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Magic in the Mundane: Why Do the Streets of NYC Sparkle?

03/04/2013 07:28 am ET | Updated May 04, 2013
  • Alex Budman Undergraduate student at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland

I think of New York City as a mosaic of people from all over the world, each one on his or her own journey to a shared destination -- success, however we define it. The streets that we all share is where this journey takes place.

Despite my dad's advice to "always keep my head up" in New York, I couldn't help but notice that the very sidewalks seemed to sparkle beneath my feet, as if paved with the dust of dreams. Was this just in my imagination? Or could there really be glitter in the streets? I decided to find out.

Click here to watch the adventure of figuring it all out.

Google didn't have the answers, but it did help me find my way to NYC DOT, the Government Department of Travel. After a few confused phone calls with operators, I finally got through to Maurice. He told me that it was the inclusion of Mica, topically embedded in the sidewalks, which made them shine. Mica is a mined mineral that is a part of a group of silicate (si04) minerals. NYC DOT calls sparkly sidewalks "tinted sidewalks," and their official regulations states that the inclusion of Mica, and Silicarb "to provide a sparkle effect is an approved standard variation." It is left to the sidewalk owner's discretion to decide whether or not to include it.

Beyond than aesthetic reasons, Silicarb and similar shiny aggregates help to keep sidewalks clean, allowing rain to more easily slide off of the concrete.

This explanation was a little bit more scientific than I hoped it might be. And yet to me, the sparkles in the sidewalks will always be a little bit of "magic in the mundane." I admire those who put the effort in to adding this slight detail to make the communal concrete slabs that all of us New Yorkers share that little bit more appealing, a mirror for our dreams and aspirations.

The word Mica comes from the Latin word micare which means, "to shine." When seeing the light reflect off of the sparkling Mica in the sidewalks, I remember that I have to start from the ground up in pursuit of my chance "to shine" in this city of dreams.

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