Improving Federal Hall

Improving Federal Hall

In my buildings post, I wrote about my wonderful experience visiting Federal Hall National Memorial – learning about all of the interesting artifacts that were inside and admiring how beautiful the architecture was. However, to my disappointment, there weren’t that many people inside of the building and those that were didn’t seem that interested in exploring the whole place. In fact, I even saw one guy taking a nap while sitting upright on one of the benches on the first floor. Furthermore, even though I visited Federal Hall on a pretty cold day (about 25 degrees outside), there were more people sitting and socializing outside on the steps that led into the building than there were people going inside the building itself to seek warmth. This got me into thinking of how Federal Hall could attract more visitors to go inside and spark people’s interest to visit it on a regular basis.

My first proposal is for the administration to implement a program in which people from various academic backgrounds could host weekly or monthly events that are related to what Federal Hall has to offer. For instance, since I’m majoring in history, I would be interested in attending a weekly event and listening to history professors and scholars, who are familiar with Federal Hall’s background or American History, discuss their own research into this field. Afterwards, attendees could pose any questions that they have on the related topic in an open forum environment. Thus, these engaging seminars could attract history students from all over the city and tourists who are history buffs to come and visit the building, and attend these conferences.

Furthermore, a similar program could be initiated for students majoring in architecture, art, and photography. For example, one possible topic for architecture students to discuss is the juxtaposition of the preservation of the Greek revival architecture of Federal Hall with the buildings around it. Additionally, students majoring in art or photography should be encouraged to come to Federal Hall and be allowed to paint, draw, take photographs, or in general, find inspiration from the interior and exterior aesthetics of the building. Therefore, these ideas could increase the foot traffic going into Federal Hall and expose visitors to all that this place has to offer.

Lastly, another idea that I have echoes the studies that William Whyte conducted on public spaces in the city and what makes some work better than others. I mentioned earlier how there were a lot of people socializing outside of the building without stepping a foot inside. Therefore, I think an innovative way to spark people’s interest is to have the administration of Federal Hall work together with food vendors to encourage customers to go inside. Since people tend to gather around food vendors, a customer who buys a hot dog or a pretzel from one of these places should receive napkins with interesting or funny tidbits about Federal Hall or American History so that it could help stimulate interest. Consequently, that person and their friends could be prompted to visit the building, along with whoever overhears them reading out loud what is on the napkin.

The Spirit of Flushing, NY

The Spirit of Flushing, NY

In Lucy Lippard’s introduction to The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society, she writes about how she “missed Ashwell Farm terribly when [she] returned to New York,” but then she found that she “could continue to take [her] daily walks in a kind of out-of-body form– step by step, weather, texture, views, seasons, flowers, wildlife encounters” (4). This kind of ‘out-of-body’ experience that Lippard describes is similar to what I do whenever I am gone from Flushing, NY for an extended amount of time, and I begin to miss being in that neighborhood. Having lived and been around this area for almost 13 years now, I know the streets like the back of my hand and I could easily picture myself getting off of my bus stop, and walking towards my favorite restaurant and bakery. I can even imagine how the air feels like once summer or winter comes around, and subsequently, cringe at the thought of the smells of garbage and dirty water on the street when it gets too hot.

Still, there are distinctive aspects of downtown Flushing which I believe represent ‘the spirit of the place.’ For one, the open marketplaces which line the streets are unique in their own way. The outside of these stores are usually where the fruits are displayed and often times, there is a worker shouting out the ‘deal of the day’ (ex: a pound of cherries for $3), in an attempt to encourage passer-bys to buy the fruits and pay inside the store. Then, when you’re actually inside, it becomes even more hectic as people efficiently rush back and forth from the aisles, grabbing the produce and meats that they need. Everyone seems to be in a hurry and for those who are used to the orderly fashion of American supermarkets and enjoy shopping leisurely, these marketplaces can seem overwhelming and even scary. However, for those who regularly shop at these places, they know what to expect and even enjoy the swiftness of how everything happens.

