Functionality > Order
I like variety. Everyone likes variety. The variety, individuality, and creativity gives places, specifically downtowns, their essence and identity. Each individual contributes to what this essence or identity is with what piece of themselves or their interests they add to it. People very often define a place. Specifically in Manhattan, New Yorkers are what make downtown downtown.
During the 1960s, Jane Jacobs felt this way in the midst of great urban planning by the “master-builder” of NYC, Robert Moses. She opposed the expressways running through downtown, she opposed the creation of massive culture or government projects, and she opposed super-blocks. In her piece Downtown is for the People she wrote “From city to city the architects’ sketches conjure up the same dreary scene; here is no hint of individuality or whim or surprise, no hint that here is a city with a tradition and flavor all its own.” She talks about how architects of that time were obsessed with order and scale models and birds-eye-views. The problem with this obsession would be that although these orderly areas and neighborhoods may be aesthetically pleasing, who says they would be functional? Although change is sometimes good, the change envisioned by Moses would’ve been extremely disruptive.
I am currently living in Chinatown—a conundrum of vendors, tourists, fast food chains, markets, restaurants, fitness gyms, traffic, and so one. It is madness. But this madness is what makes it Chinatown. It’s what attracts outsiders to come see it. It’s what causes uptown-ers to come and spectacle at just how perfectly this intricate web of people and establishments function. I’m a very organized person and at first, this area just gave me headaches. It was too messy. But after time, I’ve learned to embrace it. I’ve learned to embrace the madness and add my own self to it. Sometimes I don’t use the cross walks. Sometimes I give tourists directions. Sometimes I get really angry and grunt at people. Anything goes in these parts, and that’s the beauty of it.
I wasn’t really able to understand the past uproar about urban planning downtown until I came across the daunting image Jacobs presented—the new projects “will be spacious, parklike, and uncrowded. They will feature long green vistas. They will be stable and symmetrical and orderly. They will be clean, impressive, and monumental. They will have all the attributes of a well-kept, dignified cemetery.” What would happen if something of this sort replaced what is currently in Chinatown? It would simply cease to exist.
Walking through this area of downtown, particularly on Canal Street, is fun, amusing, and exciting. The pedestrian, just as Jacobs says, has all the power of these streets, as they are the users of the downtown. There are lights and smells and decorations and music and shouts and honks. There is difference, not one block the same. It is loud, louder than many parts of New York. It is local and foreign. It is young and old. It is a disorganized, variety of sorts, but is completely and intricately functional.