Union Square: A Community of its Own

Union Square: A Community of its Own

According to the Project for Public Spaces, placemaking is “a quiet movement that reimagines public spaces as the heart of every community, in every city.” This placemaking movement has become a huge part of the streets of New York. Walking down the streets, I see public spaces that have been reimagined in a way that allows for pedestrians to join together in the community. The city has added chairs to the streets of Times Square and Madison Square Park – inviting individuals to make use of the space around them.

Sophomore year I had the privilege (which sometimes seemed like a curse) of living in NYU’s Carlyle dorm – located on Union Square West and 15th Street. Throughout my time on the west side of the park, I started to know some changes that were occurring. Seats and tables were added to the 16th street walk-way of the park. Green chairs and umbrellas filled the area – bringing color and a place for people to sit back and relax.

These chairs and tables help make this public space a more communal area. On certain days of the week, it is more often utilized due to the Union Square Farmer’s Marker. Every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday beginning at 8:00 am and closing at 6:00 pm local farmers, bakers, and fishers set up in the square and sell to the community. Now, with the ability to sit and relax after going to the market, New Yorkers have the opportunity to walk around, shop, eat, and enjoy the public space around them.

While the green market is the main attraction of Union Square, so many other characteristics help in making this public space the place that it is today. Chess tables are set up throughout the area, a stage for performers, a new outdoor restaurant, and of course the Subway Station.

The intersection of the NQR and the 456, Union Square acts as a hub for everyday New York City travelers. Thousands of individuals pass through this square on their daily commute – making it a community of their own. While these individuals may not take advantage of the placemaking that has been utilized throughout the years, they do help in making the space what it is today.

Here in New York City, nearly everything is seen as a public space. We walk through the streets as if they are our own – but we all share them. Despite the commonality of the streets of New York, it is hard to establish a community like the one that has been created in Union Square. The city’s initiative to make these common spaces more community oriented is quickly growing – and for the better. With more places like Union Square, citizens of New York City will be able to find a community within this huge and overpopulated city.

Having seen what has changed within Union Square over the past few years, I am personally extremely excited for the continuation of the placemaking. I cannot wait to see the communities that form through the city’s initiative to reinvent these public spaces.

Feeling Theater

Feeling Theater

Theater has become a place that I am comfortable in. No matter what show I go to see, I step into the theater and a sense of excitement flows over me. Throughout my entire life, I have made different theaters my home. I grew up watching my brother perform on the stage at Nova South Eastern University’s Miniaci Theater (where they then put on our high school productions). When I entered high school, we built a facility of our own – The Epstein Center. I myself performed on this stage throughout my time in high school. But, what I remember most about performing there is not the physical layout of the building, but the feeling that I always got when I was in it. The Epstein Center

The Epstein Center is a beautiful arts facility that was created my sophomore year in High School. Attending a private high school in South Florida, Theater (and the arts in general) was a large part of the curriculum. Finally having a place of our own to perform in was a remarkable feeling. The excitement that overcame everyone during that first performance is unimaginable.

The building, which is home of studios (for art classes, chorus, film and TV) houses the main theater – seating 500 people. While I can vividly remember the physical layout of the building, the spirit of the space is what first comes to my mind.

Hours upon hours were spent in the building. Rehearsals, chorus classes, school assemblies – all took place in this building. The rehearsals and performances are what are most vivid. When I think back to being in high school, most of my excitement took place within these walls.

50 high school students, running through the building, getting ready for their first performance of Les Miserables; Students taking pictures and laughing, nervous, yet excited at the same time; That was the spirit of this place that I called home for so long. Now, as I embark on my career in Theater Administration, I only hope that I can find this spirit again.

Because of my experiences in theater throughout high school, this excitement and spirit that I once felt often reappears when I walk into a theater – even one that I have never been in before. The theaters in New York City have a spirit that is unlike any other I have encountered. Whether off-Broadway or Broadway, individuals fill the seats – excited for what is about to occur onstage. This excitement is something that I yearn to help create in my future. I want to give people, audience members, the feeling that I have always gotten when I walk into a theater. I want to make them feel astonished and in awe. I want them to feel that spirit that can only be felt when you are watching individuals give their all on stage.

This spirit that I want to create helps make the community of theater what it is today. The enthusiasm that both creators and spectators have for this art is indescribable and part of this has to do with the spirit of the place – the feeling that we get when we create.

