The Commodification of Desolation

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93rd and Riverside Dr. 12:00 p.m. Friday.

Living on 93rd and Central Park West, rarely do I travel outside a one block radius to find the goods I need. I thought it’d be interesting to see how the landscape of the same street (but a different avenue) could drastically differ (or not). I decided to survey the corner of 93rd and West End closest to the highway. The first thing I noticed was the lack of people, and the resulting silence. While my area is pretty quiet, you can still bank on having cabs and people around you constantly. That was not the case here. Sitting on a ledge outside of Joan of Arc park for thirty minutes around noon on Friday, I saw a total of three people. Two of these people were on a jog, and one was in a suit.

Something interesting about this area is its facade of safety. Living on Riverside Dr. is presumed to be “safe.” And while the crime rate might be low, that isn’t for lack of opportunity. I noticed that to compliment the lack of people, there was also a lack of surveillance. I didn’t see one camera, and only one of the approximately ten buildings in my eyeline had a doorman entrance looking toward actual Riverside Dr., rather than just having an entrance on the cross street. Additionally, in lieu of safe traffic lights, the area only features one stop sign on each block, and minimal street lighting, once again contributing to the lack of safety of the area. Jacobs often talks about the faux safety felt by heavily-populated sideways. (34) However, this claim by Jacobs might actually be suffering a case of a term she coined in her “pseudoscience,” when she criticizes the making of absolute statements by urban planners. (13) As for businesses, the area around me was strictly residential, ten-story apartment buildings with high ceilings loomed high. Similar to Central Park West, the closest market could be found at least an avenue away, once again not contributing to the faux sense of safety through commercial businesses in particular neighborhoods. (60)

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Jacobs speaks about how “privacy is precious in cities. It is indispensable…In small settlements everyone knows your affairs. In the city everyone does not…Architectural and planning literature deals with privacy in terms of windows, overlooks, sight lines…if no one from outside can peek into where you live–behold, privacy.” (58-59) The commodification of privacy is quite prevalent in this Riverside Dr. cove. I have been wracking my brain with seemingly contradicting quotes from Jacobs to figure out the expensive appeal of this area. I kept thinking, It is not safe, it is not convenient to commercial businesses, so why is the price tag for these apartments so astronomical? Jacobs has answered this. Privacy has become a commodity in this area. Patrons are willing to completely surrender their right to safety and convenience in an attempt to keep to themselves.

I start to recognize that, as Jacobs mentioned, I couldn’t look into any windows. All the street level windows were heavily barred with metal and decked-out in black-out curtains, almost putting forth the impression that no one lived there. I started to realize that the desolation of the area is a choice, and a selling point, rather than an inconvenient detriment to the area. While I imagine at a different time of day there might be a few more residents shuffling quickly, eyes looking toward the ground, to enter their uber private residences, I can’t imagine great traffic in this area. I imagine it’s straight to work and straight back home for this private crowd. And that’s how they like it.

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