I emerge from the lecture hall after finishing up with a rigorous economic midterm and while I walk along Washington Square South toward Kimmel Student Center, my nose is bombarded with a wafting smell. I smell heavily seasoned chicken shishkabobs from the halal cart near Stern. The delicious smell excites my senses and my hunger surfaces. The anxiety I had for my midterm is indefinitely interrupted as I indefinitely make a decision for lunch options.
Food carts such as the ones situated outside Stern and the Dosas cart situated in Washington Square Park prominently invade all of my experiences with the city. From the breakfast cart I use to frequent in high school for my egg and cheese sandwich to the Waffle and Dinges cart I always lust after every time I see them, food carts, in no particular order, have been establishments that I have relied on for quick, delicious, and tip-free food. The ability for these mobile food establishments to attract crowds suggests that they play a role in placemaking activities, and have improved public spaces for the customers they serve. Most importantly, these food carts are the visible effect of a vibrant city. For my concentration in urban development and justice, I am interested in looking at the density of food carts as a metric for neighborhood vitality and multiple uses of the street.
One myth about food carts is that they cater only to an affluent group of customers. Unlike other brick-and-mortar restaurants, food carts do not have to pay a lot of rent, and are flexible enough to cater to a diverse group of customers, and most importantly, lunch from food trucks are often budget friendly. Food truck owners are entrepreneurs who are often chasing business, not just the largest profit. Therefore, it is common for food carts to exist in far-flung places such as Jackson Heights, Queens to more dense areas such as Astor Place in Manhattan. Additionally, food carts do not have rent limitations but they do have to cater to local tastes and socio-economic backgrounds, therefore carts in ethnic neighborhoods offer affordable, ethnic dishes. Additionally, the benefit of having food carts is that it allows talented chefs who are financially strapped to access a wide pool of customers in various neighborhoods. Adventurous food addicts can explore the world just by visiting ethnic food carts located around the city.
My experiences with food carts suggest that they naturally emerge in locations with robust public spaces and provide an additional benefit to the community by utilizing the spaces for food service. Food trucks rarely show up in economically depressed neighborhoods, and only add to the placemaking efforts in a community. According to supply and demand, food trucks often cluster in locations where people are looking to spend money despite the competition between each establishment. The benefit of these clusters is that they work in conjunction with other placemaking activities such as repurposing streets into sidewalks or parks. Ultimately, the emergence of food trucks is the final phase of any successful placemaking activity. The increasing number of permits awarded to mobile food establishments suggests that many communities have some area of robust street life, which is also a comment on the level of safety on NYC streets.
As food trucks become popular with the public and the mobile vendor business becomes more popular with the enterprising, many of the original businessmen and women who started out in the business are being priced out., which could threaten placemaking activities in working class neighborhoods, and push many of them into operating illegally in the informal economy, which could also affect the safety and quality of product being sold. The struggle between business owners and the city government is the access to business that is afforded to the working class. Mobile food vendor trend is a worldwide phenomenon, and hopefully business owners and policy makers can make a compromise to the mobile vendor permit debacle. The level of vitality in public spaces across the 5 boroughs depends on it.
I remember the vivid experience of packing my suitcase as my semester studying abroad in Shanghai in 2013 was coming to an end. My thoughts switched between utter shock that I was going to leave the city I called home for the four months I was abroad, and the relief I felt about finally return to the city that was truly called home, New York City. My excitement lingered in the air as Empire State of Mind played on repeat and while I antagonized over which mementos I had to leave behind due to lack of luggage space. The memory and feelings I have of listening to Empire State of Mind relate to this week’s readings on the “spirit of a place” because the lyrics to the song, which describes Jay-Z experience of growing up and living in the city, signify a kind of attitude that was unique to New York City and starkly contrasted with my experiences with Shanghai, the city. My semester aboard in Shanghai was the first trip I took to China and although I learned plenty about my Chinese heritage, I could not identify with the city was ready to return to New York, where I could blend and become one with. In this post I will look at how the lyrics of Empire State of Mind act as triggers for describing the “spirit of a place” in New York City.
