NYC –> Shanghai, 13 days: What’s Inside Counts Too!

August 28th, 2013. 13 days.

A coffee shop near Tribeca.

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As urban designers, we mostly focus on the “life between buildings” and less on the building itself, and certainly, rarely on the life inside buildings…We often leave that to interior designers or architects, or even environmental psychologists, which tend to focus on more “micro-scale” environments (e.g. like hospitals or schools). Perhaps a chamber of commerce or a business improvement district steps in, or an economic development authority opines on what should be placed in the “inside of spaces.” But what happens inside of buildings is just as important to building community – and facilitating sustainability – as is the outside. Today, I spent some time outside of my neighborhood after wedding dress shopping in Tribeca. After my appointment, I needed to find a place to eat, do some work and take a call. So I did what I normally do – looked up “cafe wifi” on Google Maps. I then navigated the “foreign” streets to a near-by cafe. By the looks of the street itself and the cafe’s facade, I never would have chosen it. There were far more charming-looking blocks and cafes in the area. But once inside, I was pleasantly surprised. Healthy, food, warm atmosphere, reliable wifi, and comfortable furniture. What else could a cafe-loving entrepreneur ask for? I found myself wishing we had a place like this in the East Village – or even better – that Tribeca wasn’t a 30+ minute bus ride away! Point is – I had made a connection to this place – and that’s also a key part of what makes for great places! It’s why we have a whole category devoted to “gathering spaces” in the State of Place Index. Indeed, these “third spaces” – not quite home, not quite work – are the subject of a seminal urban planning and design piece by Ray Oldenburg – The Great Good Place, which extols the many virtues of cafes, bookstores, corner shops, and the like as essential pieces of a vibrant city. Ultimately, as urban designers, we must remember that places must be nurtured and cultivated both from without and within…


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