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Groups of people (center) as well as businesses (newsstand far right) congregate around subway stations. It should not be forgotten that many locations were chosen to become subway stations because they were already central places. Because of the importance of the subway as a primary means of transportation, especially within Manhattan, it is one of the principal elements in the mental maps New Yorkers develop of the city. Furthermore, the structure of the city is likely to be identified largely along the lines of the subway.
It is no longer possible today to found an urban restructuring principally on architecture. The importance of the subway should not be exaggerated, as there are other characteristics that also privilege central places in mental maps. It would be productive to undertake an extensive study of the relationships between spatial perception and the subway. And while subway stations are fundamentally intermediary spaces, they are in themselves places with a semi-public role. In addition to the finance-driven rational and need to move people through the stations, the fear of crime reinforces the imperative to prevent people from loitering, thereby preventing occupation by the homeless. The poor state of repair of many stations additionally reduces the subway's potential public role. Places that are unpleasant and alienating will cause people to avoid them to the best of their ability. The pavilions that mark the subway stations on the southern end of Union Square function as landmarks and help define the square.
These forms of constriction provide a corresponding sense of release upon exiting the destination station. The Greenstreets triangle on which the Astor Place pavilion stands provides a relatively lost opportunity for a combination of open space and landscaping to frames the release from the subway.
Although New York's subways were started as private companies, they have traditionally been more removed from retail than other systems like those in Tokyo founded by department store companies as a way of funneling customers to their stores. New York's older stations are modern spaces (not to be confused with "Modernism" as a style): clearly defined, designed primarily in response to functional demands, and generally separating the public sphere neatly from its commercial surroundings. Conforming to the modern notion of a unified and independent public sphere, subway stations, as intermediary public spaces, have generally been located in autonomous locations within the public-right-of-way. It was recognized very early on that subway stations provided economic advantages to their surroundings. As both the recognition of the subway as a public space has declined and postmodern criticism has challenged the modernist notion of public space, the separation between stations and commercial space has declined. The definition of the subway's public role is beginning to reflect the gaining dominance of postmodernism.


In the 1970s planners proposed directly tying the Union Square station to a department store. Space where commercial uses dominate, rather than reside, cannot play an adequate public role.
The use of fragments in the redesign of the Union Square Station makes passengers question their surroundings, but when not adequately integrated with the functions of the station it also disorients, as seen by the directions added to the sign on the right. While some postmodern art may cause confusion, there continues to be a need to improve the ability to orient passengers. Areas on the platforms are clearly demarcated, indicating dangerous areas, and the places to stand for the car doors. In Tokyo the platforms are clearly demarcated and the use of pictorial signs is clear and transcends language barriers.
The safety strips added to the edges of the platforms provide a physical stimulus to help warn passengers. It is important to create a symbolic language and to design space in the subway in order to orient passengers, as public space cannot be realized in spaces that the public avoids.
While symbolic language can transmit indications for orientation, those indications must be received.
The need for orientation and security should not be used as an excuse for diminishing public dialog, however. Ultimately, the potential exists for the subway to develop a symbolic language that could more adequately orient passengers, while providing a venue for more public dialog.
Effects of Pathway Configuration, Landmarks and Stress on Environmental Cognition," Readings in Environmental Psychology. The recent post “The blessings of a Navigo card” by Philippa Campsie at the blog Parisian Fields comparing Paris and Toronto public transportation got me thinking about mass transit in the big cities that I have lived in. Back in Northern California, while it may work fine within San Francisco, in Silicon Valley, public transportation is, ahem, inefficient. Now public transportation in New York and Paris isn’t perfect, and it might be smelly, but it works and all kinds of people use it every day. Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. The sequestered nature of subway stations largely prevents them from playing a fully public role. As the subway has become part of the mystique of New York, becoming part of the tough persona of the city, the new cars seem sterile and foreign.
When I was getting my masters at NYU, I would walk down my block in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn to the Carroll Street stop and take the F train into Manhattan to West 4th street.
My husband is able to take the light rail to work because we live near downtown Campbell and he works in downtown San Jose, but as I am writing this he has just texted me to say that he will be home late (again) because the train isn’t coming.


As Silicon Valley grows (as it is doing exponentially), we are going to need reliable, efficient public transportation.
I still remember hauling my computer and notebooks up the never-ending flights of stairs at that stop to finally reach the outside world. We started out living in Amelie‘s slanted, green-hued and slightly magical 18th arrondissement, home of Sacre Coeur, the beautiful gigantic white church on top of the hill. At this point, I would walk to la Gare du nord to take the purple ligne 4 to the sketchy Porte de Clignancourt.
After graduating, I would take the F up to 42nd street Bryant Park and walk through the Garment District, passing by the imposing New York Times building on my way to work for France Today magazine (now located in the UK). Our neighborhood was connected to the rest of the snailshell that is la ville lumiere by la ligne 12, which is a deep forest green.
Eventually I ended the relationship with the woman I was tutoring because a) it was a dodgy neighborhood and b) she was a rather snooty francaise. A year later, I rode it all the way up to it’s second to last stop in Manhattan, 57th street. Our stop was Jules Joffrin, across from the city hall of our arrondissement and a friendly neighborhood bistro where we would stop for un demi (a beer) from time to time. No matter, as it gave me more time to take other metro lines to do more interesting things throughout the city, like visit museums and go to cafes with friends. I would walk down 5th avenue past the luxury brands on my way to the office of the French skincare company who was my last New York employer before moving with my new husband to Paris. To get to work, my husband took this line to the terminus (Porte de la Chapelle) where he would be greeted by prostitutes while crossing le peripherique into Aubervilliers to get to work. The only good thing about taking the train so far north was that on the way back I had my pick of seats to plop down in and then get lost in my New York Magazine all the way home.
Many offices are located here in order to take advantage of the cheaper rent as compared to renting inside the city boundaries. It is perhaps similar to the approach taken to signs, which were allowed, then encouraged, and ultimately required to support the image of commercial excess that Times Square had developed. In other instances where the connections are made further inside, such as the uptown portion of the Astor Place station, there is a clearly designed architectural transition that marks a distinction between the station and the store.



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