1. Experiencing place, 2. House, 4. Landscape, 5. Suburbs, 6. City Form & Plazas, 7. Modernism, 8. Utopian visions, 9. Contested spaces, 10. Urban futures, 11. Walking around, 12. NYU-landia, 13. Seeing New York
I interviewed two of my roommates on the routes they take to get to Bobst. Their renderings echoed Lynch’s notions on “imageability,” which he describes as “the quality in a physical object which gives it a high probability of evoking a strong image in any given observer” (9). Hence each person has a unique perspective on his or her surrounding environment. Lynch writes that, “The environment suggests distinctions and relations, and the observer—with great adaptability and in the light of his own purposes—selects, organizes and endows with meaning what he sees” (6). Despite taking different routes, both roommates, Lauren and Sachi, used the same visual identification elements that Lynch mentioned— most notably paths, landmarks and nodes. These structural elements are what Lunch calls, “The building blocks in the process of making firm, differentiated structures at the urban scale” (95).
For Sachi, her route typically varies depending on the traffic lights. She bases her walk on the quickest path, which is her “line of motion… [with] clarity of direction” (96). She walks up E.7th Street and notes the cupcake shop, Butterlane, and Cuban restaurant Caracas, both on the right side of the street. At the top of 7th St. and 1st Ave, she makes a left turn by the Saifee Hardware Store, which has plants outside. She walks down 1st Ave to 6th St., which is also known as Little India. She walks up 6th St. and passes by restaurants such as the Taj, which she gets takeout from. She walks all the way up 6th St. until she hits Cooper Square. She makes a left by the Standard Hotel, which is where her parents stay when they come to visit NYC. She walks down until she hits 4th St. and Bowery. She then walks straight up 4th St., passing B Bar on the left. Colombe Coffee is a node by 4th St. and Lafayette, which Sachi doesn’t like because they don’t carry soy-milk (she’s lactose-intolerant). Directly across the street on the other side of 4th St. is Soul Cycle and Blink Fitness. Sachi notes the NYU crowds by the Stern plaza as she continues walking until she hits Bobst across from Washington Square Park.
Lauren’s route starts by taking a left on 7th St. and walking down Ave A. She walks by the empty storefront that once used to be a popular local deli and is now the unofficial spot for homeless people in the area. She then makes a right on 6th St. and Ave A by the Benny’s Burritos, which she notes has great margaritas. She likes walking up this part of 6th St. because there’s an abandoned lot right before you hit the Dunkin Donuts on 7th St. and 1st Ave. She like stopping by this lot to look at the beautiful ivy that runs up and down the walls of both buildings on either side of the overgrown grass. She then cuts over to walk up 5th Street, which is more quiet and a bit more residential than 4th St. She likes passing by our friend Alice’s apartment on 5th St., in between Bowery and 2nd Ave, a stretch that has really cool shade from the trees. Once she hits Cooper Square, she walks to 4th St. where she sees Phebes. She likes walking on the side of 4th St. where B Bar is, which has nice open air patio seating for its customers. From here on until Bobst, Lauren doesn’t like the walk. She notes how commercial and busy 4th St. gets as you approach Broadway. She despises the MLB Man Cave and thinks it’s an obnoxious eyesore. She just zooms in and has “tunnel vision” until she makes it to her destination.
Sachi and Lauren’s descriptions of their walks are good indicators of how “a good environmental image gives it possessor an important sense of emotional security” (4). For example, Sachi seemed to go by a route where she had attachments to the nodes (such as her parents staying at the Standard Hotel or walking by places she eats). Lauren, on the other hand, is a painter and it made sense to me why she chose to go by a route that was calming for her and provided her with pockets of beauty (i.e. stopping by the ivy). Both of their routes mirror what Lynch says imageability is capable of doing—a person is able to “establish a harmonious relationship between himself and the outside world” (4).
Where else in America, or the whole planet in fact, would you be able to find such a great diversity of people? I really can’t think of a more appropriate term than the melting pot. We have Chinatown, Little Italy, a de-facto Japantown at St. Marks, Koreatown… There’s just a whole cultural mix of European, Asian, Latin-American, Middle Eastern, African-American … Not sure if there’s so much Austrailian, but you get my drift.
The population is just a crazy amalgamation of different ethnicities and its really reflected in all the plethora of cultural goods from different places all over the whole planet. Hell, I even see funny NYU memes referring to Stern as Chinatown, haha! I never really realized it until very recently, but all this reflection lately, combined with learning so much of New York this semester has really made me appreciative of where I am. I’ve already been here four years but I still feel as though there is far too much to see and experience, way too many things that I still haven’t seen in this amazing city.
Oh, and the people! The people are just too great here, and I’m not being sarcastic. Living in a collectivist culture where people ironically ignore the hell out of each other, I was amazed at how polite the people in this city were. Maybe it’s like a good epidemic in the city, but I feel as though after I’ve gotten to New York, I’ve tried harder to be a more polite person myself. I really appreciate how so many people are so nice, and often even go out of their own ways to brighten up somebody else’s day. When everyone is suddenly so nice to you, it really makes you a little happier and suddenly you have this urge to share this happiness, and the cycle goes on…! There is just an incredible level of humanity that I’ve experienced in this wonderful place, and I know I’ve made the right decision to come live in New York City.
I try to imagine myself in a parallel universe, where, I chose to attend some other campus university in a rural setting that is isolated from the rest of humanity. I can only presume that had I been stuck in such a protective bubble throughout my college years, I might have just droned through all my work day-by-day, month-by-month, year-by-year, and come out to be an even much more mechanical person (username is pure coincidence, I hope lol).
The sociopolitical history of the city itself really shows a lot when looking at it on the most human level. It served as the major immigration hub for the United States, people from different walks of life have united to protest against Robert Moses, there have been organized crime from practically everyone, including Italian gangs, Chinese gangs, Vietnamese gangs, African-American gangs, etc. just to name a few. Whether things are good or not, it’s definitely easy to see the dynamics of human interaction unfold in this explosion of diversity.