Another distinctive aspect about Flushing is the conglomeration of East Asian cultures so close to one another. Whereas East Asian cultures are more spread out into their own enclaves in Manhattan (i.e. Chinatown and Koreatown), these distinctions are less rigid in Flushing. Along one row of streets lined with restaurants, one is able to choose whether they want to try Malaysian, Taiwanese, Shanghainese, or Cantonese cuisines. Similarly, there are so many places around Flushing to grab a cup of coffee or tea, that the hard part of it all is choosing whether you want to get it from a uniquely themed Korean cafe or from a popular Chinese bakery. While the Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts stores demonstrate how American culture has seeped into and been integrated into this community, Asian businesses still dominate the majority of Flushing’s economy.

Lastly, downtown Flushing serves as a major transportation hub in which people often get off of the number 7 train from Manhattan and precede to take one of the many buses that run through this area to go home, and vice versa. While this might make it seem like people don’t really have much of an attachment to Flushing other than using it as the connecting point between their home and work, I would argue that many people appreciate how Flushing acts as a ‘bridge’ that encourages relationships. For instance, often times before people take the bus home, they stop by the supermarkets or restaurants to buy groceries and food, and chat with the workers there. In the morning, some people have a ritual of going to the same bakery or cafe everyday before they take the train. In this way, I feel like a lot of people have strong attachments to this neighborhood and all of these aspects highlight the spirit of Flushing.

The Most Terrifying Experience I Had Living in NYC

The Most Terrifying Experience I Had Living in NYC

When I was a freshmen, I had already lived in NYC for 18 years. I always took the same routes when I went to school, to internships, and to run errands, and because of this monotonous routine, I never really paid much attention to what was happening around me. This ‘tuning-out-the-rest-of-the-world’ state of mind that I had soon went into effect after I got used to taking the same route back to my dorm from campus during the first few months of the fall semester. Then, an incident changed my whole perspective on walking this specific path, and especially about being more alert and paying more attention to your surroundings. One night, I was almost mugged while walking home.

It had reached that time of the year in which the sun set before 5PM and by the time I ended my 4:45PM class in the Silver Center, it was already pitch dark outside. It had been a long day and I was really excited to go back to my dorm, change into my PJ’s, and watch Netflix for the rest of the night. I was walking along my usual route – going uptown on University Place and then eventually making a right on 12th street. Nothing was out of the ordinary and since I had walked this path so many times before, I was absorbed with reading and replying to the text messages on my phone.

I had reached the 12th street turn and when I looked ahead of me, the street was empty. This wasn’t unusual since these side streets usually attracted less foot traffic than on the avenues. When I was almost halfway down the block, I passed by a building with a concave side door and realized that there was a man standing in the doorway. I was slightly taken aback since I had previously thought that there was no one else on the street. But I continued walking in the direction of my dorm, while being a little more alert.

Suddenly, I felt a little movement behind me. Back then, I would habitually put my phone in my back pocket. It took about half a second for me to turn around and realize that the man that was standing in the doorway had taken my phone from my pocket and begun running in the opposite direction. I was suddenly filled with adrenaline and I started to chase the guy down the street while screaming at the top of my lungs, “Help! He stole my phone!” He began to run in a zigzag pattern as I closed in on him and almost succeeded in grabbing the back of his jacket. We hadn’t gone far from the original point of encounter but we were approaching University Place and I could feel myself losing energy. We were running on the streets and as I continued to yell after the thief, a biker was riding towards us. The biker obviously heard my rantings because he turned his bike around and started chasing after the man with me. At this point, the man was starting to run towards 13th street on University Place, and the streets were beginning to be a lot more populated.

I guess this is the anticlimactic part of the story. With the help of the biker and two other guys who had heard me yelling for help, they successfully blocked the path of the thief, who eventually dropped my phone on the sidewalk since he realized that he was outnumbered. After I stopped to catch my breath and pick up my phone, they all asked me if I was okay while I graciously thanked them. Because of this incident, I no longer put my phone in my back pocket and I have become more aware of my surroundings. However, I also gained more appreciation and respect for my fellow New Yorkers – those who, without a second thought, took the initiative to help out a stranger who was in distress, and who genuinely cared about my safely.

