This particular passage hit me like a bus. right now I have no idea where I want to live post graduation and because I haven't lived in a single place for longer than a year (at most) since leaving for college four years ago, I am not sure (at all!) where will be the right place to start my post academic life. While I have learned through constantly moving and uprooting myself that it can be very disruptive to maintaining a healthy, daily routine. I am tired of moving, but I also fear I have become to accustomed to change that it will be a true struggle for me to live anywhere indefinitely. Ware's judgmental outlook of more nomadic versions of living made me consider what truths there could be in his comments. Could even judgmental Ware learn from but also also teach to Australian Aboriginals about how to live well? I think Ware would likely have learned a great deal from the Aboriginals, mostly to do be so closed minded, but nevertheless I think from Ware we can all be reminded that if we do choose to move from place to place often, we need to remember to be present from day to day in order to not miss the life that takes place in our current environments. I think there is a lot to be said for Ware's argument that we are not living to fullest if we are constantly preparing for our next move.
I have been trying to see New York the way I saw my old house when I went home to Massachusetts. I still love New York and I do not think I take for granted one bit of the gallons of excellence this city offers the world, yet I do not always take full advantage of exploring not just Manhattan but the surrounding borroughs and neighboring communities. It is important not just to reexplore at the place you have called home the longest, but to really get to know knew homes as well. ... Maybe even finding a home within another home? Now that classes are over, I am goingfirst going to take the tain and finally, four years later, get to know Motauck's beaches.
We live in a world fueled by money, not just to purchase the necessities, but with the hopes to be able to buy the necessities and more. Yet, we are also a society which often frowns upon excess baggage. We want options, nice things to choose from whether it is in our kitchens or our closets, however, the concept of "traveling light" seems to be inherently positive. Is traveling light simply convince driven or is there something else about getting on a plane with just a small bag that makes traveling light the goal when packing? We we don't have anything on our person we feel light and free, nothing is weighing us down… so, really we could go anywhere.
On the National Geographic website there is an article from July 2012 titled, "Pictures: Floating Cities of the Future"--the article is a short slideshow of various structures built for the sea, some of which are still very much in their conceptual phase and others already have opening days in sight. These sea-structures, all of which look like an idea out of a sci-fi film, yet even the conceptual drawings beat today's top CGI effects, making these futuristic sea-structures seem like a real possibility and maybe even a great idea.
In Witold Rybczynski's Makeshift Metropolis he makes it clear to readers that a one-size fits all model will not work for the design of cities, pointing out that "some people want to be fashionable, some people don't want to live in cities at all. There isn't a single answer to the question, "'What kind of cities do we want?'" because different people want so many different things… Nor is it simply a question of individual preferences; we want different things at different times" (179).
Every city and every place has it's own personalities and characteristics and the models presented together by National Geographic try to incorporate what people want AND want they need in a living environment suited for the changing environmental climate. A place is made up of its people, but its character is also very much shaped by the land it sits on and therefore every place must have a tailor-made plan. As our world is rapidly changing, Dutch architect Koen Olthuis (who's work was featured in the Nat Geo article) has already made headlines with his floating projects, many of which are already very much a reality. Olthuis's architecture firm, Waterstudio, specializes in architecture, urban planning and research that is related to living and working on the water.
Soon, we will all have to adjust to rising sea levels but some projects which may ease some of the global warming horror have already very much become a reality and may be paving the way for tomorrow. Olthuis completed a "float house", a single-family water villa in Amsterdam in 2008, but today these float houses are not uncommon to Amsterdam and other similarly wet nations, but with an end date of six years after this "float house", Olthius may being giving Europe it's first high-density floating apartment complex.
Much of Holland sits below sea level and is "home to more than 3,500 inland depressions, which can fill with water when it rains, when tides come in, or as seas rise overall. These so-called polders are often drained by pumps to protect residents" (Nat Geo). The 60 luxury unit complex will be situated on a polder, a recessed area below sea level where flood waters settle during periods of heavy rain. The complex will be aiming to take advantage of the flooding that occurs by building the complex to move with the water levels of the polder which would purposefully be allowed to flood, keeping the buildings afloat. The polder is located in Westland, a Dutch city near The Hauge and will be built with the goal of protecting residents from flooding, Olthius also predicts the Citadel will consume 25% less energy than a conventional building.
Achieving 30 units per acre of water, the Citadel, which is merely one part The Netherlands' New Water development (which includes some 600 floating houses between Rotterdam and The Hauge to completed by 2017), will offer a car park, a floating road to access the mainland/the complex, boat docks, garden terraces and lake views. The housing complex is built a top of a floating foundation of heavy concrete caisson with greenhouses placed around the perimeter of the complex, and the water will act as a cooling source as it is pumped through underwater pipes.