The song Empire State of Mind has taken off in popularity since its inception and has become essential to the annual New Years Eve celebration in Times Square. The easy beats and rhythm, and Alicia Keys harmonious chorus makes it a top choice for karaoke and a song people enjoy listening to. However, when people listen to the song not for enjoyment but for the lyrics, the song is considered as a hodgepodge of random words. Luckily, people such as rapgenius.com have decomposed the lyrics and explained them to the rest of us, average folk.
My interpretation of these lyrics suggests that Jay-Z embodied the “spirit of place” in the song because the lyrics is a retelling of his story of growing up with other talent including Notorious B.I.G in the Marcy Houses public housing complex in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. As a budding hip-hop artist navigating puberty and the city, he was able to preserve and achieve the success and fame that allowed him to live in Tribeca and be neighbors with Robert DeNiro. His rags-to-riches success story is the one identity that stands out among all other identities that exist in the city, and is a dream that many New Yorkers continue to share. The song, Empire State of Mind, is his story of how he’s been able to achieve his success dream, which includes an off-white Lexus, BK from Texas, and sitting courtside at Knicks & Nets basketball games.
Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind resonates with me and reflects the “spirit of place” in NYC for me because it directly addresses this notion of the nitty-gritty city. It is not as Taylor Swift describes in her song, Welcome to New York, a place where “the lights are so bright, but they never blind me”. My experience of living in the city suggests that people always struggle. The city is a haven for the dejected, the lost, and the ambitious. Escapees, and the morally questionable call NYC home with the hope that they can live in anonymity and have freedom to have a new start in life. In Empire State of Mind Jay-Z shines a light on the sacrifices being made by the enterprising cabbie drivers, himself when he was on the streets selling “rock”, or crack cocaine, and the women who are forced into prostitution to feed themselves. Many individuals are drawn into sin, and out of desperation the city that never sleeps becomes a city of sin. And, without judgment, Jay-Z effectively describes how the road on the pursuit of success is never without challenges or sacrifices. Unlike, Taylor who says the lights aren’t blinding, Jay-Z admits that “lights is blinding, girls need blinders”. The ambition and constant struggle for survival is another characteristic that many New Yorkers share.
And, though the city is rife with challenges, crazy experiences, and interactions with some of the most eclectic group of strangers its streetlights still resemble a shiny beacon of hope and excitement. It still has a community, albeit a large one with a population of 8 million, and an unspeakable rule of law that the city operates within. The informal rule of law, I would say, which has allowed completely disparate individuals stand united is to live and let be without judgment, be respectful and never mistake rudeness for the NYC attitude, and to take time to be a critical listener and observer instead of trying to stand out as an individual in a city of many.
For out-of-towners who are visiting Flushing, Queens for the first time, there are three things that stand out – the Flushing Public Library on Kissena Boulevard and Main Street; the Starbucks across the street from the Public Library; and the Flushing, Queens MTA Station located pass the LIRR railway. These three sites have become landmarks for the small but dense, and growing, neighborhood of Flushing, Queens, and have guided many lost and overwhelmed first time visitors through, arguably, the largest Chinatown in the 5 boroughs. Although the neighborhood business owners, residents, and shopkeepers are predominately Chinese, the community also acts as a transit hub and welcomes many commuters who stop in Flushing for a transfer. For example, the last stop of the 7-train is the only train that connects the greater city, Manhattan, to other outlying suburban communities in Queens and parts of Long Island. The amount of foot traffic Flushing receives makes the area a commercial center and rightly so as thousands of people shuffle into the neighborhood to run errands, shop, and take advantage of the various methods of public transportation during rush hours and on the weekends. My New York story is about how I’ve interacted with this dynamic neighborhood while growing up in the community, and how those three establishments – the library, the Starbucks, and the MTA station – have acted as pillars that have promoted community development and have supported the overall evolution the neighborhood is going though.