Placelessness of Shopping Malls

Placelessness of Shopping Malls

In Edward Relph’s Place and Placelessness, he states that “An inauthentic attitude to place is essentially no sense of pace, for it involves no awareness of the deep and symbolic significances of places and no appreciation of their identities. It is merely an attitude which is socially convenient and acceptable- an uncritically accepted stereotype, an intellectual or aesthetic action that can be adopted without real involvement” (82). This definition essentially describes how most people feel about shopping malls. When most people go to the mall, their main intention is to browse around different stores and to spend money. Once they feel like they have spent enough time (and money) there, they leave to go home without experiencing any close attachments to the characterless mall.

Shopping malls lack a sense of place because everything in it has been designed to persuade people to think and act a certain way that is the most beneficial to the ones who are making profits off of the consumers. For instance, as soon as you walk into a mall, you are bombarded with different smells, images, sounds, and other things which are intended to grab your attention. Even if you only have one item or one store in mind that you want to go to, on your way there, you will suddenly catch a whiff of freshly made pretzels which lures you to the nearest Auntie Anne’s. It becomes sort of like this pinball effect in which you are mindlessly being bounced around from one place to another by all of these diversions. Furthermore, you often have to walk across a long row of stores before you can get to the nearest escalators and elevators, and once they draw you in, you have already been manipulated by their strategically placed items at the front of the store.

However, I think that there are a few ways in which shopping malls could be changed so that it could feel more like a “place” for those who go there. For one, there are usually large, open spaces in malls which are used only during the holiday season such as for the placement of a Christmas tree and other holiday decor. These spaces should be encouraged (and allowed) to be used as areas for performances by local artists (i.e. musicians, bands) so that people could interact with each other in the midst of shopping. Nevertheless, the main objective of shopping malls is to get people to spend money so since these performances are likely to draw consumers away from the stores, this idea will be unlikely to be adopted.

Another way that could transform shopping malls into “places” is to provide a space for a forum to occur. These types of forums would serve as a way for the consumers to communicate directly with the mall’s administration. Consumers will provide opinions and thoughts on ways to improve their experiences at the mall or express complaints that would usually not be heard by the administration. Not only will this exchange of ideas be beneficial in prompting changes around the mall that could attract more consumers, the consumers themselves will have more enjoyable experiences and be inclined to visit more often.

Historic Preservation of Federal Hall

Historic Preservation of Federal Hall

When I first went to visit the Federal Hall National Memorial, the building was completely different from how I had imagined it to be. My friend needed to go there to write a paper for one of her classes so without doing any prior research, I accompanied her there. Since it was located in the Financial District, my initial image of it was that it would resemble something like “a glass-box office building with concrete slab floors and seven-foot-ten-inch-high concrete slab ceilings,” which Tom Wolfe pointedly criticizes and expresses his dislike in From Bauhaus to Our House, for these types of modern buildings (33). However, since the present building was constructed in 1842 and influenced by the Greek Revival movement, in addition to being designated as a national memorial in 1955, Federal Hall has avoided being classified in “the terms glass box and repetitious” (42).

On the day that I visited, it was very cold and windy so I was eager to go inside the building to seek warmth. As soon as I walked inside, I no longer felt like I was in the city. For one, when the front doors were closed, the city noise ceased to be heard and since there weren’t that many people inside the building, the main hall felt peaceful. My eyes were immediately drawn to the huge dome ceiling above my head which was beautifully decorated with all these intricate details. The only other time that I had encountered a dome ceiling like this one was when I had visited the Metropolitan Museum some time ago. But I still found the ceiling in the Federal Hall building to be aesthetically pleasing to look at and standing underneath it made me feel small in comparison.