You’ve all heard about the powerful displays of humanism in this city – the Police Officer who bought the homeless man a pair of expensive boots, or NYU fighting to protect Jerry and keep him in his rightful Kiosk. You’ve also seen the time-keeper who dedicated much of his time keeping NYU students safe, not to mention the Naked Cowboy and all kinds of entertainers on streets, subways, and parks. Perhaps you’ve caught a glimpse of the topless lady or the dude who walks around with a cat on his hat. The free-hugs guy (who recently got arrested in Washington Square Park, unfortunately), the homeless man who toils to feed the homeless, the man who shoots all of these amazing people, and so much more.
I really feel as though the people of New York contribute heavily to its Sense of place. This place is really an amazing city, and I’m glad I’ve finally realized it, even though it was kind of late. I really hope each and every one of you are enjoying your moment here as much as I am… I love New York! (and its people)
On the National Geographic website there is an article from July 2012 titled, "Pictures: Floating Cities of the Future"--the article is a short slideshow of various structures built for the sea, some of which are still very much in their conceptual phase and others already have opening days in sight. These sea-structures, all of which look like an idea out of a sci-fi film, yet even the conceptual drawings beat today's top CGI effects, making these futuristic sea-structures seem like a real possibility and maybe even a great idea.
In Witold Rybczynski's Makeshift Metropolis he makes it clear to readers that a one-size fits all model will not work for the design of cities, pointing out that "some people want to be fashionable, some people don't want to live in cities at all. There isn't a single answer to the question, "'What kind of cities do we want?'" because different people want so many different things… Nor is it simply a question of individual preferences; we want different things at different times" (179).
Every city and every place has it's own personalities and characteristics and the models presented together by National Geographic try to incorporate what people want AND want they need in a living environment suited for the changing environmental climate. A place is made up of its people, but its character is also very much shaped by the land it sits on and therefore every place must have a tailor-made plan. As our world is rapidly changing, Dutch architect Koen Olthuis (who's work was featured in the Nat Geo article) has already made headlines with his floating projects, many of which are already very much a reality. Olthuis's architecture firm, Waterstudio, specializes in architecture, urban planning and research that is related to living and working on the water.
Soon, we will all have to adjust to rising sea levels but some projects which may ease some of the global warming horror have already very much become a reality and may be paving the way for tomorrow. Olthuis completed a "float house", a single-family water villa in Amsterdam in 2008, but today these float houses are not uncommon to Amsterdam and other similarly wet nations, but with an end date of six years after this "float house", Olthius may being giving Europe it's first high-density floating apartment complex.
Much of Holland sits below sea level and is "home to more than 3,500 inland depressions, which can fill with water when it rains, when tides come in, or as seas rise overall. These so-called polders are often drained by pumps to protect residents" (Nat Geo). The 60 luxury unit complex will be situated on a polder, a recessed area below sea level where flood waters settle during periods of heavy rain. The complex will be aiming to take advantage of the flooding that occurs by building the complex to move with the water levels of the polder which would purposefully be allowed to flood, keeping the buildings afloat. The polder is located in Westland, a Dutch city near The Hauge and will be built with the goal of protecting residents from flooding, Olthius also predicts the Citadel will consume 25% less energy than a conventional building.
Achieving 30 units per acre of water, the Citadel, which is merely one part The Netherlands' New Water development (which includes some 600 floating houses between Rotterdam and The Hauge to completed by 2017), will offer a car park, a floating road to access the mainland/the complex, boat docks, garden terraces and lake views. The housing complex is built a top of a floating foundation of heavy concrete caisson with greenhouses placed around the perimeter of the complex, and the water will act as a cooling source as it is pumped through underwater pipes.
There is still roughly a year before the Citadel is scheduled for completion, however, so far, this sounds great. There are bound to be unforeseen issues as with any new idea, but with accepting that I would not mind being a guinea pig to this new way of living. If we are being honest, I would prefer an ocean to a lake, but otherwise the Citadel looks and sounds like a place I could call home and I am eager to find out if residents will feel the same after settling into the new complex.
In Rybczynski's Makeshift Metropolis, Rybczynski explains that we all require different things in order to be comfortable and those things change as we change, mostly with time passing. This being said I think it would be challenging to argue that the Citadel is not one excellent path we can take with the oncoming rising sea levels. This is a specific and unique plan which seems to fit the Netherlands and its unique land, made up majorly of wetlands, and it does not fit every other city or nation and may not fit any other place exactly as it is taking place in Holland, yet I believe Olthuis's design should be an inspiration for what can and will need to be done in many other cities around the world, and probably sooner than we can plan for.
The first time I came to New York by myself was for a few-day orientation session over the summer before my freshman year of college. I remember nothing about how I got there, only that I know it was by train from Washington, D.C., and that I had no idea where Penn Station was in relation to anything else. I remember following the signs to get me up on to the street, and somewhere--on one sign, or painted on a step, or engraved into the terrazzo floors--were three words: You Have Arrived. I remember thinking the words were poetic, because they were stating both a practical fact (that hardly needed stating) and, in their imprecision and superfluousness, so full of promise. I Had Arrived. New York. Concrete jungle where dreams are made of.
I remember so little about the next few days. I remember giving a cab driver the name of my hotel, and him not knowing where it was, and me being confused and fumbling for an address, and him not knowing where that was, and showing him the map on my phone (I didn't know I needed an intersection, not just an address). I remember making the walk from Grand Street all the way to the NYU campus down Broadway and feeling very brave. I remember getting up early to buy bright green sneakers and slimmer jeans because they seemed cool, and going back to my hotel room and trying everything on and staring in a full-length mirror to see if I looked the part. I remember sharing a dorm room with a kid who had chocolate in a building that I'd apparently never see again.
And then the fall came and it was time to start school, and I'd spent the summer turning those three words over in my head. You Have Arrived. Encompassed in them was what was, in my mind, the essential guiding narrative of this city: it is the place that you become who you are. You choose some kind of identity, rehearse it, perfect it, and then that's you. You can morph into whatever kind of person you want, because in that sea of anonymity and hustle and bustle, nobody's going to notice you in the process of blossoming into yourself.