I lived on Maple Avenue in Flushing and was relatively close to the hustle and bustle of Main Street before moving at the end of 7th grade. I remember being 8 years old when I was first allowed to appreciate my hometown without parental supervision. My sister and had a ritual to walk the couple of blocks to the library, meander around the stacks, and meet with school friends we unexpectedly bumped into every Saturday morning. We would leave around lunchtime and walk from the library to the computer repair shop my father worked at. I imagine it was quite a spectacle to see two children, age 8 and 10, walking without adult supervision, however, I thought the independence was thrilling. My sister and I would meet my brother at the computer shop after my father picked him up from Saturday school, and the three of us played around among the inventory space in the basement before leaving for grocery shopping for the big dinner my father cooked every Saturday.
The town grew another layer of complexity to reflect my high school experiences as a commuter who regularly rushed though the streets during early morning and late evening rush hour to catch the train for my classes in Manhattan. I had moved away from central Flushing and needed to take a bus to reach the town center, and more often than not, I was late for the class because my bus regularly struggled through traffic to get me to the train on time. I regularly bumped shoulders with other frustrated commuters who experienced lengthy delays in navigating the narrow streets and regular threats of falling into the train tracks in the even more narrow platforms of the 7-train. My experiences during this period were grim as I compared the old, dilapidated infrastructure in Flushing with the shiny, new buildings in Manhattan. Manhattan was efficient and had the capacity to receive hundreds of people while I could always count on delays, and congestion in Flushing. In high school, Flushing received bad marks in my opinion and I affectionately named Flushing, Queens “the Flushing toilet of Queens” to reflect the sulfurous smell from the oxygen-depleted Flushing Bay that greets passengers arriving to the town via train.
By the end of my high school career I had become an experienced commuter and learned to avoid Flushing and the 7-train during traffic hours. Now, I rely on a more efficient route to get to the city but I still regularly visit the town I call home. At 18 years old, I’ve returned to making regular visits to the town to run errands, and visit the library on Saturdays. Unlike previously years, the library is now open 7-days a week to accommodate the hundreds of people who regularly utilize its resources. The Flushing Library receives the most foot traffic of all the Queens Library branches and continues to be a place for people to congregate. At times the branch is so busy I’ve been forced to look for other spaces to hang out, and, fortunately, there are dozens of other establishments to cater to my loitering tendencies. Bubble tea stores, premium Korean coffee joints, and the long-standing Starbucks at the corner of Main Street. The Starbucks attracts a microcosm of characters from all walks of life. Regular customers include the notorious Latin American day and currency trader, the unemployed man whose day is filled with Starbucks refills, and morning nappers who are employees waiting for a shuttle to take them to work.
The affinity I have for the town is more than the fact I grew up in the community. It is partly because the town seemingly evolved around the people inhabiting it. The dilapidated infrastructure including the buildings and the roads are a reflection of the predominately working-class immigrant population. It is partly because the three establishments mentioned above have been around since before I arrived in the community and still remain, but are constantly evolving to reflect the changing demographics. The town is once again growing another layer of history and character as new development of shiny, tall buildings attracts a new wave of more affluent immigrants and inhabitants, and more residents are feeling the pressure to leave their abodes. Although it will be difficult to track this transition in demographics, I know I can depend on observations of the evolution in institutions in order to track such changes.
The description of Pierre Dupont’s plane ride from in the Prologue of Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity is an accurate depiction of how globalized and homogenous places can exhibit characteristics of no-place, or lack cultural identity. With exception of the food on-board planes, which often reflect the cultural tastes of the home site, the act of traveling lacks a unique identity. A homogenous travel culture can be described as, “the homogenization of needs and consumption patterns is one of the overall trends characterizing the new international business environment…”. Global culture, then, is determined by consumption patterns and overall trends in consumption. When people increase the intensity they travel they also add to the proliferation of global culture and the implications global culture may have on the existing culture of a place.
