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.