New York City is a very different city to a variety of people. I blogged about my relocation from Harlem to Hell’s Kitchen last year and was amazed by how the landscape of the city transformed within a mere six miles. Of course, there are the obvious and beautiful surface-level ethnic differences. Anyone can witness them by venturing from Chinatown to Little Italy to Harlem. There is the New York City for the native, the transplant and the tourist. But there are deeper levels of constant transformation that took me three years to consider or even notice.
There is the New York City of the train commuters, the ones who can often tell which stop is next – not by the conductor’s announcements – but by the bends and curves of the subway tracks, by the segments under seemingly constant construction or by the barely visible graffiti along the tunnels. They know where to wait on the platform so that they can exit the train near a stairway to the street or a connection.
There is the New York City of the pedestrians, which I became when I moved to a walk-up in Hell’s Kitchen with a 10-block commute to a Midtown office building. We are the ones who would rather walk 30 blocks than wait for a train or bus. We know where the shortcuts are between streets – for example, one could cut through buildings from W 50th Street down to W 46th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues and grab a coffee in the tunnel between W 47th and 48th, across from the old studio for The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet.
There is the New York City of drivers, the ones who know the parking rules and which avenues and streets to avoid during rush hour. I became cogitatively aware of this difference yesterday when I trotted down the front steps of my apartment building and was stopped by a man who was trying to figure out the parking rules on my street. I realized that though I have lived on this street for over a year, I had no idea how long he could park outside of my building nor did I have any insider information on the best parking in the area. I couldn’t imagine how different my street might look from behind the wheel of a car. And the backseat of a taxicab does not count.
There is the New York City of the financially elite, who live and work in the upper altitudes of the Manhattan skyline. Their perspective dwells at a birds' eye view and through the back seat of a sleek black sedan or limousine.
Many New Yorkers can transition between any of the above at any given time, but just as many are partial to one particular form of transportation - which ultimately designates the New York City they know. It seems to be a trivial point to debate, but the mode of transportation one uses to get around the city probably forms their versions of New York City more than anything else. Everything influences the mode - residence, career, money, lifestyle. All determine how we interact with the city and thus determine our perspectives.
New York City is a landscape of evolution from its skyline to its culture, but the most personal evolution of all is the New York City of perspective.