There is still roughly a year before the Citadel is scheduled for completion, however, so far, this sounds great. There are bound to be unforeseen issues as with any new idea, but with accepting that I would not mind being a guinea pig to this new way of living. If we are being honest, I would prefer an ocean to a lake, but otherwise the Citadel looks and sounds like a place I could call home and I am eager to find out if residents will feel the same after settling into the new complex.
In Rybczynski's Makeshift Metropolis, Rybczynski explains that we all require different things in order to be comfortable and those things change as we change, mostly with time passing. This being said I think it would be challenging to argue that the Citadel is not one excellent path we can take with the oncoming rising sea levels. This is a specific and unique plan which seems to fit the Netherlands and its unique land, made up majorly of wetlands, and it does not fit every other city or nation and may not fit any other place exactly as it is taking place in Holland, yet I believe Olthuis's design should be an inspiration for what can and will need to be done in many other cities around the world, and probably sooner than we can plan for.
Jews have held a presence in France since the middle ages and it is a presence that has both evolved and adapted as time has changed the landscape of France and the world alike. Like the Jewish community that resides there, the Marais quarter of Paris has been through a seemingly parallel history itself. Paris's Jewish neighbourhood known as "Pletzl", located within le Marais quarter, has been transformed through time, and while le Marais booms with gentrification today, the Jewish community which still calls the area home struggles to keep a Jewish cultural presence afloat and Jewish traditions alive as fewer and fewer traditionally Jewish markets, as well as homeowners, have been able to keep up with the escalating real estate costs in relation to le Marais as a tourist "must see" and a local shopping haven.
France's history of Jewish conflict dates back hundreds of years. 600 years ago Jews were expelled from Paris and found themselves settling in le Marais, the then outskirts of the city. 600 years later, there are more than 600,000 Jews live in France, with 320 communities spread across France giving the country the largest Jewish population in Europe. There are 375,000 Jewish people living in Paris today, with other large Jewish communities in, Marseilles (70,000), Lyons (25,000), Toulouse, Nice and Strasbourg. The area known today as le Marais was first incorporated into the city of Paris during the early part of the 17th century when King Henry IV commissioned Place des Vosges. Originally built as a place to house a silk factory in order to boost France's economy and keep its exports competitive, however, the area was soon made into bourgeois housing for talented craftsman and artists. Neighbourhoods everywhere in every generation change over time and the Marais is one of Paris's best examples of the transformations which can take place through a series of events, both good and bad. During the French Industrial Revolution le Marais was once again home to working class citizens, yet despite a small Jewish presence within le Pletzl neighbourhood dating back to the middle ages, the area consisting of Rue Pavée, Rue des Rosiers, Rue Ferdinand Duval, Rue des Écouffes, Rue des Hospitalières-Saint-Gervais, and Rue Vieille du Temple was not titled "le Pletzl" until the end of the 19th century as Jews flooded into France from other parts of Europe.
During World War II le Marais was forced into ghettoization and Paris's oldest neighbourhood became to the site of enormous roundups of Jewish peoples to be trained off to concentration camps and killed. Vel' d'Hiv Roundup was one of several police raids aimed at diminishing the Jewish Population in occupied France. After being held at the Vélodrome l'Hiver, the victims were sent to Auschwitz.
Despite a devastating loss of 25% of Paris's Jewish population during the war, just a mere 25 years later and the Jewish population of Paris had tripled in numbers and today France stands as the country with Europe's largest Jewish population with roughly 600,000 Jews living in France today. As France was the first European nation to grant citizenship to Jews, the country's Jewish community began to grow as programs in Eastern Europe were forcing Jews abroad due to their second rate social status. Not knowing where to find home in Paris, many Jewish refugees landed in Paris's then poor neighbourhood of le Marais. By the 1950s le Marais was beginning to reach slum status and the city of Paris had plans to demolish the historic quarter. However, before the city could follow through, in 1962 in order to raise public awareness of what exactly would be destroyed amongst the ruins, Michel Raude created a summer-long cultural festival set up in the very buildings in danger of demolition. The festival was a huge success and led to the creation of the Malraux Law, which still today establishes le Marais as a "safeguarded sector" in the city of Paris.
Despite a return of the Jewish community at large into the city of Paris and France overall, France's Jewish community had been altered since prewar Paris. Prior to WWII, the Pletzl was dominantly Ashkenazi Jews, however, a large portion of France's formally largely Ashkenazi Jewish community were exterminated during Nazi occupation and during the 1960s Sephardic Jews from North Africa, the Middle East, and Turkey joined the Pletzl's community in Paris's Marais.