Domed Ceiling

Unfortunately, I was unable to explore the second floor of the building because I had arrived after the free guided tours had stopped for the day. Nonetheless, my friend and I walked around the first and lower floors by ourselves which enabled us to fully appreciate the significance of Federal Hall. We walked through the various exhibition rooms which held interesting historic artifacts such as the Bible that George Washington used during his inauguration. It was also informative to see old photographs and written documents, and read about the context behind them. However, not only did these artifacts contain so much of our nation’s history, the Federal Hall building itself held historical significance. Being able to walk around the building, learning new information from the artifacts it held and admiring its architecture made me appreciate that it had not been renovated to incorporate a modernist style which I believe would have taken away from the feel of the building and its historical background.

I would highly recommend those who are history buffs or are interested in seeing a Greek Revival-style building, to check out what Federal Hall has to offer, especially since admissions is free and when you’re inside the building, the atmosphere of it makes you feel as if you’re not even in Manhattan anymore.

Strip Malls and Their Functionality

Strip Malls and Their Functionality

In The Vernacular Landscape is on the Move … again, J.B. Jackson describes the characteristics of the commercial strip in terms of its “accessibility” and the exterior style of the buildings which are “gaudy, unconventional and obviously designed to attract the mobile consumer and lure him into shopping” (33). There is no doubt that strip malls are ubiquitous throughout the country, and they are all pretty much architecturally built the same way. Furthermore, there’s little variation in the services and shops that are offered such that one would often find a nail salon, a dry cleaners, a Chinese food restaurant, and a pizzeria, to name a few, somewhere in these plazas. Because of the monotony of strip malls, it is easy to overlook them as being a part of the vernacular landscape but they certainly reflect the social and cultural attitudes of those who go to them.

I will use the strip mall in my neighborhood as a case in point. The parking lot is almost always full of cars, especially minivans since there are a lot of families with kids living nearby. As expected, my local strip mall has all of the above mentioned shops, in addition to around 10 other shops. Thus, I think that one key reason why strip malls like this one are so attractive to its consumers is because it easily offers a variety of stores in one place that could satisfy the individual needs for a majority of people.

For example, for big families who are struggling to accommodate to what each person likes to eat, strip malls are a great place to go to order food because there are at least 3-5 different restaurants that one can choose from which eliminates dissatisfied family members. Additionally, for busy moms or dads who have a laundry list of things that they need to do, they can easily drop off their dry cleaning, get a beauty treatment done, and grocery shop for dinner all in one place. Therefore, strip malls help make it more convenient and efficient for those of us who lead busy lives by reducing the time needed to do a single activity, and possibly freeing up more time to focus our energy on conducting activities outside of the strip mall.

While most strip malls offer similar shop choices, the inclusion of an uncommon store could reflect certain specific needs of a community. For instance, my strip mall has a tuxedo store, a fitness club, as well as a kids’ club which hosts birthday events and the like. I don’t think I have seen another tuxedo store when I have visited various other strip malls which suggests that there is perhaps a demand for tuxedos amongst the men in my community who are frequently attending formal parties. In addition, the fitness club is also another uncommon place to find at a strip mall which could mean that my community members have a strong desire to lead a healthy lifestyle by signing up and exercising at this club. Regardless of what the impulse of establishing these stores might be, strip malls are an important part of the vernacular landscape and can offer insight into the needs of a community.

Problems of Urban Sprawl

Problems of Urban Sprawl

My friend lives in Little Neck, Queens. Her house is about a 15 minute car ride from mine and when I first planned to visit her, I listed out the ways I could get there. My first option was to take the MTA bus but that wasn’t very efficient because I would need to take two buses in order to get there, which could easily take over an hour since she lived at the very last stop of the bus line. The second option was to take the Long Island Railroad and get off at the Little Neck stop. However, she did not live close by to that stop so I would have needed to walk about 30 minutes to get to her house or be picked up at the station. Ultimately, I opted to drive to her house because it was the most convenient and fastest way.

So that’s one big problem of living in a suburban neighborhood like Little Neck. Since the use of public transportation is not very convenient for people who live towards the end of the MTA bus line or far from the railroad station, they begin to rely more heavily on driving their own cars. Additionally, as the residents begin to spend more time driving to go to work or to stores (instead of walking), this creates more air pollution and increases the risk of obesity.