UNIQLO’s successful global expansion is a visual representation of the company embracing the global culture identity. UNIQLO’s website says, “it doesn’t matter who you are or where you live, UNIQLO makes clothes that transcends all categories and social groups.” The company’s global success can be attributed to this appropriation of global culture in its brand. The clothing brand sticks to a simple concept of clothing design that is palatable to all groups. When millions of people buy into this simple concept that is quintessential to the identity of global culture, they are also reinforcing the popularity of global culture.
Cities that welcome international visitors and act as ports for international goods effectively become the center of global cultures. Thus, these cities have another identity- the international city- and have to cater to the image of being an international city. Most prominent international cities include: New York, London, Paris, and Tokyo. These cities all appropriate some the consumer aspect of global culture to appeal to the international consumer. For example, 5th Avenue in Manhattan is where many corporate flagship stores reside. The essential consumer culture surrounding 5th Avenue makes the strip an example of global culture. The MTA also translates its transit advisories into different languages including: Spanish, Chinese, and Russian.
I wonder if the proliferation of a global, consumer culture will make NYC seem like less of a place to identify with for the 8 million people who live in the city regularly. Lastly, I wonder if global culture could dominate a city and decimate the existing cultures by limiting the ability for other cultures to exist.
Architecture in the city is the intrinsic beauty of a city that makes it full of character. We recognize that we, in the present, are a small part of a long history in the city. Therefore, when I see older buildings or cultural artifacts being destroyed in favor of shiny, new structures I cringe at the loss of history. And, in the tradition of Jane Jacobs and J.B Jackson, I believe people need to make an effort to rehabilitate and live in older buildings in order to protect the history that these buildings embody from being destroyed. Like other residents who desire to have a nostalgic feeling for the spaces we live in, I feel grief when I see buildings such as 5 Pointz demolished in my lifetime and sites like the original Penn Station, which I’ve only had the opportunity to experience through pictures.
As the city continues to rapidly develop before my eyes, I see valuable cultural assets being destroyed and replaced by new buildings with new uses. Most notably, I am unable to enjoy the birds-eye view of 5 Pointz on my commute on the 7-train. The large warehouse, which was once rented out to artists at below market-value rates and whose exterior walls potentially served as the largest blank canvas for graffiti artists, was torn down in late 2014 and replaced by luxury condominiums and expensive commercial developments.
Similarly, the city’s past is marred with stories of magnificent buildings being torn down and replaced by newer buildings. These acts of rebuilding the city were most notable during the modernity period when our desire for modern amenities, buildings, and services are alluring to many of us, city dwellers. However, I think about how we, unexpectedly, sacrifice something greater, a historical connection to the spaces we live in. The destruction of Penn Station is an example of how we do not realize the consequences of tearing down the old train station in order to build what was believed to be a more important, cultural asset to the city, Madison Square Garden, a concert hall, home of New York Knicks and the quintessential transit hub which connected Manhattan to the rest of continental United States. After the station was demolished, people felt anger and frustration about the lack of protections for cultural assets and fought harder to preserve the remaining cultural assets in the city from a similar fate. The original Penn Station left a massive physical and historical footprint. Many of the subway tunnels and entrances are remnants of the original tunnels built for Penn Station, and many of my memories of the station are a reflection on spectacular images of Penn Station.
The city’s history is, understandably, built through violent means of tearing down older edifices to create space for newer, denser, and modern buildings. There are many benefits to the city’s continually changing landscape including: higher density, and population and economic growth. However, what tools are available to help preserve the old buildings, which are essential for protecting our culture and history? And, how do we make the selection process of construction and demolition a fairer process?
I do not know who may have the answers to this. I just know from my experiences of feeling regret of seeing strong cultural institutions demolished that architects, city planners, citizens, and developers need to place greater value on old buildings, and perhaps choose other paths of development such as re-adapting buildings for newer uses instead of tearing them down, but also recognize that there is a need for newer facilities to accommodate a growing, thriving city.