Although a Jewish presence had already long been established in France, with the influx in Sephardic Jews came a new Jewish culture to Paris. Upon arrival, the new Sephardic Jewish population attached themselves to the already established Pletzl Jewish neighbourhood despite the blatant differences of the Jewish cultures. Jews from North Africa, the Middle East, and Turkey added a new aspect to Jewish culture in Paris and to the Pletzl's overall appeal. The Crif's Jean Pierre Allali has stated that, " today there is a sharing between outlets that remain Ashkenazi, and those run by people who come from Northern Africa or Turkey… they have introduced a new dimension, selling falafel and Tunisian sandwiches'". Of course, the "new" Jewish presence brings more than simply food, it brings depth and individuality to Paris's Jewish influence.
While the religion of Judaism has placed peoples from various corners of the earth into an area of a mere few winding roads in Paris, the atmosphere of the Marais has been made into that of a culturally plural society. France has a longstanding relationship with immigration, but even in the US where daily life itself is considered to be a melting pot, it is often forgotten that there exists more than one "type" of Jewish culture. Paris's Pletzl neighbourhood shows how a seemingly "same" group of individuals goes far deeper than what appears to be on the surface. Paris's Jewish quarter is not just a place where one can run into a stampede of Hasidic Jews on a Saturday afternoon and feel a bit of momentary "otherness", but rather it is a place where very unique and separate cultures can come together under one uniting roof, and that in itself is a melting pot.
Rue des Rosiers is the heart of le Pletzl and today it is home to many of the only remaining Jewish shops, markets, and restaurants is Paris, both Ashkenazi and Sephardic. In the past, Rue des Rosiers has been home to all things Kosher, however, now with the cobblestone footpaths and expensive real estate, Rue des Rosiers is less noticeably Europe's oldest Jewish quarter and more noticeably Paris's chicest stomping grounds. Le Marais has been featured in countless travel magazines, websites, TV shows, blogs, websites and anything else one can imagine. This is no doubt just as much a result of Paris's decision to keep the neighbourhood's historic architecture as it has to do with Rue des Rosiers's world famous falafel restaurants and Kosher markets. The preserved architecture of le Marais and the traditional Jewish cuisine has literally catered to the Marais's rise as not merely a tourist stop-off, but the Marais as one of Paris's trendiest neighbourhoods to eat in, live in, shop in, and stroll in. Factors such as trendy boutiques (including American labels), as well as the Pomidou center have created a village of winding roads lined with commerce intended to guide the eye of the western tourist. In today's society it is no secret that gay communities have a radar for neighbourhoods on the verge on gentrification, and Paris is no exception to this growing urban trend. With gay bars throughout the Marais, including two at the end of Rue des Rosiers, the area is officially marked as new and trendy, despite the same areas titanic past.
Due to le Marais's trendy status, the vibrant Jewish community has suffered and it has as made clear by Jean Pierre Allali that, ""[Parisian Jews} have practically lost 80 percent of [their] identity in the Marais…Apart from the museums, the very few businesses here are the only thing left to tell the Jewish story". With rise in real estate costs and the clear opportunity for tourist catered boutiques, thanks to the historically significant architecture, the Marais is losing the very people who lived its history. And, apart from the architecture, the Jewish community is what keeps le Marais historically significant and enjoyable today. With the 1960s addition of Sephardic Jews into the Pletzl's community, le Marais has only continued to flourish into an even more vibrant escape from Paris's dive in western modernity. "It's not a replacement of one thing by another but it works in parallel - like in countries where two lifestyles live side by side in complete harmony", and in this respect le Marais and specifically le Pletzl is a model for French Society.
Jews have long held a place in French society and as seen during the 1960s with the arrival of Sephardic Jews to Paris, it does not seem to matter the differences in the various Jewish cultures, but rather it is what the various societies have in common which unites them--Judaism. While the French Republic would hope to integrate Paris's Jewish community with other unique communities within Paris and France, it seems clear the people of the Pletzl neighbourhood are on to something. As a result of the strict Hasidic Jewish wardrobe, it seems clear even from first judgement that the differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews are real, however, the Pletzl community has chosen to focus on what they have in common rather than what separates them. And, as for the things which do separate the two Jewish communities, they have incorporated the differences into one another's lives in order to create a new "little place" where Jewish means Kosher bread from Sasha Finkelstajn's and a falafel from L'As Du Fallafal, both on Rue des Rosiers.
