, being tempted by darkness, when we should be remembering the truth declared about us as children of God. Back to the video though:

The video for You Can't Stop Me opens in the 163rd Street / Amsterdam Avenue C train subway station. (Based on these underwhelming Yelp reviews, this is not the nicest subway station in New York City.) The station itself dates all the way back to September 10, 1932. Upon exiting the station, Andy heads up Saint Nicholas Avenue, then spends some time on both Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway, just to the west.

On Broadway near 160th street.

Saint Nicholas and 162nd Street

While on Amsterdam Avenue (which is also known as 10th Avenue south of 59th Street), Andy encounters a giant Lego police officer with a megaphone, and on Broadway there's a giant Lego Santa figure. Suffice to say, none of that is there in real life.

Broadway just south of 159th Street.

Amsterdam Avenue gained its name in an effort to retain the heritage of the settlers of the Dutch West India Company who established New Amsterdam on the southern portion of Manhattan in 1624 as a trading post. 40 years later in 1664, New Amsterdam gave way to New York, named after the English Duke of York who organized the mission to capture the Dutch settlement. For more about the history and development of New York City, watch "New York: A Documentary Film" from PBS and Ric Burns. It was a series that was featured in the urban and regional planning curiculum at Michigan State University when I was a student, and showed the social, economic and development conflicts that occurred as a result of the city's rapid growth.

Washington Heights itself was settled by Irish and Jewish residents in the early 1930's, saw an influx of Greek residents in the 1960's, then attracted many Dominican residents in the 1980's and 1990's. Today, the predominantly Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights is actually one of the safest Manhattan neighborhoods, but it wasn't always that way. Neighborhood streets are lined with local shops, restaurants and mid-rise apartment buildings.

You can also see Andy in the Live From The Highest Rock cypher put together by the Washington Heights-based group Young. Brash. Gifted. The cypher features other Washington Heights artists (The cypher does contain some strong language).