While reading J.B. Jackson’s chapter, A Pair of Landscapes, I thought about the distinction he makes between the human desire to live privately in defined boundaries and our need to socialize and be with others. He says, “ethologists and others who study animal behavior…tell how they (animals) respond to the presence of others of their kind and seem to languish when they are alone too long” (11). The week’s readings on landscape reminded me of the readings we had for Topophilia because it recognizes that the space we inhabit is more than just a place we set roots in – the buildings we inhabit help build our social identity and how we design these spaces for socialization is important to fostering strong social bonds.
An important quote to summarize these points is, “good fences make good neighbors”, which is written by Frost. This quote suggests that we need separation of private and public space to help us build safe environments for socializing. Jackson sympathizes with this opinion when he says buildings were designed to stand alone in the early American landscape in order to create “a surrounding buffer zone of empty space to give them dignity and aloofness” (15). Since we modify our surroundings to reflect our own feelings about space, our buildings are a reflection of our desire to have private, empty space for protection but also our desire to be in close proximity to other buildings and people. This notion of the landscape reflects the ideas expressed in many of the readings from Topophilia because it suggests that the places we live and interact in are important primarily for the attachments we form in them.
This week’s readings focuses on how poor design that blurs the boundaries of separate and private spaces could endanger our ability to build friendships because privacy is important for people to feel emotional and psychological safety. The example provided in the text suggests that as people move away from rural farms and into cities, our perception of minimum requirements for space and material goods change but our desire and need for boundaries have not changed. Even when humans began to cluster together and live in towns and cities our need for defined boundaries and barriers persist.
As I look around my surroundings in the city I notice that our need for private spaces are being taken away from us. Many offices utilize the open floor plan and often place coworkers desks next to and across from each other. These designs are popular with employers and architects because walls are an extra expense, and open office is more versatile. However, offices without walls or enclosed spaces can create conflict in the work world because individuals will feel more vulnerable. One classic example is that of the employee who is constantly stressed about having his/her supervisor looking over his/her shoulder. As I sit in the second floor lounge in the GCASL and type this blog post, I think about how the lack of privacy in our lives could make our ability and desire to communicate less appealing, and how we are constantly searching for isolated, private spaces despite our innate sociability.
While the benefits of clustering together outweigh the consequences, I believe that our spaces should also reflect our essential desire to be private individuals and social beings.
When I think about suburbia I think about cars and how cars and highways are the life-blood of urban sprawl. Cars and highways make suburbs appealing for people who are chasing the quintessential American Dream, but when they arrive in the suburb they realize that the places hardly embody the American Dream that was marketed to them.
J. Waldie’s memoir of living in the suburbs, Holy Land, is a good example of how suburbs are perceived as wonderful dreamworlds, but the experience of the suburb is far from a dreamworld. Waldie has vivid memories of the physical construction of the suburb he grew up in and nothing much about the experiences of living in a home. He remembers the prefabricated construction of each individual, yet identical, house and the unskilled men who labored on them. He remembers the loud noises that penetrated the air, daily, as a result of the constant construction because the suburb was always expanding. Most importantly, he remembers how there was a general belief and perception that the suburb was a desirable place to live.
This perception starkly contrasted from his memories about growing up in a prewar subdivision. The space between each house was forty feet wide. The blocks became their own “enchanted islands” where families would be isolated from each other. As Waldie ages out of the suburb and moves away from his parents, he no longer sees the suburb as an idyllic place to leave. The paradise was falling apart and was quickly becoming an inhospitable place for his parents. People began to see suburbia beyond what was being advertised. Suburbs are unsustainable because it lacks the infrastructure to make it hospitable to a diverse group of individuals.
Waldie’s memoir brought into focus my interactions with the suburbs where I live. Queens, a borough that was once notable for its urban sprawl, is a place where suburbs exist alongside denser town centers. Increasingly, as the city population grows, Queens is becoming a city center itself and houses are increasingly being replaced by towers and apartments as space becomes highly desirable and the perception of the American Dream is changing. I relate to Waldie’s experience with the suburbs when I drive from the dense parts of Queens to the sparsely populated suburban communities. The suburbs are beautiful places to drive through and to look at. They are peaceful drives with hardly a car or stoplight in sight and are often the best places to learn how to drive. I feel at peace and safe when I drive through the suburbs and wonder how great it would be to live in the suburbs, until I think about the practicality of living there. I imagine a swath of responsibilities that come with living in the suburbs, and a house in the suburb no longer seems idyllic. Thus Waldie’s conclusion about the suburbs is the same conclusion I have – they are illusions of idyllic places to live and build communities but the lacks the essential infrastructural design and networks people need to build these communities and make them desirable places to live and die.