Little Neck

On another note, this is a picture of my friend’s neighborhood. When I first drove there, I stuck to the main roads (which are the ones in yellow) since I wasn’t familiar with this area. I didn’t have much trouble finding her house since I was using Google Maps on my phone but as you can tell, the streets definitely do not conform to Manhattan’s grid system which makes it easier for someone who is unfamiliar with the neighborhood to get lost. For instance, there are several streets which lead to dead ends and I have definitely tried to take what I thought was a “shortcut” from the main road onto a side street, only to find myself lost and seemingly unable to get out of this labyrinth (until I resorted to using Google Maps to help me out). Additionally, it is also very easy to be on Street X and then have the name be changed to Street Y without any warning. Thus, if one isn’t paying attention to the street names, he or she could find themselves going down the wrong path.

For someone who has always lived in the city, going to the suburbs can be an overwhelming experience. But as a Wall Street Journal article says about Little Neck, “To space-starved city dwellers, the area offers a suburban feel without fleeing New York City.” So, while there are problems associated with sprawls, sometimes it’s nice to get out of the city if you’re “space-starved” and go to a suburban neighborhood where you could have a little adventure of navigating through the maze-like streets.

Eyes Upon the Street

Eyes Upon the Street

I read the chapter on “The uses of sidewalks: safety” from Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities. Although was written more than 50 years ago, Jacobs’ ideas are still relevant today and I agree with her explanations on what makes some city sidewalks feel safer than others. For instance, she states that one quality which makes the streets of successful city neighborhoods feel safe is that “there must be eyes upon the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street… They cannot turn their backs or blank sides on it and leave it blind” (35). Another quality that makes sidewalks feel safe is that it “must have users on it fairly continuously, both to add the number of effective eyes on the street and to induce the people in buildings along the street to watch the sidewalks in sufficient numbers” (35).

I found this to be relevant to how I navigate through city streets. For example, whenever it gets dark, I tend to stick to streets that are the most populated with stores and people. Additionally, sometimes I would even try to walk as closely as I can to a family or a group of people who are around my age, so that it gives the impression that I’m part of the group. Therefore, if I’m in any danger, I have more people around me that could help me out. In addition, no matter how late it gets, there are almost always NYU students around Washington Square Park. The combination of fellow students around campus and the security guards who work in the school buildings make me feel extra safe while walking around past midnight.

An interesting part of the chapter was Jacobs’ narration of the hired street watchers for rich city neighborhoods. She says, “A network of doormen and superintendents, of delivery boys and nursemaids, a form of hired neighborhood, keeps residential Park Avenue supplied with eyes” (40). However, if these hired street watchers are no longer employed, these streets “would undoubtedly become a woefully dangerous street” (40). For Jacobs, any street can instantaneously become a dangerous street if there are no eyes watching it, regardless of whether it is considered to be a ‘good’ neighborhood because of its rich residents. Thus, it’s interesting to see how hiring street watchers might not necessarily make one city street better than another one. Contrastingly, Jacobs writes about the ‘built-in eyes’ of  her neighborhood in which there seems to be a communal effort in keeping their street safe; this self-policing of the streets by the residents is therefore more effective and long-lasting than the hired street watchers.

Finally, Jacobs talks about how “the value of bright street lights… rises from the reassurance they offer to some people who need to go out on the sidewalk” (42). However, she asserts that street lights are not as reliable as they appear to be since “horrifying public crimes can, and do, occur in well-lighted subway stations when no effective eyes are present” (42). Thus, once again, the active participation of storekeepers, the ‘built-in eyes’ of the street, and the pedestrians, offer more protection in ensuring its safety than other circumstances.

Getting Lost in Long Island

Getting Lost in Long Island

I passed my driving test the week after I turned 18. I had spent the year before driving around my neighborhood with my dad, getting comfortable with being behind the wheel and listening to him tell me all of the important things that I needed to know once I became a licensed driver. So after I passed my test in August, I was so ecstatic and I immediately told all my close friends about it. A few months later, it was Thanksgiving weekend and my friend wanted to go Black Friday shopping at a nearby mall. But the mall isn’t really that nearby. It is in Long Island and about a half an hour drive from my house… using the highway. Now, I was still a new driver and still used to having a parent next to me while I was driving, but somehow, my friend convinced me to drive just the two of us to the mall. So after I picked her up from her house, we set off on our way.

