NYC –> Shanghai, 18 days: Where Everybody Knows Your Name

August 23rd, 2013. 18 days.

It’s really starting to hit me…

2013-04-05 19.38.21Yesterday, I went to the market on the way back home from running an errand in Brooklyn (visiting another potential wedding venue – this time in Red Hook – but more on that later). I bought everything I needed to make one of my favorite dishes (“grown-up” shrimp and grits). Everything sans the pancetta. Shoot. Heading back to the market wasn’t an option – too far. But the grocery store a block away isn’t exactly known for its cured meat collection. So I quickly ran into one of my locals – ABC Beer Co (who I wrote about in an earlier blog). To my delight, my question “do you have anything closely resembling pancetta?” was followed by a quite pleasant conversation about the meal I was making, what might work best, the beer and cheese class they were hosting in a few days, etc. The hipster/foodie nature of the conversation aside, I walked away from my “local” with not just the perfect end cut of Serrano ham for my dish, but with an overwhelming feeling of connection to my neighborhood and its people…While the experience of writing this daily blog about urban design has forced me to be even more attuned to the nuts and bolts of the City (I’ve become one of those crazy camera phone people taking pictures of seemingly random scenes), it’s also made me aware of the differences between how a “trained” critical eye experiences places and how a lay person consumes (or connects) with them. Consequently, it’s become more apparent to me that people tend to experience places in an emotional way…they’re proud of them – or not; they feel a sense of belonging – or they eschew them; they feel safe – or don’t. They’re not analytical about it. They cannot tell you that the lack of street trees, wide streets, and blank walls are the reason they avoid a certain block – in fact that avoidance may or may not be a conscious one. And so while I can easily point to many of the “objective” built environment “correlates” that influence people’s behaviors, that’s not how they’re expressing it. As urban designers, planners and researchers, our job is not just to quantify, analyze, and plan, but to listen, understand and empathize (and yes, to educate along the way). We owe it to our neighborhoods, their residents, their locals…it’s the only way to truly enhance their State of Place…

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