I liked that idea immensely. Not necessarily because I was so unhappy with myself (I could have been a lot happier, I guess, but that's probably true of a lot of people), but because I liked the idea of the freedom. I could try so many new things. I could make believe so many things about myself, then make other people make believe them, too, and we would all make believe it together. Things like I was really artsy, and kind of tortured but also kind of mean and coarse. Maybe I'd end up with piercings in odd places, or a leather item in my wardrobe. Maybe more than one. The opportunities were endless.
I didn't do a very good job of convincing a lot of people (ok, zero people were convinced) of any of these things, but I held out hope that maybe, once free of a stifling dorm-living existence, I could just cut ties and try the whole charade over again. I could run from myself so many times over, and convince all sorts of people of all sorts of things about me, and if it didn't work, then there were 8 million more out there waiting to be duped. I know this is the language of a con artist, and I guess in a way that's kind of how I saw myself. I wanted to scam people so well that I'd start to believe it all, too.
But the thing is, I never scammed anyone, because slowly I came around to feeling as though I didn't have to. I won't end on some sappy horseshit, like I learned to love myself! or anything like that. People who love themselves are generally the worst kinds of people. But I did find out that New York isn't the sort of place you go to become some curated version of yourself, as I thought, but where you go to become the person you are. New Yorkers have seen it all, so nothing much fazes them and they accept nearly everybody as just another part of the mess of this chaotic overcrowded city. And after enough interactions with people all over the place, who just didn't care at all that I was who I was, at some point I guess I just felt OK with not being a different person. And I think maybe that's what those three words at Penn Station mean, and that they aren't really imprecise at all.
One of Moses' most controversial projects was the Cross Bronx Expressway. The Cross Bronx Expressway was built around the same time as the George Washington Bridge, and was seen as a way to connect New Jersey and Long Island, as well as alleviating traffic for commuters who needed to get around the outer boroughs of the city. This would also make the transporting of goods and products in and out of the city easier. However, it required a lot of neighborhoods to be destroyed, most of which were low income. A lot of residents opposed the project, for the obvious reason that it would destroy their communities. Unfortunately, there was no Jane Jacobs to save the victims of the Cross Bronx Expressway. The project went through, destroying nearly 1700 homes and changing the landscape of the Bronx permanently.
In Moses' mind, aside from the ramifications expressways had on local traffic and commuters, he saw them as a way of reducing poverty and creating jobs. He really disliked slums and urban blight, and did not give them a lot of attention when designing his projects. Construction itself, he figured, would give a lot of people jobs. Additionally, it would end urban blight in many areas, he thought, because it would be a forced redistribution of slums. However, I think that many people even back then saw that this would not work. The areas that the Cross Bronx Expressway was constructed through have retained low property values ever since. Whether or not this would otherwise be the case is speculation, but it is evident that expressways in cities have worked to suppress the property values. There is a correlation between expressways and low property values for surrounding properties.
Today, the Cross Bronx Expressway suffers from really bad traffic at all hours of the day. The situation can be unbearable for drivers, despite the fact that it is a 6-lane highway. However, researchers have concluded that the expressway was, in fact, necessary. They point out that traffic would be even worse if all the cars had to drive on surface roads, and constantly having to stop and go with traffic lights. The same study also published statistics that pointed to the expressway actually increasing economic activity and bringing in revenue, in calculations that are too complicated for me to scrutinize. So there were some positive benefits to building it.
However, what I am trying to get at with this blog post is whether or not the same project would have been seen as permissible had the neighborhood been occupied by middle class white people. Would the destroying of homes justify economic gain, however that is calculated, the artificial lowering of property values indefinitely, and loss of community. If Jane Jacobs were poor and black, would her cries have been heard at city council meetings to the same effect that they were. I think Jane Jacobs is a great human being, but I do often wonder these things. Do the means ever really justify the ends when the means cause suffering to those who may or may not even see the benefit of the end? Or have we just become desensitized to these sort of things since thy happen all of the time? I really wonder.
Once I started really getting settled down here, I felt the energy of New York City and its comparatively higher efficiency affecting me both in conscious and probably unconscious ways. I get upset when I can’t find recycling receptacles nearby, I hate watching water and electricity go to waste (even if Stuyvesant Town’s rent covers utilities), and I’ve gotten accustomed to having everything I need within walking distance—no more dependency on my car. Honestly back in Texas, I could not leave my house to do anything or meet anyone if I didn’t have a car. It just wasn’t practical. I remember walking to my friend’s house in desperation of escape from my car-less house arrest situation. What normally would have been a twenty-minute drive took about an hour. And it wasn’t’ a pleasant hour. It was a navigating through all shapes and sizes and orientations of neighborhoods, dead ends, and buildings kind of hour. Houston had so much unused sky and I could never find basements; New York takes advantage of both the spaces above and under the ground. Of course, I’m sure other suburbs and rural areas that don’t get frequent flooding have houses with basement space, but very few of my friends in Houston did.
I think Sorkin definitely has the basic idea of an efficient city down: eliminate the need for excessive travel by making neighborhoods places where all our daily needs are met. It’s a fairly simple idea with a very intricate tree of reasons why it would be difficult to shift our current state towards that. However our awareness of the dwindling down of energy and resources is, as he talks about later in the book, driving us into structures of living that are more efficient (more detail in one of my other posts), so I really appreciated his pointing that out. I liked the way he described cities as “juxtaposition machines.” He describes it as a collection of relationships and events that occur between people and space, people and people, people and pets… etc. Sorkin believes that the sum of all these interactions, in a way, constitutes the soul of the city. Interestingly, this is similar to my current research on the purpose of music and music performances.