At first, we used an app for directions there. But all of the routes included highways, which was what I wanted to avoid. So I thought, this is no biggie. I had gone to this mall so many times before with my parents and I was pretty sure I could take the local streets there without using the highway. So I decided to drive along Northern Boulevard because I remembered that my parents had used this route before going to the mall. I also knew that since this route went through Long Island, I figured that I would eventually see a familiar landmark and find my way there.

The first familiar place that I passed by was Americana Manhasset, a luxury shopping center that my family once went to but  quickly left after realizing how ridiculously expensive everything was. In my mind, passing by this place meant that I was halfway to the mall that I was trying to get to. But I didn’t know that instead of going straight (which was the east direction), I had to go south. I had several opportunities to reorient myself but I think I was either too fixated on conversing with my friend or I was simply trusting my mental map of Long Island that I had to guide me.

Eventually after driving for about 15-20 minutes, the route started to look really unfamiliar. We were passing by a neighborhood with lots of trees and I didn’t remember seeing so many trees en-route to the mall. Additionally, I knew that the mall was along the same route as Jones Beach so if I could just find a sign that pointed me to that direction, I would know where to go. In the end, I asked my friend to use an app to find our location and direct us to the mall. We had driven way off course and had to circle back to almost where Americana Manhasset had been. I did end up using the highway and successfully avoided any accidents. After seeing the Jones Beach signs, I knew I was almost there. Even though the trip ended up taking twice as long as it needed to be, it helped add to my memory bank another way to get to the mall and the next time that I decide to use local again, I would know where to go.

Creating My Own Path

Creating My Own Path

During my freshmen year, I lived in an NYU dorm that was located on 12th Street between 3rd and 4th Avenue. In hindsight, I probably should’ve picked a dorm that was closer to campus because when I had classes around Washington Square Park, I had to factor in additional walking time. So when fall semester started, I tried out different routes to find the quickest one that would get me to my classes on time, while maximizing the amount of sleep that I got.

The first route that I tried was what the Maps app on the iPhone told me to take:

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According to the app, it would take me 12 minutes to walk from my dorm to Bobst library. I would say that was more or less correct. But the walking time varied according to different factors like, how quickly I walked that day, the amount of time waiting for traffic lights to change (if I had just missed it), and the weather that day (rainy, windy, etc.).

As I became more comfortable with my surroundings, I started trying out new routes of getting to my classes and getting back to my dorm. For instance, after my classes were over, instead of walking along University Place and waiting until 12th Street to turn right, I began to turn right earlier, at 10th Street.

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Somewhere along the way, I had discovered Grace Church on Broadway and 10th Street. Even though I never went inside the church, I liked passing by it because the architectural style intrigued me and at night, the church would light up and look really beautiful. Even though this route was slightly longer than the other one, I didn’t mind walking the extra distance and time, just to see this church on my way to my dorm.

Grace Church

Additionally, I began to take shortcuts through Washington Square Park to get to the buildings on Washington Square South. For example, as I was coming from the direction of my dorm, I would enter Washington Square Park at the corner of Waverly Place and Washington Square East and walk along the curved pathway that was closest to the street. Not only was I able to avoid the mass of students that would often gather at the corner of where the campus Starbucks is, I also enjoyed walking underneath the trees in the park especially during the fall and spring time. However, I would avoid this path when it was raining heavily or if it had snowed considerably because sometimes the paths would get flooded with water or the snow would make them slippery and unsafe to walk on.

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Other times, especially during a warm or hot day, I would use the path that leads to the water fountain at the middle of the park because there would usually be at least one performer playing an instrument or dancing. I also enjoy seeing the crowds of people sitting around the fountain and on the benches in the surrounding area to see what others were doing on such a nice day. Even though I don’t dorm in that building anymore, I’m glad I was able to have the chance to figure out these different pathways for myself which has become incredibly handy during my time here at the Washington Square campus.


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