The great thing about New York City is it would take several lifetimes (and some serious planning) to really take advantage of everything the city has to offer. However, for those who want a detour from the normal holiday festivities (and aren’t up for battling the shoppers, indulge in a mid-December weekend break that has nothing to do with holiday festivities, holiday markets or dining. 

The Van Alen Institute, a design and architecture organization on West 22nd Street, has several great events planned for the upcoming weekend, including a transportation panel on Saturday and a Design Presentation and Conversation on Sunday. Located at the Institute’s newly renovated headquarters at 30 West 22nd Street from 4-6pm, discover how designers and architects plot new experiences even for the native New Yorker.

Door to Door: Innovating the Commute, Saturday December 13th 5-7pm

How can we harness existing data to reimagine our transportation infrastructure without starting from scratch? On “Door to Door: Innovating the Commute” will present projects that use data to improve access to information and the commuter experience on a collective scale. You’ll hear from the creators of digitalMatatus, which leverages mobile technology in developing countries to collect data, improve infrastructure, and encourage better access to information; and Bridj, a service that uses millions of data points to provide a network of express shuttles that adapt in real-time.

Escape Routes: New Itineraries, Sunday December 14th, 4-6pm

Leading the discussion at “Escape Routes: New Itineraries” is Michael Chen of MCKA, Alessandro Orsini of Architensions, designer Gia Wolff, Mitch McEwen of McEwen Studio, Rosalyne Shief of SCHAUM/SCHIEH and Peter Zuspan of Bureau V. Responses are welcomed from the crowd, as well as planned responses from the President of the Public Design Commission in New York Signe Nielsen, architect critic Alexandra Lange, and the Executive Director of the Van Alen Institute, David van der Leer. The purpose of the conversation is to drum up inspiration for trips via proposal that will focus on connecting places with communities.

While experts like Anthony Bourdain have made great strides in showcasing pockets of the city that many aren’t familiar with, there are even more gems to uncover. Plus, how travelers are visiting and exploring the city is constantly changing. In an effort to introduce all aspects of the city to both visitors and residents, the Van Alen Institute is focusing on the underdog pockets. Discovering the “real New York” from less popular trails to the supposedly “real mayors” as outlined in The New York Times is going to take a lot of grit, and it’s an effort the Institute deems worth taking.

High Bridge Walking Tour

Of course, the best way to get a sneak peek at the lesser known New York is to take it yourself, whether you get to the city via bus, plane or you already live in Manhattan. December 14 kicks off with a walking tour of High Bridge from 11:30am-1pm. Meet at High Bridge Park for a historical guided tour at 2301 Amsterdam Avenue (tickets for both events should be purchased in advance). High Bridge is a beloved area, described by Jesse Lynch Williams in 1899 as, “there is a different feeling in the air up along this best-known end of the city’s waterfront.” He called it a playground, and that’s exactly what it is.

Yes, it’s a popular spot for New Yorkers and tourists, but what can be learned when it’s viewed with a different lens? The walk is led by Moses Gates, author and urban planner. Currently, he’s serving the Pratt Institute as a visiting assistant professor in the demography department. Circa 1900, High Bridge was a popular spot for the richest classes in Manhattan, but it was virtually abandoned around the 1950s. The reason for abandoning regions, neighborhoods and leisure places are many (though CBS News offers some reasoning), and High Bridge is in the midst of a restoration that will hopefully lead to a revival.