There is no denying the importance le Marais holds as a place today, but even when the place was resembling a slum, people like Michel Raude were able to see the significance and history of the place and with Raude's dedication le Marais is not just preserved and still going through continuous restoration, le Marais is not a giant museum that is inhabited in order to stand still in time, but rather le Marias is a home to many, many people who change and alter and shape the community everyday, and was only made possible because someone saw the history and the opportunity and knew it was worth fighting for.
In Anthony Flint's Wrestling With Moses, Flint discusses Jacob's belief in the concept of more crowded places as safer places, or perhaps safer feeling places. Jacobs believed in having many eyes on a street at all hours in order to ensure safety and also variety-- she has commented that hardly anyone sits on a stoop to watch an empty street (although I admittedly do this), so this got me thinking how I interact with different places based on how safe I feel in them.
While the dense population is reason to come to New York, it is also a reason to stay in whatever quiet, simple place you're in. NYC is a real sampling of the enormous variety of people our world is made up of, yet because of numerous factors, this population does include people who need help and guidance and do not have the means to receive it and unfortunately this can cause a public safety threat.
So what is the answer? To not live where there are "crazy people"? Put police outside every store? I think the answer is there is no correct answer. Bad things happen everywhere, some places are more more dangerous than others but as far as crowded vs. not crowded, the chance for danger is present in different ways depending on the specific place and I do not know if these ways in which they are dangerous can be easily compared. While I do believe, still, that crime is less likely to take place amidst a crowded sidewalk than on an empty dirt road in the woods I feel that the feeling of safety amongst a crowd is mostly an allusion. It can be hugely troubling to have a place that usually feels like home to suddenly feel almost the opposite of home, however I unfortunately have come to acknowledge that is can be a harsher reality we as individuals may or may not have to fight trough at one point or another in our lives, and I think if a place is meant for someone, the someone will find a way in the end to put aside the reality that bad things can happen at home and in the end a place that was once a home will always be a home.
Orientalism does come up in On The Road when Kerouac uses racially descriptive terms as well as when he is comparing a dirt road to an "Arabian road", but my attention turned while I was looking back on the very first leg of Flaubert's journey in which he traveled from Nogent to Paris. When describing his first couple days in Paris Flaubert records in his journal, "I lived lavishly--huge dinners, quantities of wine, whores. The senses are not far removed from the emotions, and my poor tortured nerves needed a little relaxation" (21) and after reading this I remembered that people do not always travel across national boarders to escape their own realities. While the train journey from Nogent to Paris would not have been very long, it is clear from his notes that it was a taxing trip nonetheless for Flaubert who had been in sobs over leaving his aging mother behind. When Flaubert arrived in Paris, Paris became his exotic escape from is worries.
While Kerouac's accounts of Mexico include a great deal of "orientalist language", I feel that the language he uses to describe his new setting is reflective of the time, which was a period when the Middle East and East Asian nations had already been considered and representative of the exotic for a while. In reality Kerouac was describing what so many young people do today-- leave their homes for anywhere from a weekend to a year in order to see something new, to eat cool, "exotic" foods, to party with friends and hopefully some new local friend too, and to hopefully hook up with some of those friends as well. And prostitution is far from out of the picture. On The Road may use language that illustrates a time when the western world held certain ideas of the East, but I feel that this is simply the parallel Kerouac is programed to draw between himself and the "other".
Despite the world moving rapidly forward in all kinds of directions, On The Road as remained enormously admired by younger generations and this is no doubt in large part to the honesty in Kerouac's writing which is still reflective of middle class American culture today. Young people everywhere are still trying to escape the mundane and to see what exists beyond what they've come to know and Kerouac's On The Road illustrates so much of what is still real in our world and I think diving too deep into the question of Orientalism here may deter one from grasping Kerouac's true intentions in his writing.
The beginning chapters of Mark Twain's Innocence Abroad made me reflect back on my spring semester of freshman year when I participated in the study abroad program Semester At Sea. It was on January 17, 2010 that I embarked on the MV Explorer, the ship that would be a traveling campus and a home to me and over 600 other students from around the world for the following four months.
I had only heard of the program in November 2009 and once gaining a very speedy and last minute admission from the Institute of Shipboard Education and the University of Virginia, I had only a couple months to clear this with my university and to get something like nine visas and 20 vaccination shots. I was extremely determined and managed to get everything cleared with even a couple weeks to spare, but still this was an enormously short period of time to digest such a huge experience.
