IN 1808 JOHN RANDEL JUNIOR, New York City’s 20-year-old chief surveyor, was asked to design and develop the island of Manhattan, from what is now Houston Street, near its southern tip, to 155th Street, eight miles north. More than two centuries on, Randel’s grid is celebrated by locals and tourists alike—never more so than when the parallel streets running west to east between the Hudson and East Rivers line up perfectly with the setting sun. This phenomenon, which occurs twice a year, on May 29th-30th and July 12th-13th, was dubbed “Manhattanhenge” by Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist, in 2002. Viewing the sun descending like a globe of fire between the Big Apple’s skyscrapers into neighbouring New Jersey has since become a biannual event for aspiring photographers.
Thousands of people took part in Manhattanhenge last year. Judging by the number of images uploaded to Instagram, a photo-sharing app, they were not shy about sharing their experiences. Tens of thousands of photos tagged with “Manhattanhenge” were uploaded to the site in 2019 (see map). Of the images that included a location, most were taken at crowded spots such as Times Square, the Empire State Building and Bryant Park. Those knowledgeable enough to avoid such tourist traps went farther east, to Tudor City, a residential skyscraper complex at 42nd street and 2nd Avenue. It was here that the best pictures were taken, at least in the opinion of fellow Instagrammers: with 350 likes per picture on average, more than twice that of those shot near Bryant Park (see chart).
This year, the celebration will be different. Most people will avoid crowds because of the covid-19 pandemic, which has hit New York particularly hard. Social-distancing rules require groups to meet at a distance and prohibit gatherings of more than ten people. Some may view the spectacle from their apartment windows, roofs or fire escapes. Those who venture out might consider consulting our map of last year’s Instagram posts to know where they might get good shots and still avoid the crowds. Either way, the event is sure to generate some breathtaking images on social media which, luckily, can be enjoyed by anyone, locked down or not.