Jane Jacobs discussion on having mixed-use, old and new buildings intermingling in short city blocks is the one way we can build cities in order to support a city lifestyle that is desirable, and is a more efficient use of city spaces. Jacobs theory of urban planning is more desirable when contrasted with the master plans Moses, one of the great urban planners, created for the city because she was thinking about how to maintain 24/7 use of city buildings, streets, and spaces. I think this is more efficient in the long run because it prevents the creation of dead zones in highly desirable city spaces.
Wall Street is one example of how clusters of centralized single use buildings are less efficient. I was an intern at an office in central downtown Manhattan for 4 months in Fall 2014. I travelled to the offices from NYU campus four days a week and noticed a significant difference in the quality of street life in the Financial District and in Washington Square. In the financial district, many of the people on the streets are dressed in business attire and are constantly in a rush unlike the students who dominate the public areas in Washington Square Park. These businessmen rarely step out of their offices except for lunch, leaving and going to work, and to smoke cigarettes. These people rarely leave their buildings so the streets remain empty except for other blue-collar workers who make deliveries to the occasional stores in the area, or the construction men who spend most of their time on the streets, but do not use the street spaces for leisure. The central location of the banking sector in downtown Manhattan makes the location an undesirable place for street activity.
Wall Street loses all of its vibrancy after people leave for work. Many of the shops also close around 8pm-10pm. The streets become a dangerous place to wander and is what Jacobs calls a dead zone. Dead zones are not efficient uses of city streets and spaces. For example, although many of the buildings close and people leave the buildings after work in the Financial District the buildings remain lighted for security reasons. Mixed-use buildings would increase the level of vibrancy on the streets, and make the area safe for use after work hours.
Although there have been a movement to bring back vitality to the street, many of the projects are not well received. For example, South Street Seaport closed off some of the streets for pedestrians only, however, these spaces remain empty for the majority of the time because the people in the vicinity rarely have leisure time. The ratio of businessmen, service employees, and other blue-collar workers to stay-at-home mothers, college students, and children are not enough to make the spaces vibrant.
I envy the directional instinct that migratory birds are equipped with when they go on their annual expeditions. Unlike birds, I am not as adept to reading natural or manmade directional signals and often get lost. There is no rationality behind why I get lost even when street signs, building names, and numbers are all around me to help me navigate, but one theory is that everything in the city is constantly moving – even the buildings, which we are constantly rebuilding. Humans are unlike birds and frequently get lost because humans have to navigate in a chaotic micro universe that is slightly different from the calm, rolling scenery that birds observe on their long expeditions.
I experience disorientation every time in the city, even in places where I have frequented often, because the city is constantly changing around me. At my internship last semester, I had to deliver a document from the office at 125 Maiden Lane to Battery Park City Authority at 200 Liberty Street. The directions were simple enough – I had to walk down Maiden Lane and follow Liberty Street from the East side to the West side of Manhattan, but the physical experience was extremely disorienting because the surrounding buildings were unfamiliar and the streets were extremely chaotic.
I’ve walked along Liberty Street three years earlier on my first trip to the World Trade Center Memorial, and remember being surrounded by police officials, construction workers, men and women in suits, and tall, blue construction walls at the sites closest to the 9/11 attacks. My latest excursion around the area was a shock to the sense and my memories. The tall, blue walls were gone and replaced by towering, glass-façade buildings. I would later learn that these buildings were Towers 3 and 4, which were also destroyed by the attacks. The area seemed less dense because there were more streets to walk, however, it also didn’t seem like a pleasant place to loiter under the gaze of construction workers and police officers. I questioned the viability of the World Trade Center Memorial and Zuccotti Park as on going construction and vigilant security guarded the area from allowing people to access the parks freely. As I closed in on West Street, things became even more chaotic. West Street is not as the name implies, and is, in fact, a busy highway. On the other side of the highway was a mega-mall with mixed-use offices and apartments. I saw my destination ahead of me, but getting across the highway was more challenging than navigating through confusing access along Liberty Street. I noticed an enclosed pedestrian pathway to the right, but I couldn’t find the entrance.