From January to May the ship sailed from Ensenada, Mexico (We drove down from San Diego) to Hawaii, Japan, China, India, Vietnam, Mauritius, South Africa, Ghana, Brazil, with a final destination of Florida, USA--crossing the equator four times and the international date line once (I never experienced February 21, 2010). I did not know anyone else on the voyage before meeting the ship in Ensenada and my mind was definitely racing with a lot of thoughts. I never second-guessed my decision to go, but there were definite moments that day driving down to Mexico, alone and surrounded at the same time, that I thought to myself, "you are fucking nuts. What are you doing?" Like in Twain's experience, most people around me were older than me with a few in the middle, but like Twain I liked these people. (I realized soon after being accepted to the program that because all the paper work was so last minute they have not realized I was a Freshman).
(Started in Ensenada, Mexico and ended in Ft. Lauderdale, Fl, USA)
The experiences Twain writes about during his first week or so on the ship at times seemed almost too close to my own to be true. As we left North America behind, we soon hit some of the roughest seas the ship's crew said they had seen in years. My room was at the very bow of the ship so when we crashed down over a wave, my roommate and I always got the most air while we tried to sleep with our belongs and furniture duck taped to the ground around us. I actually didn't mind the stormy Pacific Ocean, but as in Twain's narrative, almost majority of the ship was horribly seasick, including my roommate. I do not know if I necessarily agree that I enjoyed seeing others be sick while I was no, which is how Twain described feeling, however, I was absolutely happy as hell to not be running into walls to get to the health center to get a shot in order to keep from dehydrating, which tons of students were doing during that week. I managed to run ito some walls too though.
Even if many of these first few days were rough, we did have a whole ten days before reaching Hawaii. In this time we began to very quickly adjust to our new lifestyle and soon waking up to a window next to the crashing ocean seemed almost normal, still amazing, but more normal. And even though on land I am very much not a morning person, I soon began to get up for breakfast because who would not want to see the ocean at that time of day, without even a bird in sight because land was way too far off. Getting up early helped me adjust to the early dinner schedule as well, which matched Twain's almost exactly. I do not know why we ate so early but after and very early breakfast and an early lunch, dinner at 1730h or 1800h ended up seeming appropriate. Without phones or internet, much of the activities we did on the ship were the same as activities Twain and his shipmates practiced; we read books and wrote papers and attended classes, but in our free time there are only so many movies one can re-watch on his/her laptop so we played cards and board games, wrote in our jounrals (which nearly everyone kept) and played lots of music, and even put on events like Twain's mock trial and a "Sea Olympics" that is SAS tradition. The coolest may have between when between some students, professors, and some professors' children the ship had a 12-person string band! The ship was a moving community out.
Twain ultimately criticizes his shipmates for an array of things that ultimately paint them as ignorant western exceptionalists for the most part. In Bennett Kravitz's "There's No Place Like Home: Geographies of the [American] Mind in the Innocents Abroad", Kravitz writes that, "despite Twain's claim that the journey will be "'a royal holiday beyond the broad ocean in many a strange clime and in many a land renowned in history!'" (17). All too soon it becomes apparent that the travelers are not on their journey to learn anything about their or the world's origins, but rather that they seek to reconfirm their preconceived notions of the way the world was and is" (Kravitz 53). And despite many parallels between Twain's experience and my own, this one was different. Because we were a group of students who had applied for this program to spend a semester going around the world on a ship, despite many, many differences amongst us, we all shared the something in us the made us want to spend a semester studying around the world on a ship.
During the time we were at sea we each were taking four to six classes that we chose from a list of courses that covered an impressive amount of topics. It was through this class and the guest lecturers from around the world, mixed with the various other preparations the University of Virginia and the Institute of Shipboard Education took to prepare students the best they could before entering into these foreign countries alone or with a few friends for a week a time. We learned helpful language phrases, history of leaders, largest problems the has county faced in the past and is facing today, the country in the context of its continent and the world, it's relationship with the U.S., the people who make up the country, food, clothing, customs, traditions, somehow the course found a way to fit it all in and in a way that students were able to digest.
(Ate the delicious food)
The required global studies course is challenging and the exam days were an entire ship effort, but there is no doubt that we all showed an certain type of interest in the material that could not be compared to a group of students in another academic setting. Students were eager and excited about the material in way that was unparalleled because at the end of a section we had a week to see for ourselves and to apply what had learned first hand. The course also helped shaped students plans on how to travel and where to travel while in the coming ports.
