Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Sidewalks are one the most fascinating components of NYC for me. When I think about NYC, the over-crowded original sidewalks characterized by decades of foot-traffic, or, thanks to Mayor Bloomberg, the newly-born functional pedestrian spaces marked by the innovative transformation of some automobile streets, come to mind.
Then, when I think about sidewalks, I think about how each individual's instantaneous behavior in a "New York Minute", personal manners, and on a broader scale, social etiquette and cultural background, affect the usage of this particular type of our city's built and physical environment. Which ultimately, directly impacts the overall sociology/psychology of public venues, and the daily citizenry interaction with the built environment.
Now let's be honest:
What is your personal and social etiquette, in public settings, when you are walking (or most likely rushing) through the streets? Early morning, rush hours, lunch time, after work, weekends, etc.
Are you the type that is overly considerate and passes through people while carrying a calm pace? Or are you the power-walker thinking that every second counts while creatively fitting yourself through the smallest possible openings you detect between pedestrians?
In either scenario, there is a polite way and an impolite way of getting from destination A to B while passing through the busy sidewalks crowded with local residents, "New Yorkers", and visitors, "non-New Yorkers".
Quite often, we hear the term "New Yorker", which I believe is partially defined by: understanding the particular sidewalk system and respecting its much-required social etiquette. How?
Walking is much like driving and biking. There are certain unspoken rules to be taken into consideration. For a start, lets not walk so slowly in the middle of major sidewalks and nodes (i.e. Flatiron District, Soho, etc.) during rush hours while others are trying to get to work or grab a quick lunch. Or, perhaps taking a quick look to our left when we decide to make an immediate left-turn, rather than running into a person in our blind spot. Or, avoid suddenly stopping in the middle of our fast-paced power-walk because we must read an email on our phone or to take a closer look at our friends Facebook photo.
Thanks to our 21st century technological advancements with phones and tablets, the list of "not-to-dos" goes on.
Nevertheless, you get point.
A while back, during a conversation with a manager at NYC-DOT, I was asked: "what would you do to improve NYC's sidewalks?"
Until that moment, I have always noted the advantages and challenges of the city's sidewalks, and most importantly the functionality vs. failure of the existing pedestrian pathways for accommodating different user groups and their customized way of using the space. However, I rarely ever thought about what "I" would do as an improvement?
Its easy to come up with 101 solutions to improve the public spaces in our underground subway stations, but NYC's sidewalk improvement seems to be more challenging, requiring in-depth creative thinking, just like a Titres game. Especially since public spaces (sidewalks in this case) are measured more through physical and psychological accessibility, spacial availability, and user-group/cultural diversity, rather than simply quantifying solutions with additional funding.