NYC –> Shanghai, 10 days: Street Anatomy 2 – Dissecting the Good

August 31st, 2013. 1o days!

Close up, Scene 5 – the winner by a hair…

Screen shot 2013-08-31 at 5.50.10 PMYesterday, I explained that there isn’t exactly one right answer to this week’s pop quiz – and that’s particularly true of the part of the question that asks you to identify the “best” scene. The scene to the left is a close-up of Scene 5. It magnifies one of its most positive qualities. The active ground-floor uses (restaurants) and the ample outdoor dining add a sense of vitality to this street that captures the best that urban-living has to offer. The options, plentiful; the life, abundant. There’s almost a natural “osmotic” process that occurs as one walks down this type of street. Even if you’re not lucky enough to be sipping wine at happy hour in one of these vibrant spaces, first, you know you could be in theory (and have been – actually, one of the hardest things about living in a city like this is the FOLO – “fear of losing out!), and second, you get somewhat of a “contact-high” just by walking by these places and observing this scene (at least I do!). This streetscape also offers diverse facades, interesting architectural details, and  a “fine grain” (several skinny buildings abutting each other that offer a more interesting and “humane” streetscape with more “rhythm”). While the street technically has five lanes, one has been converted to a bike lane, and the other a parking lane; there are also “curb bulb-outs” that effectively shorten the distance a pedestrian has to cross the street. The street trees also offer shade and enhance the sense of enclosure.

Now, scene 3 happens to be my street. I absolutely love it. Some of the quiz takers mentioned being torn between scenes 3 and 5 in terms of choosing the  best streetscape. And I don’t blame them. In fact, I’d say scene 3 is an ideal type of a residential street, and scene 5 is a good model for a commercial street (in a more urban setting). Scene 3 is just the right width, the sidewalks are relatively wide (given the nature of the street), the street trees are magnificent (perfect in every season!), and the stoop-laden brownstones are iconically charming. Honestly, as a resident of this street, the fact that it lacks commercial uses is an asset (especially given how many restaurants, bodegas, wine stores, coffee shops, etc. there are at the turn). And this brings me back to the point I was making in the last blog – and why this question was a bit of a “trick” one – good neighborhoods need a variety of great streets that offer its residents and visitors different assets, all of which are integral to creating great places. The whole is indeed bigger than the sum of its parts. The key is that each of those parts offer a comfortable, safe, pleasant, and humane pedestrian realm!

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