(hiked and camped out on the Great Wall)
(Made the local paper for joining a comunnity dance in the park)
While out of 600 and some students there are bound to be some who do not fit what I am describing, but I do not remember one person who did not show a strong desire to be going where we were headed and moreover to be taking full advantage of the opportunity to actively participate in the culture in order to understand it. I do believe that at times many, if not each of us, hindered or own experience by giving in to previous notions we consciously or unconsciously held about certain cultures and people, however, I believe the ship community encouraged us to become aware of what we were doing in order to approach our experience differently which I think we all made an effort to do everyday. So much of what our professors were trying to teach us and what I believe many, if not most, students were able to get out of the experience was that we as a human race are in fact the same and in order to protect our greater home, the earth, we have to accept and embrace that we are the same. In the end it was the people we met both on the ship and off that shaped our experiences sailing around the world and I do not think this was the attitude or feeling Twain and/or his shipmates came with and/or were left with at the end of the day.
Every morning Iwake up to see a group of eight Chinese men and women practicing a very synchronized tai chi exercise and every morning seeing them there brings me a sense of peace and with that, a sense of place. Even when I am only out of my bed to turn my heat on and on the ground there is a dusting of snow (that will no doubt soon be either slush or ice), the tai chi-ers are there.
I have also learned that men will play basketball in any weather; as long as the basketball courts are not covered in a sheet or two of ice, there are guys shooting baskets. I have also observed how well the community of park goers share the court space, especially now that the weather is warming up. Just yesterday my roommate and I took about 15 minutes out of our schedules to watch this insanely talented man practice twirling around the pavement, starfish-ed in an oversized hula-hoop and he did this while a basketball game was taking place on either side of him. No one seemed to be getting in anyone else's way.
Just as the basketball players share the court no questioned asked, the tai chi-ers move to an empty space when there is an early morning soccer game taking place on the field. Even now as I type, it is dark out but the lights are on to illuminate the soccer field for the game happening tonight, it's blue vs. yellow… the blue team's scrawny goalie just saved a powerful kick from a large 8th grader.
The park adds an enormous sense of community and small neighborhood feel to where I live. In the warmer months there are lots of locally organized events held in the park on my street and even an array of birthday parties take place around the swing sets. Soon it will be warm again and the trees lining either side of the park will fill in the gaps again to give shade to the sports players and to the mom's and dad's watching their kids on the jungle gym. However, now, while the bare trees offer me a clearer view down onto the park, I can see the effects of having benches lining the basketball courts and to there being an oversized sidewalk within the gates of the park itself, while it still parallel's the streets own, more narrow sidewalk. While the benches leave room for both friends watching friends playing sports and yet other benches to the side offers strangers a place to comfortably people watch, there is also the oversized area of pavement which acts as a social hub of its own. I often see the same few dogs being walked down the path, behind many of the same mothers with strollers, and I often watch the same skateboarders practicing the same tricks over and over again while their friends patiently wait and rewind the camera yet again.
While I have always felt a strong sense of neighborhood community within Manhattan, the park below my "new" apartment adds an even greater, perhaps more obvious, sense of place than I've previously experienced. I feel that I could show a friend who is new to the city the view from my window, down onto the park, and if they watched for a few hours they would truly get a solid image of this part of the city. There is so much life, and so much variation in life that is all taking place on a small strip of land… it is almost like a miniature model of Manhattan. Almost. It is too hard to compare this island to anything at all, yet observing a public space like this one that is so wonderfully utilized by its community is an incomparable way to get to know a neighborhood and to become and feel a part of the community. And it is because of parks and public spaces like this one that I am still reminded, all the time, how unique a place this city absolutely is.
Taking up with entire block between Third and Fourth Avenues in Manhattan stands the new 51 Astor Place building. Designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Fumihiko Maki, the 13-story, 430,000 square-food glass buildins is being built with hopes to soon rent its floors out to technology companies who are sure to be allured by "the neighborhoods quirkiness" and the convenient location for the many, many techies living downtown and in Brooklyn (Microsoft and IBM are rumored to be Checking out the property). Putting down $135 million of his own money and receiving a $165 million loan, Edward Minskoff may be yet to fill his new luxury office space but he nevertheless has most certainly filled the heart of Astor Place, or rather replaced the heart of Astor Place… with something out of a science fiction nightmare.
The land at the site of 51 Astor previously belonged solely to Cooper Union which until recently had its School of Engineering on the ground that is now home to Minskoff's office building. When Cooper Union's School of Engineering was torn down, Astor Place was suddenly even more open than it had been in many years and rays of sunlight now reached even more storefronts for longer hours of the day. However, it was not long before the stories of the Maki designed glass building began stacking up to block out any sunlight Astor Place had managed to savor over the last couple hundred years.