Feeling defeated by the few remaining steps to my destination, I asked a police officer. He didn’t direct me to the raised pedestrian walkway, but asked me to follow a temporary pedestrian walkway that followed West Street before emerging at a sidewalk walkway. Incredulous at the number of obscured passageways and entry and exit points, I wondered if the area businesses and residents would ever complete construction and recover from the 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy disasters.
For now, the occasionally stationed MTA and NYPD employees would have to suffice for helping tourists and locals alike orientate themselves among the never-ending construction, and the temporary closures of streets.
Lynch’s Image of the City accurately describes the differences between our cognitive maps and the geographic maps that help us navigate city streets. Our cognitive maps evolve from the experiences we have with space, but geographic maps rarely tell stories. Although there are stark differences between a cognitive and geographic map, they can also inform each other to help make navigating easier. Google map is an example of two maps merging because when we zoom into the exact street of interest, Google Maps will tell us which stores are on what streets. These stores can identify as a landmark or a node, which Lynch tells us are some of the building blocks to creating the image of the city in our minds.
I remember a time when created an image of an unknown neighborhoods after visiting it only once. I was going to attend a summer workshop and all I had to navigate was an address. Luckily, we had access to Google Maps when I was a freshman in high school so it was easy for me to print out a map and use it as a guide. The map let me know that the nearest subway stop was three blocks away from the address. I was to get off at 103st on the 7-line train. What it didn’t tell me was that I would be in Corona, Queens, which was a neighborhood I’ve never ventured into before. I didn’t know what to expect but I found it relatively easy to navigate. The 7-line runs along Roosevelt Avenue straight through Queens and acts like a path according to Lynch’s book. One could easily reorient oneself after finding the rather loud sounds of the 7 train moving through Roosevelt avenue. The smaller streets that branched out from the large avenue were paths into less dense residential neighborhoods and more confusing, but could be easily identified by the street names, numbered signs. The commercial stores that lined Roosevelt Avenue at 103rd stop were also common along the rest of the Avenue, which suggested that it was a busy hub. These stores acted as nodes and reminded me of how different this community was from my hometown just a few miles away. The stores at 103rd have awnings written in Spanish and the food predominately catered to a Spanish population. Although, I felt out of place in the community, I still felt comfortable enough to navigate.
After getting off the subway, I still had to walk to my destination that was three blocks into the residential community. If I had any fear that I was going to get lost, it was because I was wandering into an area where there were no unique landmarks or signals, and where all the houses looked the same. I was surrounded by three- to four-story townhouses with similar white-washed paint, or brick façade. Nothing looked familiar but as long as I was familiar with where Roosevelt Avenue was I felt assured that I wouldn’t be lost. As I wander deeper into the community I spotted an unusual landmark. Ahead of me was a massive Catholic church that stretched the entire block. Conveniently, the church was also my destination. Although I am not religious, I imagine that I felt the same relief that other religious individuals may feel when they lay eyes on a church or place of worship. It was a calm comfort of feeling safe in a new environment.
The address on paper and on Google Maps did not convey the emotional feelings I had from regularly visiting the church that summer and the memories I have of regularly getting Mexican ices from the street vendor. The address alone was not enough to convey the importance of the church to people navigating in the area – Google Maps didn’t even recognize the space as a church. However, when I talk to people living in Corona, the first thing I mention is the Church, and the funeral home across from the street. Local people immediately know what streets and neighborhood I am referring to, and although it is located in a less dense area it remains a significant landmark in the community.