It isn’t practical, a little counter-intuitively, to conceptualize music as an object. What I mean by that, is that, quoting Christopher Small in his book, Musicking, “… performance does not exist in order to present music works, but rather, musical works exist in order to give performers something to perform” (Small 8). In other words, the importance of music should be centralized around the act of its performance and reception—to music is to write, perform, listen, record, prepare the set… etc.; music is a verb—a set of relationships. Considering this, the city is, in a way, a concert.
If we have garbage men, public service, and waste remediation clearing the stage every morning/night for the next day; if we have restaurants and vendors serving food; if we have police protecting us and enforcing the rules of the hall to keep the people in order; if we have gift shops, bathrooms, resting/socializing spaces; then New York City is one of the largest concert halls in existence. We, as the citizens and consumers are both its audience and the rockstars, and, in our belove city that never sleeps, our music is on blast 24/7.
West 71st St starts where my apartment is located, but ends for everyone else at the same spot. I live at the end of a dead end street, where a cul du sac prevents cars from cutting through between West End and Riverside Drive. The building is old, at least a hundred years old, though the apartment interior has been renovated. With only seven units, my building is small. A family lives in the apartment below mine. John, the opera singer, lives a story above me, and has been there for decades. A reclusive old asian lady lives across the hall from me. The French couple who work at a restaurant together live directly above me. They must work the night shift, because you never really hear them until 3 or 4 am in the morning. A 30 year old woman named Sibyl lives in a studio on the top floor. She is Yoko Ono's assistant, and likes to drink beer on the roof after work. My building is a mini community to me; something that the mega buildings and skyscrapers in New York are missing out on.
Every day, I walk down 71st St to Broadway, and stop at the Deli on the corner. An old guy with a big watch owns the deli. He seems like a nice guy, though I do not see him too often. I am a pretty lazy guy when it comes to cooking in the city. Plus I dislike the bugs that food attracts into my apartment. So I eat out alot, but always cheaply. This particular deli is where I get a bagel with eggs most mornings, and an iced coffee when the weather permits. Carlos, the cook, is a hard working guy who likes to joke around. He is working everyday, and gives me a fist pound every time I come through in the morning.
71st and Broadway and 71st and Amsterdam are really noisy. They remind me of downtown New York. Lots of cars trying to drive aggressively. Frantic, hurried people going in and out of the 1,2,3 train station. Lots of relatively unstable homeless people wandering around, teenagers yelling and fooling around with one another, and lots of tall buildings.
Continuing down to Columbus, things really start to change. It is actually quite a drastic change of pace from Broadway and Amsterdam. The buildings are lower. Lots of local businesses. There are also a lot of expensive stores here. If you wander off of 71st st. and continue to head up Columbus, things start to get very bourgeoisie. Fancy restaurants and wine where wealthy old people like to hang out. Designer clothing stores that the young people shop at. But its nice, and certainly pleasant to wander around on.
Continue down 71st, and you arrive at Central Park West. This is where my 71st st ends. I rarely wander over to the East Side uptown. For some reason, it just never happens. But hanging out in central park can be really nice. My girlfriend loves to hang out there. Now that it is warm, the trees are blooming and everything is very colorful. Its great watching people walk their dogs and play with their children. The only downside is the tourist presence as it is still relatively far down in the park, but even that is not too bad. People are just there to have a good time.
Sometimes, after a long day, I walk the other way on 71st st, and end up at 71st and Riverside Drive. Here, you get a beautiful view of the water, despite the eyesores Donald Trump erected all along Riverside, the view is setting is tranquil. People are biking, or getting some solace near the water. Here, you can breathe fresh air. When it is sunny, kids love to play on the playground near by. In a city filled with chaos, there are many respites West 71st st. offers me, and exactly why I love living uptown.
Reading the end of Sorkin's book Twenty Minutes in Manhattan, I was interested in his evaluation of constant surveillance and the rise of glass architecture. His basic argument, roundabout and winding as it is, is that glass architecture sprang up as a mode of display, of performance. He then goes on to argue that they're protective because the windows are often sealed or inoperable, so the structures allow us to be hermetically safe from the outside. In his words, we're "running scared" from external threats, and "new glass buildings share in this anxious quality." But then he goes on to further argue that we seek safety in "self-exposure" and "panoptic transparency," and that glass architecture "panders to the morphology of fear." Ooooo, "morphology." Big word.
Excuse the coarse language (isn't that what blogging is for?), but I call bullshit. While I'll concede that glass architecture (curtain-walled corporate architecture, specifically) certainly saw a hayday in the post-WWII era (when it's often argued that the country was embroiled in Cold War anxieties...everywhere...all the time...), this was also due very practically to a confluence of new money flowing into the economy, new building technology, and an embrace of the "international style" that had been building in Europe for the past few decades. While the insurgence of this type of architecture might correlate with broader cultural anxieties, I think it's a stretch to join the two so neatly.
In terms of more contemporary examples of predominantly glass architecture, I think it speaks to a much less complex notion than fear. We're living in an age (and have been for the past 2-3 decades, depending on how you look at it), where people have become increasingly simpler to pinpoint geographically, and where their actions and locations were simpler to track. As things like pagers and car phones gave way to cell phones, the Internet, e-mail, and now dozens of different social networks, people have become increasingly more comfortable with living as transparently as the buildings they inhabit. Personally, I don't think that really has much to do with pandering to safety as much as it does pandering to fun. Unless you want to argue that fun is a type of safety--like a social safety, wherein public displays of fun-ness and contentedness display that ones life is not sad/pathetic/fearful/etc.--I think what we're seeing is much more of a reaction to a sharing and attention-seeking environment. People don't post tweets or Facebook statuses or Instagrams because they feel unsafe. They post them because they want to show their lives to others, because that leads to attention, and attention is fun and exciting. It allows "regular people" to feel as though their lives are more special and more significant than living in the isolation of being disconnected. Indeed, being disconnected and unplugged is probably one of the most pervasive social anxieties of our generation.