The new 51 Astor building is a rectangle sitting on top of a rhombus on top of an irregular pentagon with glass reflecting different colors of surrounding buildings at various times of the day, but really it is hard to notice these reflections when one is distracted by all that he/she is no longer able to see as result of this iceberg halting all movement at the heart of Astor Place. It was only the day before yesterday that a friend and I were crossing from 8th to St. Marks when my friend threw her arm in the air in frustration and exclaimed, "I can't even see the Kmart anymore!" She said this with a partially comedic tone because of course neither of us are interested in the seeing the Kmart specifically (although please, no one take away the Kmart too) but the building which houses the Astor Place Kmart, the 1906 Wannamaker building, is a historic site which use to offer a bit of history to the end of an otherwise grimy mess of a street. I'm referring to St. Marks of course, which I think holds a special place in all of our hearts… and I think we'd like to keep the grime and not see it lost to the gentrification it has stood its own to for a while now.
I cannot see a single way of looking at the new 51 Astor Place office building without eventually (or after a few seconds) reaching the conclusion that it is a complete destruction to the neighborhood's sense of place. When walking past the new building it feels intrusive and in your face. There is no way that a small plaza beneath a dark, overbearing office building can replace the sense of neighborhood community that came simply with open space and the ability to identify one another's faces or a particular storefront, or even a bench, from one side of Astor to the other. There have been other buildings which have sprouted up downtown over the last decade which have paved the way for this particular monster, yet none quiet so destructive as Minskoff's.
When 51 Astor opens in May 2013, just one month away, it will "offer" a private green roof on the fifth floor, a tenant-accessible green roof on the 13th floor (p.s. the building is asking $88 a square foot for the lower 42,000-square-foot floors, and up to $115 a foot, for the upper 25,000-square-foot floors), and a plaza on the corner of Astor Place and Third Avenue featuring a Alexander Calder sculpture (which I am sure will make up for the rest of the asteroid). Further, the lobby will be finished with a James Carpenter-designed art installation constructed of back-lit cast glass, to perfectly mirror the building's overall Darth Vader look.
It's just bad.
My father was born on September 29, 1950 to a G.I. and his wife living in Levittown's Hicksville neighborhood on Rim Lane, which was a U-shaped lane. Each street had 24 houses with four different facades making up the street view, each numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, my father's Rim Lane home was a #2, specifically a 1950 Ranch House #2. Levittown was comprised of two types of houses, a Cape Cod and a Ranch. Cape Cod's were build from 1946 - 1948 while Ranch Houses were built after and featured significant upgrades from the Cape Cods, which were originally designed as rental homes.
Each 1950 Ranch House came with a two way fireplace between the kitchen and living room, a window-wall facing the yard, washing machine, one bath, two bedrooms, and a staircase to an empty attic which was easily convertible to two additional bedrooms and a bath--my father's family made the conversion to a 4 bedroom house, but did not add an additional bathroom. There was also the option to push out the living room window-wall to create additional living space, which my father's family also chose to take advantage of. Further, each house was sold with a weeping willow tree in the back, two crab apple trees in the front, and while the land was mostly flat due to being built on top of potato fields it was this factor that left the soil rich, causing trees and gardens to spring up almost has quickly as Levittown itself. My father recalls that within five years of Levittown's existence, the trees lining the sidewalks created canopies over Levittown's streets and the nicely designed street lamps completed the suburban utopia.
Despite what at first I imagined as pure monotony, a stereotypical image of builder communities today (but worse), was not actually this. The streets of Levittown were not gridded, and while in Manhattan we may bow down to the grid system, majority of us also cannot deny the charm of the West Village's meandering European-esque streets. Levittown's streets were designed to curve, and this allowed for houses to be placed at different angles alone the road, taking away what would have looked more standard of a low-income housing project.
When asked if he like being a kid in Levittown my father's response is, "I loved it!". And while I know many details of my father's family dynamic that was not exactly Leave it to Beaver like, there are an undeniable amount of aspects which illustrate exactly what Levittown's creators were hoping to achieve and in my mind the goal was to present resdients with a very much Leave it to Beaver, All-American experience.
My grandparents' home on Rim Lane cost them a total of $6,900-- $100 down and $66/month for 20 years. In the first years of Levittown one had to be a G.I. to purchase a home so this immediately created a sense of community and oneness amongst residents, while also providing needed housing for G.I.'s returning home from WWII and looking for a place to settle as a young family. From the time he was 5-years-old until he graduated from high school, my dad walked about seven minutes to school, had a paper route from age 12 -16, worked at a local Baskin Robbins in the village green during his high school years, participated in the cub scouts, boy scouts, and the explorers which were all free programs for students of Levittown which happened to offer the best public education in the state of New York at the time.