A Road to Cupcakes

A Road to Cupcakes

200 Vesey St, New York, NY 10281. That is the address that I plugged into my phone a week ago, searching for directions on how to get there. It was my 22nd birthday and my friends from home had ordered me cupcakes from Sprinkles. Due to some issues with the delivery, I now had to venture down to the Financial District – an area of town that I rarely went to. “It’ll be an adventure” I thought to myself, but I could not even imagine the difficulties I would have finding my way in this city that I call home.

I took the 3 train downtown from 42nd Street. Getting off at Chambers, I walked around in circles searching for the direction that I needed to go in. But, I could not find it. The map on my phone, which I often rely on, was not working very well, and for the first time in a very long time I had no idea where I was.

The streets of the financial district are really confusing. This was not the first time I had been lost in this area. In fact, nearly a year ago, I had a very similar situation, but this time it was different – I was alone.

It was cold and snowy. My phone had reached ten percent – the red zone – and I had no idea where I was. As I walked down the street (of which I cannot even remember the name) I looked up at the signs. Looking back at my phone, I tried to see where I was on the map that I was holding in my hand, but that could go away at any moment.

Brookside Place was where I was heading. Buildings connected to one another and I soon (well, after 30 minutes) realized that in order to get to where I needed to be I would need to remove myself from the streets altogether. My way to Sprinkles was through buildings, not the streets of New York.

After several minutes and asking multiple people for directions, I finally made it to where I needed to be. I was suddenly overjoyed with relief and amazed at this new place that I had discovered. I was surrounded by so many familiar places – Dig In, Chop’t, Sprinkles – yet I had never been here before. The restaurants that I often see scatted throughout the streets of New York City were now all together in Brookside Plaza.

After finding Sprinkles and picking up the cupcakes that my friends had gotten me, I needed to make it back to campus in time for my birthday dinner. Due to my inability to navigate my way there, I decided that I would wave at the first open cab that I saw. Thankfully, a cab came fast and I was on my way to an area of New York that I new and understood. I gave the cab driver the address of where I needed to be and we began to head east. Eventually, we were at FDR – a familiar place.   Relief settled over me and I sat back and enjoyed the ride.  With the cupcakes sitting next to me, I was on my way to the New York City that I know and love.

On the Road Again

On the Road Again

This January, right after the New Year, I borrowed my step-siblings’ car and went on my first ever road trip on my own. From Boca Raton to Gainesville, Florida I drove five hours north up a straight and gray highway. After about thirty minutes of driving, everything around me disappeared. The houses were gone. The buildings were no longer comforting me on either side. It was just the road, other drivers, and me all going to different places.

While driving down Florida’s Turnpike, I passed several different signs: “Orlando 200 miles,” “Next Rest Stop 40 Miles,” “Click it or Ticket.” These signs guided me and made me feel more secure on this open road with nothing surrounding it.

When I drove by a sign that warned me that the next rest stop would not be for another 40 miles, I new I had to make a decision. “Could I wait for the next rest stop, or should I stop now?” I asked myself. And then I put my mind and body to the test.

I drove the 40 miles and made the stop at Port St. Lucie – a rest stop that I had stopped at several times before. I parked far away from the oddly shaped and geometric building. I then walked quickly to the eP80460ntrance – afraid to come into contact with anyone else. I walked in, put my head up, found the restroom and thus my next location. As I walked to the restroom, I skimmed the area around me to determine where I would want to order food. Returning into the open area of fast food restaurants, I headed towards Wendy’s to order my food. I received my food, grabbed my drink, and quickly exited the building, walking back to my car. It was like I was gone without a trace.

While I remember my experience at the rest stop vividly – and the location itself – there was no sense of place at this rest stop. I imagine this is how most rest stops are. Placeless buildings that people use solely to go to the bathroom, pick-up food, get gas, or stretch their legs.

As I continued my drive from South Florida to Central Florida, I noticed that all of the rest stops looked exactly the same. There was nothing that made them places of their own. They were all used for the same purposes; they were all built in the same way. In fact, if it had not been for the signs, I would have thought I was driving in circles.

“In inauthentic experiences places are seen only in terms of more or less useful features, or through some abstract a priori model and rigid habits of thought and behaviour; above all such experiences are casual, superficial, and partial” (82). In E Relph’s book, Place and Placelessness he discusses the inauthentic experiences of placeless places. The rest stop is a perfect example. Our idea of rest stops has been formed by this inauthentic and casual experience. Because of these experiences, we cannot recognize rest stops as places; rather they are simply buildings that we come in contact with on the road and take advantage of when necessary.

