I’m not aware of another city that has our quotidian relationship with handball courts. Anyone familiar with New York City’s park system recognizes these walls with unattended indifference. Should the walls, on the other hand, appear unused and mysteriously erect and their purpose unclear, it takes only a quick query to a local to learn that they’re for handball. Like eating pizza while walking or scaffold pull-ups, handball is a not infrequently-occurring phenomenon here in New York.
A stroll on either side of the Gowanus Canal, or more likely criss-crossing the few east-west bridges from Smith or Bond Street to Second Avenue or Nevins Street, reveals a more diverse area than one might think. There are several new residential builds on the east banks, so-called luxury buildings with ample parking and common areas for their residents; handfuls of older houses, mostly two- or three-story residential buildings, some single-family, some like the vinyl-sided homes one might see in Williamsburg but perhaps not as tidy; some storefronts and light commercial properties converted or adapted into restaurants, bars, or possibly-fugitive living spaces. There are also the industrial properties that have largely defined the area, less for the landscape they create than for their contribution to the frighteningly toxic sediment in the canal bed.
And yet, at certain times of day, it appears nearly bucolic, run down in the familiar way of obselescence and a kind of attending nostalgia.