A couple of days ago, my phone broke, and for the roughly 18 hours that my phone was out of commission (approximately 7 of which were spent sleeping), I experienced a whirlwind of emotion. I can't even count how many times I reached for my phone to check e-mail, read Twitter, or check how many "likes" my last Instagram was getting. I feel all dirty admitting that, but it's true. What's more is that I still had all of these capabilities nearby on my computer and on my iPad, and I knew that after a trip to the genius bar, I'd have a new phone. I don't think that people felt this way before all of these things came into our world, but now that we've grown accustomed to them, there's something crushingly isolating about really experiencing life without a constant cycle of feedback. Sharing stuff has become and integral way to the way we (or at least I) experience things. The immediacy of these services has rendered the documentation and display of events not supplemental to the experience, but a part of the experience itself.
I bring all of this up because I think something very similar is going on with glass architecture. It's considered taboo to admit that architects and clients don't want privacy (everyone wants privacy!), but I think that ground is shifting. Hotels like The Standard, a monolith that stretches over the High Line (a public park) and is visible from public streets takes advantage of this exhibitionist inclination. Exhibitionism is part of the draw. And I don't say that in the deviant sexual sort of way, but simply in the way that people feel a thrill--small or large--from having their lives so on display. The same thing is going on with houses, where increasingly in urban areas, where modernists used to get creative with land use and create weird privacy screens and angled windows in an effort to promote light but limit visibility from the street. Now, the inclination seems to be a reversion to older forms of architecture (as with neighborhoods laden with historic brownstones), but using the opportunity for much larger street-facing windows and semi-transparent window treatments like light-diffusing blinds and shear curtains.
While surveillance in the traditional sense of the word is certainly prevalent and ever-growing in our society as perceived dangers become greater and technology becomes more sophisticated, I think academics have overstated the effect to which this has affected physical buildings. Call me an optimist, but I think we're just attention-grubbing jerks who don't want to admit that we want people to see us doing stuff.
I suppose this is what makes a great good place. It's not a great place for any particular reason. Nothing much differentiates it from surrounding dive bars. The drinks aren't especially cheap, the seating is sparse and not that comfortable. But, how come, for some reason, I repeatedly find myself there?
First I will try to break it down in describing the specific characteristics of the bar in hopes that I will find something in it, which can clue me in to this East Village staple of the past three years.
From the outside Sophie's looks warm and inviting. The neon lights in the window - red and yellow - beckon to the passer-by to come in and have a drink. Even when not crowded it always seems like there are people in their having more fun, speaking louder, laughing harder than the people on the street. The windows function as seats as well because one window is lined with a bench while the other is host to a round table - so even if there are few people in the actual bar, the front has a façade that it is full.
String lights and neon signs light the bar - so it is quite dim. There are small tables that line the wall in parallel with the bar, which has bar seating. Towards the back is a pool table and the best arcade game ever (in my opinion) - Big Buck. There are two bathrooms, which is possibly one of the greater things about a dive bar.
The bar is open till around 4 AM, so different people wander in and out at all times. Perhaps I like it so much because it offers a sense of community found little elsewhere in nightlife in Manhattan. The music isn't too loud so one must scream over it to have a conversation.
Often when I'm there I run in to somebody I know, somebody I used to know, or somebody I want to see. It seems as if Sophie's is the same place to everyone - a fall back option where it is likely that they will have a good time, and even possible, if it turns out to be the right now, they could have a great time.
Sophies adheres to Ray Oldenberg's theory on what a great good place is because it functions as a third place in the way which Oldenberg envisions. It is a gathering place where social equality takes place and in which the exchange of ideas can happen freely. It definitely functions as a breeding ground for community vitality in which grassroots movements have the potential to take form. Perhaps this is the potential of the great good place. It is a place, nothing entirely too special, that holds the potential for something great to happen while not putting pressure on the people. It is a place where the free exchange of ideas between people of various socio-economic backgrounds to interact. However, it does need the people to do is - these sort of movements and cultural tides happen organically in these third places.
I think that what makes a great good place is the feeling that there is potential for something to happen. Perhaps that is why Sophie's is a great good place to me. In going there, we are hoping that something more will happen because there is a mixing of all different sorts of people. At once it is comfortable and familiar, but it also offers a place to meet people you wouldn't have a chance to in a common meeting ground, and it feels that way to each person who goes there.
I think that it Ray Oldenburg's theory of the Great Good place is really interesting in the context of cultural movements. Their needs to be a meeting ground for ideas where each class can share their opinions, thoughts, and ideas and have it weigh equally among their peers. I think that the internet has now become a great good place for common people to express their thoughts and opinions and have it be read by anyone who has a computer and stumbles upon their writing. It's also interesting to begin thinking about the web as a place that people go to, rather than a technological revolution. Just as Facebook was and is social interactions digitized, I think blogs and communities on the internet offer a similar third place for people to meet and discuss thoughts and ideas democratically.
Jews have held a presence in France since the middle ages and it is a presence that has both evolved and adapted as time has changed the landscape of France and the world alike. Like the Jewish community that resides there, the Marais quarter of Paris has been through a seemingly parallel history itself. Paris's Jewish neighbourhood known as "Pletzl", located within le Marais quarter, has been transformed through time, and while le Marais booms with gentrification today, the Jewish community which still calls the area home struggles to keep a Jewish cultural presence afloat and Jewish traditions alive as fewer and fewer traditionally Jewish markets, as well as homeowners, have been able to keep up with the escalating real estate costs in relation to le Marais as a tourist "must see" and a local shopping haven.
