This week I read the Social Life of Small Urban Spaces and The Metropolis and Mental Life by William H. Whyte and Georg Simmel respectively. For reasons unknown, my previous spiel on both of these readings was deleted by a very silly mistake with the insert more tag button on wordpess. Now I shall attempt to regather my pithy thoughts on both.
I enjoyed the reading from Whyte much more than that of Simmel, because his prose and attitude towards interactions is similar to my own. However, Simmel makes sound observations and judgments of city life in his own, imposing manner.
Whyte essentially says that good public design lends itself towards these chance encounters called triangulations—wherein people that wouldn’t usually talk to each other under other circumstances, come together and exchange thoughts freely, usually in observance of something. Whyte ascertains that there is a certain ratio of people to amount of these public places that foster triangulations, so that there are none to many, and none too few. Consider, if there were two central parks in New York, one would probably be favored over the other for whatever reason, defeating the purpose of having a single central park. Whyte mentions that my favorite place in all of Brooklyn, the Promenade, is one of these places where triangulation is commonplace, and even expected. I wouldn’t go so far as to think one MUST feel compelled to gawk in unison with others at things in the city, but they should feel comfortable in doing so if they choose.
I feel that Whyte’s assumptions concerning the use of small public spaces for meaningful, friendly interactions is valid and relevant in our impersonal I’m-listening-to-my-iPod-at-all-times age. Sometimes it is fun to gather in Union Square and circle street performers, and sometimes it is fun to have lunch on the steps of the New York Public Library if you go to Spence and follow Gossip Girl religiously. To put this in an ITP perspective, consider the sidewalk in front of the Tisch building: there artsy students from all departments mingle, ask each other for a light, and compare notes on skinny jeans, scarves, and black framed glasses, whilst looking like they are onto the next big thing. THAT is the essence of triangulation.
Simmel was not so concerned with the affairs of the group, but rather the mind and patterns of the individual in his essay. He asserts that the swirl of chaotic stimuli we are entrenched in during city life effects our very being. We must be poignant, punctual, rational, and conscious to really make it in the city he says. The tempo and zeitgeitst of the city have a very real impact on our daily life, and the paths we choose. Consider the mood of the city whenever 9/11 approaches, when the stock market drops, and when a new Sex and the City movie is announced. It all matters, even if it doesn’t directly affect you, since the city itself is a system, and you are intrinsically a part of it. Another important thing Simmel describes is the food chain of sorts that permeates city life. The positions you fill in the metropolitan city system have an impact on you, and those around you, so many things you could consider chance, probably are inescapable. Simmel comments on city people placed in towns, and their condition. As someone who has lived in the burbs, the city, and the sticks, I can honestly say the level of interactions around you most certainly has an impact on you, and your day. I do however think that city life is just a magnification of life in the sticks or the suburbs, and that inversely they are just powers below city life. For instance, in a small town you have the old gossipy lady, and in the huge metropolis, you have TMZ and Gawker. Its all about scale.
And now for what you’ve been waiting for: my stranger interaction novella of the week.
This stranger turned out to be an NYU alum, so we had all sorts of things to talk about, like how it was, and how it is now. I had met them probably about a month back, by chance, in kind of a seedy and impersonal fashion online. However, this brief meeting was restricted to simply getting the other party’s number. We talked and texted off and on after that every now and then. On Sunday evening though, I was feeling festive, and went out with friends visiting from out of town. Sadly, my short attention span kicked in, and soon enough, I was texting away with this stranger I hadn’t met in person yet. They said they were on their way to the city, and that if I wanted company that I could meet them around 34th. I was infinitely curious to meet this person that had kept me occupied throughout a drawn out discussion of broadway plays, so I agreed to journey to 34th. Even though it was getting late, the meeting did not quite qualify for the rendezvous timestamp, it was still pretty much a respectable hour.
Upon arrival, my stranger immediately recognized me and flashed me a brilliant smile. I was a bit stunned and tried my best to return the gesture, while clearing silly butterflies out of my stomach. I was already out on a limb and being brave, I told myself. He was just one of those people you just say “wow” to as they pass by you, but he was before me smiling warmly, so I was quite nervous. I couldn’t have guessed he would be so damn handsome in person. At least I was halfway dressed and put together from being out earlier. Phew, thank you Armani.
I asked what he was doing in the city in the first place, and he said he came specifically in hopes of us hanging out. I waited for Ashton Kutcher to pop out and say I was Punk’d. Didn’t happen though. I was quite flattered, and I suggested we get out of the cold and find something to snack on (great, I think like a fatty). Being that he is a regular gym-goer, he declined the food, but agreed to a drink, so I was happy. We sat and talked for an hour or so while I munched on my egg sandwich at 2am. Classy Jon, real classy.
Apparently though, he was impressed (or chivalrous turned on) enough to offer to drive me home, and feared for my safety in the train at a late hour. He drove me all the way back to Brooklyn, and at this point it was approaching 3am. I felt bad that he came all the way from the Bronx for the pleasure of watching me eat a sandwich, so I invited him in to watch a movie. In an attempt to seem like a real man, I picked something with guns and blood, and he was pleased. Part way through the movie, he grabbed my hand an held it tight. He was so warm. He pulled me in closer and had me rest my head on his chest. I had forgotten all about the action in the movie at this point. He then gave me a small kiss, which turned into a more passionate one, which gave way to feeling all over each other. There was no home run, but we did cover most bases in a sense. He felt so good just to be next to while we slept, and when he woke up later on. Even if it is all fleeting, I would definitely like to make this stranger a regular. His texts continued even after he left, so maybe I’m onto something. Next week I promise to try and not make out with my stranger. There are other things to do with them apparently.