m86 to m14d

In City Form, New York City, A Sense of Place by Mark Strage1 Comment

As I have grown up in New York I have always prided myself on my ability to move around it with ease. Growing up I always had a bike. This made me about five times faster than anybody else. Even a cab has nothing on a bike. You just hop on and go whenever you want.

Now as an adult living in New York I feel just as much pride about this ability. Perhaps more accurately I find most of my peers extremely pathetic for their lack of such ability. If you need directions in this city you should be embarrassed . Therefore, you should use your smartphone instead of harassing me with questions that will simply make me mad.

With my Citibike key and Metrocard I can be anywhere in Manhattan inside 30 minutes. In less than a year I have memorized the locations of every Citibike dock in lower Manhattan. I know every subway station inside and out. I know exactly where the exit will be when I get off the train. If I need to make a transfer I know which steps work best for said transfer.

It wasn’t until reading Kevin Lynch that I appreciated both how concrete a map of this city I have in my head and how much this familiarity is tied to my affinity for this city. If I were to draw my cognitive map of this city it would simply be a map. I have called this city home for two decades and I am hoping to continue to do so for half a dozen more. My favorite thing about it is that the subways, the streets and the buses don’t change.

I have a very special relationship with public buses in this city. They are all they same. They have all been the same my whole life. For this reason every time I sit on a bus I feel a contact with my childhood. No bus is any different than any other bus. When I am taking the m14d from Union Square home to Avenue D I could be on the m86 heading home from a play date. The experience is largely the same. For this reason every time I step on a bus I feel good, I feel safe.

I am familiar with this city because it is my home and it is my home because I am familiar with it. When I revisit the upper west side I am struck by how comfortable downtown feels now. I recognize that I no longer need to be in my original home neighborhood to feel the local comfort I grew up with. As my familiarity with lower Manhattan has grown it has become my home.

However, my familiarity doesn’t just make me love this city for sentimental reasons. I know what I love about New York and I am damn good at navigating this city to get it. I can make it uptown to my Grandmother’s apartment on 116th and Riverside from 4th between C and D in less than 30 minutes, this comes from knowing this city and how to use it.

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  1. Hey Mark!

    Wow, from 116th to 4th and across Manhattan in 30 minutes huh? I thought I was good. Although I’m obviously impressed by your speed, what strikes me most is your level of comfort in very public spaces. The fact that a downtown bus can take you back to memories of childhood really does show the strong connection you have with the city. Do you think you’ll grow to have the same type of connection with any other city in the future?
    Thanks for the good read.

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