Just Look Up

Just Look Up

Walking through New York City everyday you see so many different buildings. Each one is unique and holds something different in it. But, when walking down the street, I am never thinking about the buildings that surround me. I never look up and just take in the amazing forms of architecture that are on every side of me. With this in mind, picking a building to talk about is a little difficult.

Not only are we surrounded by thousands of buildings here in New York City, we also have the opportunity to see buildings being created. Since coming to school in the city, I have seen the Freedom Tower come to fruition. I have remembered the places around me as they were, scaffolding and all, and am still surprised at what is revealed when that scaffolding is taken down.

At the company I work for, I have the opportunity of seeing the space that we plan to move into, before it is even created. While the building exists, inside the walls is completely bare. Walking through the cold, cement-filled building, I can only imagine what the theaters will look like once they are built into the frame that already exists.

In order to imagine what the completed building will look like, renderings have been created. Images of ghost-like figures walk through the entrance of the building. They move through the different theaters, just as real individuals will one day. These images are created to make it seem like individuals have roamed through this building – when in reality it has only been shared with construction workers, donors, and staff.

This building – the one that is completely emptied, but that holds an enormous future – is one of many reasons why I would love to stay with the company I work with. I have spent so much time learning about the space, raising money for it, and visiting it. Now, I need to see it come to fruition. I want to see the future that this building has to hold.   I want to be apart of the future.

I did not know that it was possible, but somehow I have become attached to this building that doesn’t even exist yet. The building stands here in New York City, but completely empty – ready for what is to begin.

When thinking about this building that has a special place in my mind, I cannot help but wonder about the other buildings around the city that might make other people feel the same way. Now, as I walk through the streets, I look forward to lifting my head up from the ground and looking into these unknown buildings. Maybe, with this simple movement, I will discover something new and exciting about the buildings that I pass by every day and the city that I live in.

Your Not So Average Strip Mall

Your Not So Average Strip Mall

Pembroke Gardens turns your average strip mall into a luxurious experience. Located at the start of Pembroke Pines, Florida, Pembroke Gardens acts as an entrance to the town – seen by everyone who drives past it. The strip mall can be seen from 75 and Pines Boulevard and when you see it, something draws you in.

Growing up in Cooper City (the town right next to Pembroke Pines, where this strip mall is located) I got to see The Shops at Pembroke Gardens come to fruition. The strip mall, which is located just right down the street from an actual mall, was an exciting addition to the neighborhood when it first was being built.

From shoes to golf equipment, the shopping center had so much to offer the neighborhood. On a nice, sunny, not too humid day, you could go shopping with your family and have a nice meal. This shopping strip was better than any mall near us – especially for someone like me, who hates shopping.

Pembroke Gardens became one of the hangouts for me and my friends in high school. On the weekends, we would all meet there for lunch and just hang out. Shopping would sometimes be involved, but not always.

The restaurants are what really attracted us to the strip mall. Stir Crazy, Brio, Lime, Cheesecake Factory are among some of the restaurants in Pembroke Gardens. We no longer had to travel 40 minutes to eat one of these “exciting” meals; rather it was all right in town for us.

Since leaving Florida and moving up to New York, I have returned to Pembroke Gardens several times. But, what I have started to notice is the places that I remember going with my friends in high school are closing down. Stir Crazy – the restaurant that my friends and I frequented the most – is no longer there. The Kilwins that we would all go for dessert has closed its doors.

Everything within Pembroke Gardens seems to be loosing what is once had. The strip mall where I had birthday parties and hung out with my friends is slowly disappearing. As these stores begin to close down, other shops and restaurants take their place. Despite this, Pembroke Gardens is no longer the exciting place it once was.

This vernacular place is adapting to the people who are now taking advantage of it. Common places must do this. Once people begin to leave, other people take over and thus surrounding places must play to these new needs. As Pembroke Gardens changes throughout time, it will remain a vernacular place. People will continue to go to the outside shopping mall to hang out, meet friends, and have a good meal. And although it has changed, I still find a reason to go back there – whether for food or shopping.

