With the kind permission of Strelka Press, we are publishing an excerpt from the book City Code. 100 Observations to Understand the City”by Swiss researchers Anne Mikolait and Moritz Pürkhauer. The subject of their observations is the New York district of Soho.
Number 3. Street Vendors Promote Pedestrian Traffic
Contrary to what it might seem at first glance, street vending has a positive effect on foot traffic. Traders not only act as a buffer between the pedestrian area and the roadway, but also act as visual and auditory cues that contribute to a sense of security among passers-by. The catchy shouts and jokes of street vendors add up to a kind of impromptu theatrical performance, in which passers-by for a moment become interested spectators and are distracted from their experiences.
“For a city street to be able to withstand the influx of strangers and even increase the level of safety with their help, which always happens in successful urban areas, it must meet three main requirements: and third, there must be people on the sidewalk more or less constantly using it … This is important both to increase the number of useful eyes through them, and to ensure that enough people in buildings along the street have an incentive to look at the sidewalks."
(Jacobs D. Death and life of large American cities. M., 2011. S. 49.).
No. 24. The monotonous grid of neighborhoods generates a variety of buildings
“Moreover, the two-dimensional discipline of the grid creates previously unthinkable possibilities for three-dimensional anarchy. The lattice defines that new balance between
regulation and deregulation, in which the city can be both orderly and fluid: a metropolis of rigidly organized chaos."
(Koolhaas R. New York is beside himself: Manhattan's Retroactive Manifesto. M., 2013. S. 336.).
Koolhaas argues that a huge variety of heights and uses of buildings reflects the strict unity of the street grid. When a grid of 1,860 regular sites was drawn in Manhattan in 1790, the foundation was laid for its inherent freedom of expression of business energy. The strict land plan generated the desire for a more detached invasion of the third dimension. The uniform grid has led not to monotony of the building, but to its diversity. After the street plan was approved, a three-year construction boom began, which resulted in the standard neighborhoods being built up with completely different, distinct buildings.
No. 30. Entrance is an obstacle
The entry device defines the boundary between the internal and the external and sets the level of psychological and physical effort required to pass through it. But the degree of its expressiveness is also influenced by the size of the entrance group, the transparency of the materials and the expectations of what awaits behind the doors. These features of perception are necessarily taken into account by architects and interior designers, who come up with the optimal location of the entrance for each particular store. The results of their work in Soho are varied. In some places, the boundary between the public and private environment can be completely destroyed when the space of the store is not separated from the sidewalk in any way. In order to get to another store, you need to overcome several steps - such an entrance with an additional barrier in space should emphasize the high value of the brand.
No. 34. Showcases are mirrors
While display windows are primarily conceived to display the products on offer, they produce the same aesthetic effect as any window - and should not be discounted. Depending on how the light falls, shop windows place fragments of our environment into a new dimension - pictures are superimposed on reality, giving the street space an imaginary depth, and countless reflections of light change the shape of buildings. For many of the pedestrians who pass shops every day, mirrored display windows provide a convenient opportunity to sneak a look at their appearance.
No. 42. People start walking slower in the afternoon
In an area with a sufficient variety of daily activities, the groups of people prevailing in the public space will change depending on the time of day. By their behavior, cultural affiliation and type of activity, they will determine the mood of the area. For example, by how and at what speed passers-by are walking, one can understand why they went out into the street at the moment. In the mornings, a strict pace of people rushing to work prevails in the city, and in the afternoon there are more tourists (in the broadest sense of the word) who seem to involuntarily follow the baits displayed in the shop windows - from a bird's eye view, their movements along the street resemble erratic zigzags or circular movements. In the evening, as people return home, locals gradually become part of the street landscape again. Repeated from day to day, this cycle is filled with rituals that order it.
53. Fathers meet each other in playgrounds
Unlike many other public spaces, a playground in the broadest sense of the term is a suitable place to walk or spend some time. It is always a point of intersection of different generations, fueled by the social connections of local residents. Children are undoubtedly full-fledged members of society, and meeting their needs enriches the public space. Moreover, those social connections that arise in playgrounds are not limited to a specific place and time. They serve to strengthen the local community. Fathers who met by chance on the site can get together with their families for a barbecue in a couple of weeks. And next time they will call their friends. Casual acquaintances become the basis of shared identity and security at the district level. The denser the network of social connections, the more important the role of public spaces as places where people spend their lives. Random encounters of neighbors with each other occur in every urban space where their paths intersect: at an intersection, in a grocery store, in a courtyard and, of course, on a playground - the crystallization point of a local community in any area.
54. Small areas are more in demand than large ones
The smaller the area of the square, courtyard or intersection, the more likely you are to meet a neighbor or friend. Consequently, not only the presence of such places, but also their size affects the density of the network of social connections in the area. In general, there are no areas that are too large or too small. The size of an area in a city should always be considered in relation to the number of people who will use it. When fifteen people gather in a small square, we will rather perceive it as busy. A slightly larger area with the same number of people may seem empty. Taking into account the demand and the number of visitors, it is possible to calculate the optimal size of the area in a particular part of the city. For example, in residential areas where the need for privacy and security is increased, small squares and squares will always be appropriate, the territory of which can be revitalized by a company of three or four people.
“I'll end with a compliment to the small spaces.They create a tremendous multiplication effect that affects not only those who constantly use them, but also many more people who pass by and enjoy them indirectly, and even more people whose perception of the city center is changed for the better by the very fact. the existence of such spaces. For the city, these places are priceless, no matter what the cost of their creation. They are made up of basic elements and are right in front of our noses."
(William H. Whyte. The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. New York, 2004. P. 1.).