France's history of Jewish conflict dates back hundreds of years. 600 years ago Jews were expelled from Paris and found themselves settling in le Marais, the then outskirts of the city. 600 years later, there are more than 600,000 Jews live in France, with 320 communities spread across France giving the country the largest Jewish population in Europe. There are 375,000 Jewish people living in Paris today, with other large Jewish communities in, Marseilles (70,000), Lyons (25,000), Toulouse, Nice and Strasbourg. The area known today as le Marais was first incorporated into the city of Paris during the early part of the 17th century when King Henry IV commissioned Place des Vosges. Originally built as a place to house a silk factory in order to boost France's economy and keep its exports competitive, however, the area was soon made into bourgeois housing for talented craftsman and artists. Neighbourhoods everywhere in every generation change over time and the Marais is one of Paris's best examples of the transformations which can take place through a series of events, both good and bad. During the French Industrial Revolution le Marais was once again home to working class citizens, yet despite a small Jewish presence within le Pletzl neighbourhood dating back to the middle ages, the area consisting of Rue Pavée, Rue des Rosiers, Rue Ferdinand Duval, Rue des Écouffes, Rue des Hospitalières-Saint-Gervais, and Rue Vieille du Temple was not titled "le Pletzl" until the end of the 19th century as Jews flooded into France from other parts of Europe.
During World War II le Marais was forced into ghettoization and Paris's oldest neighbourhood became to the site of enormous roundups of Jewish peoples to be trained off to concentration camps and killed. Vel' d'Hiv Roundup was one of several police raids aimed at diminishing the Jewish Population in occupied France. After being held at the Vélodrome l'Hiver, the victims were sent to Auschwitz.
Despite a devastating loss of 25% of Paris's Jewish population during the war, just a mere 25 years later and the Jewish population of Paris had tripled in numbers and today France stands as the country with Europe's largest Jewish population with roughly 600,000 Jews living in France today. As France was the first European nation to grant citizenship to Jews, the country's Jewish community began to grow as programs in Eastern Europe were forcing Jews abroad due to their second rate social status. Not knowing where to find home in Paris, many Jewish refugees landed in Paris's then poor neighbourhood of le Marais. By the 1950s le Marais was beginning to reach slum status and the city of Paris had plans to demolish the historic quarter. However, before the city could follow through, in 1962 in order to raise public awareness of what exactly would be destroyed amongst the ruins, Michel Raude created a summer-long cultural festival set up in the very buildings in danger of demolition. The festival was a huge success and led to the creation of the Malraux Law, which still today establishes le Marais as a "safeguarded sector" in the city of Paris.
Despite a return of the Jewish community at large into the city of Paris and France overall, France's Jewish community had been altered since prewar Paris. Prior to WWII, the Pletzl was dominantly Ashkenazi Jews, however, a large portion of France's formally largely Ashkenazi Jewish community were exterminated during Nazi occupation and during the 1960s Sephardic Jews from North Africa, the Middle East, and Turkey joined the Pletzl's community in Paris's Marais.
Although a Jewish presence had already long been established in France, with the influx in Sephardic Jews came a new Jewish culture to Paris. Upon arrival, the new Sephardic Jewish population attached themselves to the already established Pletzl Jewish neighbourhood despite the blatant differences of the Jewish cultures. Jews from North Africa, the Middle East, and Turkey added a new aspect to Jewish culture in Paris and to the Pletzl's overall appeal. The Crif's Jean Pierre Allali has stated that, " today there is a sharing between outlets that remain Ashkenazi, and those run by people who come from Northern Africa or Turkey… they have introduced a new dimension, selling falafel and Tunisian sandwiches'". Of course, the "new" Jewish presence brings more than simply food, it brings depth and individuality to Paris's Jewish influence.
While the religion of Judaism has placed peoples from various corners of the earth into an area of a mere few winding roads in Paris, the atmosphere of the Marais has been made into that of a culturally plural society. France has a longstanding relationship with immigration, but even in the US where daily life itself is considered to be a melting pot, it is often forgotten that there exists more than one "type" of Jewish culture. Paris's Pletzl neighbourhood shows how a seemingly "same" group of individuals goes far deeper than what appears to be on the surface. Paris's Jewish quarter is not just a place where one can run into a stampede of Hasidic Jews on a Saturday afternoon and feel a bit of momentary "otherness", but rather it is a place where very unique and separate cultures can come together under one uniting roof, and that in itself is a melting pot.
Rue des Rosiers is the heart of le Pletzl and today it is home to many of the only remaining Jewish shops, markets, and restaurants is Paris, both Ashkenazi and Sephardic. In the past, Rue des Rosiers has been home to all things Kosher, however, now with the cobblestone footpaths and expensive real estate, Rue des Rosiers is less noticeably Europe's oldest Jewish quarter and more noticeably Paris's chicest stomping grounds. Le Marais has been featured in countless travel magazines, websites, TV shows, blogs, websites and anything else one can imagine. This is no doubt just as much a result of Paris's decision to keep the neighbourhood's historic architecture as it has to do with Rue des Rosiers's world famous falafel restaurants and Kosher markets. The preserved architecture of le Marais and the traditional Jewish cuisine has literally catered to the Marais's rise as not merely a tourist stop-off, but the Marais as one of Paris's trendiest neighbourhoods to eat in, live in, shop in, and stroll in. Factors such as trendy boutiques (including American labels), as well as the Pomidou center have created a village of winding roads lined with commerce intended to guide the eye of the western tourist. In today's society it is no secret that gay communities have a radar for neighbourhoods on the verge on gentrification, and Paris is no exception to this growing urban trend. With gay bars throughout the Marais, including two at the end of Rue des Rosiers, the area is officially marked as new and trendy, despite the same areas titanic past.
Due to le Marais's trendy status, the vibrant Jewish community has suffered and it has as made clear by Jean Pierre Allali that, ""[Parisian Jews} have practically lost 80 percent of [their] identity in the Marais…Apart from the museums, the very few businesses here are the only thing left to tell the Jewish story". With rise in real estate costs and the clear opportunity for tourist catered boutiques, thanks to the historically significant architecture, the Marais is losing the very people who lived its history. And, apart from the architecture, the Jewish community is what keeps le Marais historically significant and enjoyable today. With the 1960s addition of Sephardic Jews into the Pletzl's community, le Marais has only continued to flourish into an even more vibrant escape from Paris's dive in western modernity. "It's not a replacement of one thing by another but it works in parallel - like in countries where two lifestyles live side by side in complete harmony", and in this respect le Marais and specifically le Pletzl is a model for French Society.