From Suburb to Suburb

From Suburb to Suburb

I grew up in the typical South Florida gated community. There were only about five models of houses around the neighborhood and nearly every street looked exactly the same. Next to my neighborhood was a park, where my brother would play baseball on the weekends – the parking lot where I first learned how to drive adjacent to one of the fields. Across the street was the Dairy Queen that my friends and I would go to at night. And just east of my neighborhood was my family’s favorite Sushi restaurant that we went to at least once a week.

I can describe nearly every part of the suburb that I grew up in. I lived in the same house for 14 years of my life. I knew the other kids on my street, the pets, the cars – everything. 3517 Barbados Avenue was my address and I never wanted to leave this community filled with the same five models of houses on repeat.

After both of my brothers left for college, my mom decided that it was time to downsize. We moved right down the street from where I grew up – into Darlington Park, a neighborhood with only one small street and around 50 identical townhouses. While I was only about 3 minutes away from my old house, so much of what I remembered growing up had changed. I no longer knew the other kids on the street, the pets, or the cars; rather, everything was new to me.

This newness was good. My mom and I had both agreed that moving out of our house was a great decision. took some time, but eventually my mom started to talk to people while walking the dog and we found new friends in our new neighborhood.

Just as my mom and I moved when my brothers went off to college, my mom moved last year – to probably one of the most well known suburbs of the South Florida area – Boca Raton. Filled with nice sports cars, shopping malls, and plastic surgery, I am extremely surprised that Boca has not had its own Real Housewives yet.

I never thought I was attached to where I grew up, but now that we have moved away from it I miss it. I miss knowing where everything was in my own suburbia. I miss having my friends down the street and being close to school. I miss seeing familiar faces walking their dogs at night and driving in their cars. But, I guess moving away from the place you grew up is just apart of life.

Living in New York City now is wonderful. I could not imagine living anywhere else at this point in my life. But, as I get older and start to have a family, I will be pushed out of this city into a small northeastern suburb that is nothing like where I grew up. Despite the differences, I will make it my own.  I will find a new suburb to remember every detail of. I will find new families, pets, and cars to see everyday.

Imperfectly Perfect

Imperfectly Perfect

I get off of the L train around 7:00 PM. I try to figure out what direction I am facing and soon redirect myself to face the bricked building across the way. I take my usual route to my building in Stuyvesant Town, walking past a few of the brick buildings and passing areas of grass that should have flowers in them, but are still filled with snow. I reach my building’s door, scan my card, and wait for the elevator. I open my door and I am home.

As a college student in New York City, we all come across that bittersweet moment when we realize we must leave the convenience of NYU housing and move into an apartment. We immediately dream up these magnificent apartments in our head, soon to realize that they will never be a reality – well at least not while I’m still piling up student loans.

When my roommates and I first began looking for apartments, my mind went straight to Stuyvesant Town (commonly referred to as “Stuy Town”). But, my roommates wanted to look at a few other places and possibly find something a little closer to campus. Our attempt to find an apartment on the lower east side that was not a walk-up (to ease our parents), yet fell within out budget eventually failed and we found ourselves on a tour through the apartments in Stuy Town. A few weeks later, we signed our lease and prepared to move in at the end of the summer.

Since moving in, I have found some form of solace in Stuy Town. While I could definitely do without the management tactics and the random rent charges, I have been able to make Stuy Town my home. Everyday, when I make that walk into what I consider a neighborhood, I feel like I have made it home for the day.

Reading Mumford’s article on the creation of Stuy Town made me realize that this “neighborhood” that I call home was once (and may still be today) a problem for this city. While I agree with Mumford on the uninviting nature of the neighborhood, I also disagree. These apartments, which are extremely stark and uninviting from the outside, have so much history in the inside. On my floor live other college students, families, single men and women, some of which have lived here for nearly their entire lives.

Stuy Town is not where I want to live for the rest of my life. It is not my utopia. But it is a great place to live right now. In just a few short months my lease is up and I will have to start the search all over. Morningside Heights, Brooklyn, Astoria – I wonder which of these neighborhoods I will end up in next. Will I be able to create this feeling of home in a new apartment, with new people? Will I be able to find my utopia in New York City? Whether I find my perfect home or not, I will have to remember that outside of my apartment, past the brick buildings, playgrounds, and spiky iron fences is a city that is imperfectly perfect.

