Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

For a Selfie (and Enlightenment), Make a Pilgrimage to Bridge No. 3

Illustration by Sam Pease

There’s often more to Instafamous infrastructure than meets the eye.

The first birds returned in the spring of 2022. First it was just a few scattered families: black coats, colorful heads, chirping in an unknown language. As the weather warmed, the visitors shed layers, their plumage brightening. They landed in groups, fledglings in tow. They came as singles, stretching and preening in the sunshine. They came in pairs, taking turns being the center of attention. Alighting, fluffing, resettling in a more comfortable position. Observation seemed only to make them more comfortable, as if their natural habitat were the backside of a smartphone.

Although Brooklyn Bridge Park sits on the Atlantic Flyway and plays host to more than 120 species of birds lured by its wetlands and piers cultivated with native plants, the birds I speak of here are the Instagrammers. In the depths of the pandemic, as I took my daily walk through the linear landscape, I passed real birds and local birdwatchers moving through the park in morning waves, cheeping in the underbrush, settling on the spindly trees, posing on the pylons of a ruined pier. In the afternoon the prime movers were joggers and cyclists; on weekends particularly scenic spots—the glade north of Pier 2, the deck underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, the arches at St. Ann’s Warehouse—would host parties of more exotic plumage. Brides and their clutches of bridesmaids in champagne or mint, groomsmen in matching ties. A teen decked out for her quinceañera, her dress almost as wide as she was tall. Less often, on one of the slowly greening slopes, an engagement picnic set up with the Manhattan skyline as backdrop.