New York Daily Photo Analytics

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Very Practical

I once had a customer from Sweden who made a comment that had a lasting impression. I have many international customers and I am frequently curious about their impressions of the city. So when I asked "What do you think of New York," there was a pause and I could see that he was looking for a very diplomatic answer. "Very practical" was his response.
Now I knew immediately what he meant. My mind's eye raced around the city streets as I visualized those things that could be best described as "very practical" looking - our trash cans, lampposts, heavy chains around bikes, steel-reinforced concrete curbstones, roll down gates - so many things where function triumphs and utilitarian is the operative word.
Virtually everything on the city streets of New York is designed with the lowest common denominator in mind and in the biggest city in America, that denominator is very low. The key concerns that define the design and construction of most things accessible on the streets are vandalism and theft (not to mention heavy wear and tear). Don't be misled by articles and statistics on low crime rates in NYC. Much of this is not due to any inherent improvement in the goodness of people, but rather by the actions of law enforcement and protective measures by individuals and businesses. Also, the general increase in costs of living in the city has changed the demographic - where's a heroin addict to live?
One big thing that we residents tend to overlook is not so much what is as what is not - decorative elements and architectural details. These are found primarily in those things which benefit from historical treatment. This can be easily seen if one compares post war and prewar buildings. With enough time spent here, these decorative deficits and the triumph of the utilitarian become so inculcated that it takes a fresh eye to really notice.
I found the tree guard in the photo to be one of the most hideous examples of the practical I have ever seen. Even more surprising, it is located in central SoHo, one of the most upscale neighborhoods in the United States. But the tree needs protection. The solution may not be attractive but it is very practical ....

7 comments:

lavenderlady said...

Your visitor was a diplomat? It's got to be hard in a big city to do utilitarian with some pizzaz.

mattte__86 said...

Swedes are so clever!
*Points at himself*

marley said...

I liked this post. You always bring new ways to think about cities and the structures in them.

• Eliane • said...

You know, when I read "very practical", I immediately translated in my French-speaking brain by "very convenient" (très pratique). Which is what I think the city is but I am thinking more in terms of offerings: you need to buy milk at 10pm? No problem. You want to go shopping on a Sunday? No problem. It is very convenient/practical to a European but also a bit shocking. Maybe that's what he meant.
As for the ugly street accessories, there is a point when ugly, kitch, weird becomes iconic of the city and you can even start appreciating it. I guess it's my European eyes again but I sometimes pass blocks that scream urban decay and find they have a special charm. Like a scene in a movie I guess.
Great post as always. This structure needs some cool grafiti, if you ask me.

Lulubelle B said...

I like your photos and blog. It makes me homesick, but in a good way.

I found you via M. Benaut's Adelaide Daily Photo.

tr3nta said...

great blog... great city...

crittoria said...

Excellent post.