, , , , ,

When walking around New York City have you ever slowed your steps and looked down towards the sidewalk? The sidewalks surface of pavement, grates, manhole covers, cracks and little glass circles can tell a rich history of the city.

While walking around our neighborhood H kept pointing and asking about all the details he spotted on the sidewalk. He was totally fascinated by the little glass circles called vault lights. Vault lights are old glass prisms set into sidewalks to let natural light into the basements below. In NYC vault lights are remnants of the late 19th century industrial factory days, before the introduction of electricity.

Vault Lights NYC SidewalksNext he pointed out a manhole cover, I explained to him that it is a removable plate forming a lid to cover an opening in the ground, to prevent things from falling in. He asked if we could look in, and I said no, it is really heavy to open and is probably really smelly because it is a sewer cover. He then asked me what it said, and after reading the manhole cover I kinda chuckled.

NYC Manhole cover made in India“NYC Sewer made in India”, then I thought to myself, Outsourced. Why are these manhole covers being made in India? Clearly they can be made cheaper in India than the US and their must be a story behind it. Well I found one in the New York Times Region section, New York Manhole Covers, Forged Barefoot in India.

We walked past open grate covers, and watched the food being delivered to the local restaurants.

NYC open sidewalk grate

Some typical NYC sidewalk street graffiti that H thought was cute because it had balloons in it, “Kill The Balloons”, no clue what it means and Google produced nothing.


I love how a typical walk through our neighborhood has sparked so many new conversations and history lessons with my kid. I can’t wait to show him the NYC subway map on the sidewalk next time we are down in SoHo.

NYC subway sidewalk map SoHoNext we will learn the history of NYC buildings and architecture details.