Jews have long held a place in French society and as seen during the 1960s with the arrival of Sephardic Jews to Paris, it does not seem to matter the differences in the various Jewish cultures, but rather it is what the various societies have in common which unites them--Judaism. While the French Republic would hope to integrate Paris's Jewish community with other unique communities within Paris and France, it seems clear the people of the Pletzl neighbourhood are on to something. As a result of the strict Hasidic Jewish wardrobe, it seems clear even from first judgement that the differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews are real, however, the Pletzl community has chosen to focus on what they have in common rather than what separates them. And, as for the things which do separate the two Jewish communities, they have incorporated the differences into one another's lives in order to create a new "little place" where Jewish means Kosher bread from Sasha Finkelstajn's and a falafel from L'As Du Fallafal, both on Rue des Rosiers.
There is no denying the importance le Marais holds as a place today, but even when the place was resembling a slum, people like Michel Raude were able to see the significance and history of the place and with Raude's dedication le Marais is not just preserved and still going through continuous restoration, le Marais is not a giant museum that is inhabited in order to stand still in time, but rather le Marias is a home to many, many people who change and alter and shape the community everyday, and was only made possible because someone saw the history and the opportunity and knew it was worth fighting for.
In Anthony Flint's Wrestling With Moses, Flint discusses Jacob's belief in the concept of more crowded places as safer places, or perhaps safer feeling places. Jacobs believed in having many eyes on a street at all hours in order to ensure safety and also variety-- she has commented that hardly anyone sits on a stoop to watch an empty street (although I admittedly do this), so this got me thinking how I interact with different places based on how safe I feel in them.
While the dense population is reason to come to New York, it is also a reason to stay in whatever quiet, simple place you're in. NYC is a real sampling of the enormous variety of people our world is made up of, yet because of numerous factors, this population does include people who need help and guidance and do not have the means to receive it and unfortunately this can cause a public safety threat.
So what is the answer? To not live where there are "crazy people"? Put police outside every store? I think the answer is there is no correct answer. Bad things happen everywhere, some places are more more dangerous than others but as far as crowded vs. not crowded, the chance for danger is present in different ways depending on the specific place and I do not know if these ways in which they are dangerous can be easily compared. While I do believe, still, that crime is less likely to take place amidst a crowded sidewalk than on an empty dirt road in the woods I feel that the feeling of safety amongst a crowd is mostly an allusion. It can be hugely troubling to have a place that usually feels like home to suddenly feel almost the opposite of home, however I unfortunately have come to acknowledge that is can be a harsher reality we as individuals may or may not have to fight trough at one point or another in our lives, and I think if a place is meant for someone, the someone will find a way in the end to put aside the reality that bad things can happen at home and in the end a place that was once a home will always be a home.
One of the most visible images of the big box retailers I know of is Costco, which is "…the largest membership warehouse club chain in the world…" (Sorkin 104). It is everything as it has been described above and more. It has just about everything you would need to renovate you house, apartment, or place of business to everything necessary to throw a party of any kind. And the best thing of all, every single product is provided in large quantities. If you shop well, it is possible to buy supplies that last for a week or even store some canned or dry foods in a pantry for much longer. Overall, big box stores' pledge, the stores are efficient and a definitely advantage to the city. At the same time, some can be an inconvenience. With every idea, there are pros and cons that are associated with how it fits into the city.
As a working class and single parent family, the spatial convenience of a corner store that possesses the minimum necessities of residents in a neighborhood's dietary needs and cleaning utilities does not trump the convenience of the big box stores that contain almost everything. The corner store sells single food and cleaning items at the price one can buy a pack of without even the additional tax in the big box stores. Costco and other stores of its kind provide a person or family who have relatives in another country a way of "packing a barrel" to borrow the phrase, at a manageable cost. For instance, the two- or four-set boxes of cereals or four or six big bottles of juices or numerous stacks of cans can be split between two families.
Contrary to Sorkin's belief, I do not view the idea of "shopping as a utility" (105). Or that, he sees it as "the economic rationale for a power center…nearby highway access and shared parking lot…" which does not possess the sociability that was "…staple of traditional shopping places…" (103). This "fast-and-convenient" shopping is very appealing to city dwellers who for the most part do not have the time, except on special occasions, to spend a day at the mall. It is great to go at the pace of the city that the store in present in so that it fits to the lifestyle of the people living there. Also, I do view shopping at Costco as a fun occurrence. With my older sister and I attending college and my mom working the 9 to 5 job, sometimes 9 to 6/7, having a family activity can be a strain on us all. Shopping at Costco affords us one form of family bonding time on the weekend, because my mother cannot carry everything back and with my allergies, choosing food is a collective agreement. In addition, who does not like to run around a big store with all varieties of items?
Still, the distance from Costco and most other big box retail stores to my house are unfortunate especially if you do not own a car. Living in New York City, specifically, and using its various forms of public transportation leads one to think that getting a car to commute from the Bronx to Manhattan everyday as an unnecessary and expensive hassle. Getting a car for the majority of the dwellers of NYC is thought of an option, a luxury, or another troublesome worry. This is not the case when my mom, sister and I need to go to Costco. At the moments, not having a car becomes the unnecessary and expensive hassle. Instead of just driving to the branch of Costco in Mount Vernon, we instead must take two different buses with out big trolley in hand. It is already problematic to take the MTA or Metro North trains everyday but now we must pay to use a MTA bus and a Westchester bus to get from our home to Costco and back. The Westchester Bee-line buses are more expensive because of the distances they must travel and the fact a different transportation company owns them. But I digress. The long trip takes a large chunk out of our day and many times must be viewed as an afternoon trip from 3 pm to 6 pm. For this reason, it becomes a leisure activity that is fun and sociable but is only repeated biweekly or monthly.
Overall, taking the pluses and negatives of a big box store into account, I would rate it as a net gain to the residents of a city like New York City. Not only does it provide self-service, it sells these products at affordable prices. Weighing this against the slight discomfort of having to leave one's immediate borough or neighborhood sometimes is not so bad.