Let's Get Lost

Let’s Get Lost

Where we were heading, I can’t quite remember. All I know is that we ended up driving down a sketchy and very creepy dirt road in some part of Maine and all we could think of was those episodes of “48 Hours” and “Criminal Minds” that we all loved to watch. A girl skips by us with her head slightly tilted to the side and something just felt wrong. We were lost. And from the looks of it – we did not think we were going to get where we needed to go.

It was my first summer as a counselor at my camp in Maine. Like every day off, we packed the cars full with people and all traveled to one location. Now that I have thought about it for a bit, I remember where we were going – Fiddlehead Campground in Fryeburg, ME. It was everyone’s – there must have been five of us in the car – first time going camping in this area. We somehow lost track of all of the other cars and found ourselves lost. And of course, as it always is when you are in the middle-of-nowhere Maine, we had no service. No service meant no one to call to direct us, no map to guide us, and no hope for this car filled with five twenty-something year old girls.

After the dirt road, we eventually made it to a road that had a little bit of service. We could finally get Fiddlehead on the map and be on our way. But that service certainly did not last very long, and when we thought we were close to our destination, we just could not find it. We turned around and scoped out the area. There was nothing around us aside from trees, road, and probably some deer. We eventually found a white house that looked like it had been taken out of a scary movie. We contemplated asking the man who was in his garage – messing around with several tools that we thought could easily be murder weapons – for directions. But we didn’t. We kept driving aimlessly. We were ready to be with our friends and to finally not feel so lost.

We probably traveled up and down that same road for an hour. Once we would reach a certain point, we would turn around and try again. Eventually, by the time the sun had fully set and we were almost ready to head back to camp, we found it. The small and unlit sign that read “Fiddlehead Campground.” I had never been so happy to arrive at a place I had never been.

Turns out, in order to get to everyone else, we needed to drive down a few more dirt roads in the sketchy woodsy yet beachy area. But then we saw all of those familiar faces and we were reassured that we had made it to the right place. We got out of the car, grabbed our stuff, and cheersed to finally making it to where we needed to be.

Reliving this story makes me laugh. It reminds me of how crazed and nervous we were that night, but also how much fun it was. Getting lost can be terrifying – and this instance definitely was – but it is also exciting. That three-hour car ride that should have been much shorter ended up being one of my best memories at camp that summer. I wouldn’t change anything about that experience, except maybe we should have asked that man for directions.

From Tourist to New Yorker

From Tourist to New Yorker

“Excuse me, how do I get to the subway from here?”

As a student living in New York City, there is a moment when it all becomes real; when you realize that this city is your city; when you can answer that question; when you can give a stranger on the street directions.

We’ve all been asked the general question of “do you know where this street is?” or “where is the nearest…?” And for the first year or so in New York City, we have trouble answering it. But then there is that one stranger on the street, on that beautiful spring day, who makes you lift up your head and stop: “If you continue to head west on this street (Waverly Place), the ACE will be on your right hand side.” Then it hits you. For a whole year you have been trying to find your way in this big city, and finally you know where you are, how you got there, and that it is where you belong.

We all have different ways of remembering how to get to certain places. I know I am heading towards campus when I see Stuyvesant Square on my right hand side as I walk down Second Avenue. I know I am near the Lucille Lortel Theater when I see Fat Cat, Dunkin Donuts, and the 1 Train. I know I am heading uptown on First Avenue when I see the AMC Loews movie theater on my right. These are all places that I have encountered throughout my time in New York City that have allowed me to understand where I am and where I need to be.

Despite these personal images that we all have of the places we frequent the most, we can still give basic directions that are understandable to a tourist or stranger. As a New Yorker, we are required to know how to get certain places – even if we have never been there before. Luckily, if we cannot seem to figure it out, there are useful IPhone Apps (HopStop) and Subway Maps that can help us reconfigure ourselves in any new location and lead us to where we need to go next.NYC Subway Map

This large map, filled with several lines of different colors (blue, green orange, red, yellow, etc.) all intertwining and merging, that we see nearly every day and use as a personal guide to this huge city, allows us to orient ourselves and in some ways makes us feel safe – like there is always a way to get to where you need to go.

I remember being a freshman at NYU and asking the same questions that I hear so often on the street today. In what seems like no time at all, I have made this city my home and understand how to get where I need to go. But, there is still so much I have not encountered. When I graduate from NYU and move to a new part of New York City and work at a different theater company, I will find new places and landmarks that will help me understand where I am. But, until then, there is always the colorful map to help me find my way.


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