The story of Pier 34, on the Hudson River at Canal Street in Manhattan, traces a kind of poem of empire: Built in 1932, when New York was a busy port, it would then have been a meaningful source of employment for the working class of the city’s industrial and maritime age. That heyday was short: By the 1960s the city’s piers were sidelined, not by the globalization that today has made so many American factory workers redundant but by the streamlining efficiencies of old-fashioned capitalism, the growth of the container traffic that demanded both fewer hands on the docks and more storage space than Manhattan allowed. Combine that with the city’s fiscal crisis of the ’70s, and the piers on the Lower West Side were abandoned to rust.
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