Explosion in Chelsea, NYC

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September 17, 2016 10:10 p.m.
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You may have seen news of an explosion in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan tonight. The cause of the explosion is still unknown, though there’s a flood of speculation. As it happens, the place where the explosion occurred is literally directly across the street from my apartment. My family and I were about thirty miles away when this happened. TPM’s New York office is about three and a half blocks away.

As long as everyone’s talking about this, let me share a few details about the location. The building where this happened (or immediately in front of this building) is a large, old-style institutional home for the blind. Very large, probably hundreds of occupants. The ground floor of the building is also a voting location. For months there’s been some sort of low-intensity construction going on. There’s scaffolding over the sidewalk in front of the building and there’s usually at least one mega dumpster immediately in front of the building – one of those huge construction dumpsters that’s like 30 feet long.

I’ve seen suggestions that this area is a highly congested area or a place where there’s lots of night life on a Saturday evening. That’s not true. You could find places like there within a couple hundred yards, maybe closer – at least places where there are restaurants with outdoor seating on to the sidewalks. But there’s nothing like that at this location, not at this home for the blind obviously but also not anywhere on that block. Even though 23rd street is a major east-west artery in Manhattan, there actually wouldn’t be very many people at all on that street in that area mid-evening on a Saturday night.

Of course, it’s a major street in Manhattan. So everything is relative. But there just wouldn’t be that many people there. I’d say a relatively light amount of foot traffic – virtually all people on their way to somewhere else. But just not that many of them. There are likely even fewer in precisely that area because of the scaffolding which has a kind of tunnel through it that you walk under.

Because of this I’m not terribly surprised that there seem to be relatively small number of injuries simply because at 8 pm or thereabouts there just wouldn’t be that many people around.

I’ve also seen reports that this is a gay neighborhood with an active gay nightlife. That’s at least somewhat misleading. Chelsea is a historically gay neighborhood. (Allow me to use these unwieldy phrases, just to explain some basics about the area quickly. And let me state the obvious: I’m no expert on neighborhood gayness. I’m trying to give people who don’t know the area as much context as possible. Please read the following in that light.) But it’s less distinctly so than it used to be. And there are lots of areas of the west side of Lower Manhattan that could as easily be termed a ‘gay neighborhood’. There are clusters of gay bars on the avenues a bit further south and west. (The Stonewall Inn is maybe a mile and a half to the South.) But there’s no business or bar or anything else on that block that is gay-identified in any way. Point being, if someone had a beef with the gay community there’s nothing symbolic or iconic on that block or really anything particularly interesting at all besides a few barber shops, a deli, a Donkin’ Donuts and a pizza place.

So is Chelsea a gay neighborhood? Sure, by some definitions. There’s a large gay community. But if you’re talking about Chelsea today, Chelsea in relation to other contiguous neighborhoods or this particular block, there’s little about it that would make you think this location as opposed to a thousand other places on the West Side of Lower Manhattan might be targeted by people hostile to gays.

I’ll update more if and when it’s relevant.

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