It's another cold evening in New York. I shot this photo on February 8, walking to the subway after having visited Seth and Marissa. I walked past this steam vent and thought it looked kind of nice, good for a photo, so I pulled out my camera and went to work until my hands got cold. This is taken facing north on 14th Street, between Avenue B and Avenue C. The tall buildings in the background are part of Stuyvesant Town, which was recently the subject of the largest real estate deal ever in the history of the world.
As for the steam vent, it's kind of a relic from the past. You've probably seen footage of Manhattan that shows steam rising from a crack in the street. I remember one season of Saturday Night Live's introductory bit showed a bike messenger emerging from a particuarly steamy section of road. It looks cool, but what is the steam on Manhattan streets for?
The short answer is ConEd (that is, Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc.) generates and sells steam through their ConEd Steam
unit. And, if my Encyclopedia Brown skills serve me correctly, I'd say that steam line on 14th Street was very close to the source. ConEd has a plant on the end of 14th Street, by the East River. Perhaps they produce the steam there and send it uptown, downtown, and all around.
Okay, so the question is, what is this steam used for, besides creating noirish affects for filmmakers and bike messengers? Certain companies use it for heating and cooling. It's kind of a legacy of another time, but on cold days, the steam rising really stands out against the blacktop.