I chose to observe 23rd and 5th Avenue where the Flatiron Building stands. It was surprisingly a difficult decision to choose what block I would observe because some blocks were really quiet with, at a glance, nothing interesting going on, and the Flatiron Building area, right next to Eataly and a huge Lego Store, seemed a little too busy to make any profound observations. I stuck with the latter.
The first thing that I noticed about the area was the amount of people stopping to take photographs in front of the iconic Flatiron Building. There were folks with large DSLR cameras taking portraits of each other, people taking playful selfies in front of the building, and also people (whom I assumed were locals) who were attempting to snag photos discretely with their iPhones peeking out of their pockets. This was all happening on an area of 23rd Street that is cut off from traffic, making it a pedestrian zone much like Times Square. It was 40 degrees out so not many people took advantage of the chairs and tables, but in the summer I imagine it would be packed with both, but mostly, tourists and locals looking to catch a break from the movement of the city. This intentional public space does its job of inviting users. It is not desolate; it is appreciated and well-used. The vibe that I got from this particular slice of the neighborhood was that it was quite fancy and upscale, but not as mainstream and fluorescent as Times Square, and a little more modern and hip from your average Upper East Side block, even though the rents around that block probably cost more than the Upper East Side.
The stores that lined the block on the south side of 23rd street with the relatively lower-rise buildings were occupied by a tailor and dry cleaning service, a women’s clothing store called Pinkyotto, a locksmith, and a mediocre looking cafe. I thought back to Jane Jacob’s description of the storekeeper’s role in a tight-knit city block which I didn’t quite imagine was happening on the bustling street corner of 23rd and 5th.
Although I don’t think that people living in the neighborhoods were giving the mediocre deli worker their keys, I was definitely confident and felt extremely safe because of the sheer number of people going back and forth the crosswalk the whole time I was sitting there. It was about 4pm. According to Jacob’s analysis of what makes a safe block, this part of town had what she described. There was a section inaccessible to automobile traffic with tables and benches which made it the perfect place for people to simply watch each other conducting daily activities, and Madison Square Park across the street from the Flatiron Building was being used heavily despite the low temperature. The “eyes” on the street existed, and they were observing.
The people on the street varied. There were people who looked like they were headed home on the R or W train, businessmen and women trotted with their briefcases and pressed pants, people in yoga pants who had just left the gym, and a lot of people walking dogs. I assume that most of them were on their commute home from work, or they live around there and were walking home. People on the street seemed like they had a destination in mind, and they walked with purpose. Their headphones were in in, and the world was out.
The physical contrast of the buildings between the ones like the Flatiron Building and Tom Brady and Gisele’s luxury skyrise was stark and a little sad. I think that the Flatiron Building is much more beautiful and timeless compared the Tom and Gisele’s all-glass skyscraper which resembles the highrises imagined by Le Corbusier and his plans for cities. There are no balconies in that building, and it is so high that not dense that I imagine that the tenants of that building rarely look out onto the sidewalk or even live there full time, thus do not contribute to the ecosystem of the neighborhood. It was interesting to see the very tall and sleek glass skyrise buildings next to Eataly and the architecture of the early 20th century.