The idea for the remodeling Coles gym arose in response to the fact that the building was seen as inefficient in its energy usage and space usage. I did agree that one of the most annoying features of the gym was the fact that it had no air conditioners and instead used appliances like huge fans that pull more current and power. As a result, events like Club Fest during the fall semester of every school year were always looked towards with a begrudging acceptance because everyone had to accept the fact that they would sweat as much indoors as they did waiting on line to get in. At the same time, it was also an issue of its usage of space. The building had a wide gap in the middle when you entered that catered to the viewing of games occurring on the courts. There have also been complaints about the space surrounding the gym that was not appealing to students and did not draw them to come to the gym enough, which I personally disagree with. It is, however, easy to see why the idea of the building could be used more efficiently in terms of space. In addition, the Morton Williams Associated Supermarket would be destroyed to make way for the new Silver Tower being built and to compensate for that by inserting a market on the first or second floor of this "zipper" building (as it was named). My response to this was lukewarm until I found out that the tennis courts on the very top would be removed to make way for skygardens. The last part I viewed with horror.
During the last week of this spring semester, I took a walk through some parts of Greenwich Village bordering the center of NYU campus after buying a slice of pizza at one of the stores that sell them for a dollar. The day was so lovely with the bright sun in the sky that I decided to just walk through the village some parts of the Village instead of rushing back to Bobst Library. I had to say that I noticed the different sense of place that permeates Greenwich Village that I did not see in the buildings in the immediate center of NYU or the any of the buildings facing North, far South past Greenwich and SoHo, or Eastward. The Village possessed this cozy, neighborly feel to it even as tourist strolled through taking pictures. It was almost jarring to exist it when walking back towards campus. To see the high rise building almost leaning on the edge of the invisible boundary that seemed to exist between the Silver Towers and the Village was interesting and thought-provoking. I thought maybe this is the feeling that the villagers felt whenever they saw or heard about anything to do with NYU and its expansion plans; that it was invading on their property. As Michael Sorkin put it, the "one-story commercial strip---a continuous building in the first block with small shops and restaurants and a freestanding supermarket in the next, a rarity in the city and [was] now threatened by NYU expansion plans" (Sorkin 134).
I was also curious about the supermarket that would be destroyed in the process of building the fourth of the Silver Towers so on my way back to Bobst. When I arrived at the site of the market, it was not what I had expected. I thought that it would be just like any other supermarket that could be easily replaced and not missed at all. It was the opposite. Instead, I found that the supermarket was fully integrated in the feel of Greenwich Village especially with its garden and sitting area to the side of the store. The use of this sitting area was a surprise and wonderful to see. This use would be obliterated with the building of the Silver Tower and the new market on top of the gym that probably would never compensate.
This blog was not to show my opposition to the 2031; it was an informal analysis of how well the Zipper Building would fit into the NYU and Greenwich Village community. My overall assessment concluded that it would not. It would create unnecessary invasion into life in Greenwich Village and possibly reliance on New York University that the people would not want. I have my own personal problems with the building in that it reinvents the image of Coles Gym that I have created throughout the past three years. Up until now Coles was independent and almost a part of NYU's past and I liked the idea of outdoor courts. Now that is to be changed and access to the roof is to be restricted so as to deter any possible suicidal attempts on top of the soon to be residents hall/market/gym (I have not read of any attempts at suicide) and I feel annoyed. Not enough to oppose NYU 2031 but still sad to see the old building go.
I do wonder where we’re actually headed, though. In the last chapter Rybczynski talks about how increasingly difficult access to energy has been forcing us to become more efficient. Movements toward public transportation, more energy-efficient vehicles, and “greener” buildings (from the methods of production to working functions) have all been spurred on by the energy costs, but I’m not sure we’ll be rid of sprawl any time soon. As Safdie learned, from Habitat 67, the demand for suburban housing elements is high, and unless the housing is spread over cheap land, the cost isn’t affordable enough.
I guess it’s just going to take a lot of smart planners that we don’t have enough of, yet. City plans like that of Modi’in sound promising. Safdie explains: “At Modi’in we were determined to achieve a finer-grain organization and parcelization of land, with a greater variety in the design of individual buildings” (Safdie in Rybczynski 191). Sounds like the Habitat 67 of city planning. I think the idea of it is great: “A master plan established the main thoroughfares, general outline… location of the town center. However, the detailed urban design of individual neighborhoods was delegated to several independent teams of architects and planners who were required to follow urban-design guidelines.” This novel way of planning combined a loose, large scale organization with the small, localized planning that Jane Jacobs advocated.
Rybczynski talks about how our city planning revolves around our needs and how transportation is such a critical factor. Though he mentions more energy-efficient cars, he doesn’t really go into detail about what would happen if we developed more accessible 3-dimensional transportation, such as flying cars. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzBW5wOpr-A
That video (which, by the way, took forever to find. You’re welcome) shows how a city might develop to accommodate flying cars. As we know already, Moses’ plans all revolved around the automobile, and indeed all our cities have basically revolved around accommodating the needs of the automobile. It would have been interesting to read more about the possible effects of the arrival of vertical transportation. Of course, being a 3D concept animation, the above video looks very modern and clean. I can also see high-tech vertical slums happening like some of the environments portrayed in the newer version of Total Recall (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWMhADqlPYg).
Whatever happens, I’m pretty excited for New York City’s future. As a post-Jane-Jacobs generation, we’ve inherited a voice that lets us have a say in plans of any group, whether it be NYU or the city government, especially if it has a significant impact on a neighborhood we care about. I really what he wrote on the last page: “Effective planning should recognize that while the market is not always right, an aggregation of individual decisions is generally closer to the mark than the plans of willful urban visionaries, however exciting those plans appear on paper” (199). Though I understand that a group of untrained individuals doesn’t have as much urban planning knowledge and architectural knowhow to be irrevocably correct in their arguments, I do agree that their collective personal experiences and opinions should be a major factor to incorporate when visionaries and urban planners plan their projects.