While during its early days many New York newspapers were voicing concern over the possibility of Levittown becoming a slum, it was education and the community layout which were the catalysts for Levittown's success. The town hired the best teachers and paid them the most while also encouraging a large PTA involvement in order to keep Levittown far from slum status, and beyond that, according to my father, there was an undeniable sense of pride in one's home-- everyone was constantly working to improve his/her home. My father recalls the nursery's being packed on weekends with families purchasing new shrubbery and his own family putting up walls to create more bedrooms for him and his sisters.
My father has said that, "the layout of Levittown created opportunity for social interaction while still preserving privacy and the single family aspect of the community". The backyards hid the electrical wires from the street views but they also remained unfenced off in order to allow children to move between yards without every entering the street and often there were bike paths connecting backyards to the closest village green.
My Dad reflects on Levittown as proving a very rich lifestyle. While he went on merely one vacation during his upbringing, summers were filled with bike rides (accompanied by a short bus ride) to Jones Beach where his class mates knew exactly which section of the beach to congregate to, camping trips with friends to Fire Island, and by the time he owned his own Volkswagen bus in 68' my father and his friends had discovered overnight fisherman's permits as the key to parking overnight at Jones Beach which was also grounds for summer soccer and lacrosse games at the time.
Through talking with my father, it is clear that at least in many respects Levittown succeed in providing families with comfortable, safe living environments accompanied by rich social relationships and respect for the community. Hearing my dad speak about all of this does end up creating a sort of Leave it to Beaver picture in my mind, but only better. After listening, I now have a much fuller illustration in my mind of what it meant to grow up in Levittown in the 1950s and 60s and my illustration reflects a much fuller living experience than the 1950s television show paints in black and white.
A local resident opened the store in 1858 after he experienced a failed attempt to find gold out west. And while the older man, who eventually left the store to his sons, did not find gold out West it is evident everyday at Alley's that Mr. Mayhew performed some sort of alchemy back East. Alley's is a gold mine is more ways than I can possibly count, so instead I will try to help you imagine all the ways it would be a goldmine for anyone.
Alley's motto is "dealer in almost anything" and a sign used to hang above the register which read, "if you don't see it, ask" because you can bet Alley's will order in what you need.
As the screen door slams behind you (because you tried to catch it but it was really just that fast) and you walk onto the old wooden floors, shaking off either sand or snow from your feet, it's almost hard to know where to begin. Alley's offers groceries to the left, hardware in the far back right nook (also where a cribbage table is set in in the wintertime), coffee around the corner from the register, which is lined with endless surprises of things you never knew you needed until right now, and then the table in the middle and the wooden barrels surrounding it display everything from comic books and Barbie dolls to oversized sparkles (a personal favorite) and bacon flavored mints. There is more too, so much more.
In 1927, longtime clerk and new owner of Alley's, Charles Turner, built a post office inside Alley's and today there are 150 post boxes belonging to local residents. And then, in 1946 the current owning family, the Alley's, added a Laundromat and a car wash to this already one stop wonderland. Today, days at Alley's pass much as they did when the doors opened in 1858; each morning when Alley's opens at 7am, fisherman, farmers, and workers gather on the front porch with their cups of coffee and a newspapers under their arms. Maybe the fisherman pick up a few new hooks and the carpenters remember they've been meaning to replace their tape measure.
The time of day can almost always be told my the cycles of local kids stopping by in the morning and again on their way homes, even getting the time down to the 15 or 30 minute mark in the afternoon as three different schools let out. Between the school kids, the post boxes, and the strong coffee, newspapers, and everyday needs, there is no doubt that Alley's remains an unforced community meeting place.
Unlike Ms. Backus, who runs the store today, I do not usually watch the whole day pass at Alley's (although maybe I should try that), but rather I am a part of it's landscape too. I am the girl sneaking in with sandy feet and no shoes, I am the girl who just needs five more minutes of the porch swing, and admittedly I am the girl who has been stealing all of your honey sticks.
As I am a part of Alley's landscape, Alley's is very much a part of my landscape as well. Alley's is the last stop before the beach and the last chance to remember you forgot anything at home; Alley's is the landmark I use when people are looking for a drive through paradise--take a right on Music Street after passing Alley's (also on the right); Alley's is where we all meet when driving or biking separately because Alley's is also the last place you will have good phone reception; it's where my best friend and I pick each other out a bag of dollar goods as a token of our love before she crosses the pond for the winter; and mostly Alley's is tradition.
The landscape of Alley's general store has changed and grown and molded over it's 155 years, but the people moving through the store each day give Alley's landscape its true meaning. And it was the people of the community who have loved the landscape of their daily lives too much to let it go that helped it through financial troubles in 1992 and on to making it possible for Alley's to be a part of the community's historic preservation trust today.
"General stores in general are a disappearing element of the American landscape" -- trust executive director, Chris Scott