The Version Interview... Ant Anstead on New York: America’s Busiest City
Following the success of World’s Busiest Railway 2015, this new three-part series for BBC Two takes viewers to the heart of three iconic public spaces in the city of New York, one of the most thriving, economically powerful and complex metropolises in the world.
Presented by Ade Adepitan, Anita Rani, Ant Anstead and Dan Snow, each programme is filmed ‘as live’ to capture the sense of being immersed in real time in each world famous location - Grand Central Terminal, New Fulton Fish Market and Central Park.
The series offers a 360-degree insight into the lives of New Yorkers - how they get about, how they are fed, and how they relax. From gentrification and the affordability of housing, to the importance of green spaces and futureproofing a megacity, the series will unpack different themes along the way to look at how each location contributes to New York’s commercial value.
This was your first experience of New York City. What did you make of it?
You always imagine New York to be just like the movies, so my expectations were already high. I was not let down, it was incredible! There is such diversity across the city. Yes, it has its areas of craziness like Times Square, but at the same time havens of beauty. I loved strolling through Little Italy and China Town. Ground Zero takes your breath away. The city has a real community feel about it - people say "hello". I was taken aback by how friendly it was. It simply has to be a bucket list destination.
There is such pressure on space in New York, that they’re effectively building into thin air, and below ground on a huge scale. What impressed you about the big engineering projects you looked at for the series?
When I think of the USA I always think size is an issue. Everything is bigger - the cars, the houses, even the food portions. Of course in New York space comes at a premium. But the Yanks have found a way around this and with ingenuity and ambition ensure they keep things big.
I visited the 'East Side Access' project - their version of Crossrail, bringing a new commuter line in via eight miles of tunnels. The use of space underground is not only genius, it signifies that when it comes to scale, nothing is impossible. The financial figures are eye-watering, but we live in an age where anything is possible. They are not only dreaming big, but they are delivering on that dream too. It’s happening. Right now!
Nothing holds New Yorkers back. When I walked around Hudson Yards, a new $25 billion dollar building project, I caught a glimpse of what in some years time will become a focus point for the city an entirely new district of office space, flats and restaurants. The project is being built over a working train line, and not a single train was delayed. I worry in London we would close train tracks for months, where leaves on the line are enough to bring the high vis brigade out. But in Hudson Yards they just crack on with it. I like the cut of their jib!
You went somewhere that few people ever get to go - inside the workings of the Tiffany Clock on the front of Grand Central Terminal. What was it like in there?
There are countless things to do in New York, but on this visit we were granted access to some amazing places where there isn’t access usually. Making this series opened up the normally tightly closed doors of the city.
Climbing inside the workings of the Tiffany Clock was the single most amazing thing about my trip. I will never forget that moment I climbed the dusty ladder inside Grand Central, opened the precious glass face of the Tiffany clock and looked at the street below. I feel very privileged to make this series and this was one of many moments I had to pinch myself.
Watch New York: America's Biggest City, Thursday 30 August at 9pm on BBC Two.