Saturday, July 27, 2013

Find your Way in NYC

The Task:
Learn about different neighborhoods within New York City. Talk to people about their stories, how they got there, what they do, and what it is like to live there.

Answer the following questions about each neighborhood:

  • What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? When you have lunch, what do you taste?
  • How did you feel walking around the neighborhood? (Anxious, uncomfortable, at home, blown away, etc.)

When in the neighborhood, walk around with your partner and try to find a few people to talk to. You can go into shops, talk to street food vendors, etc. Keep to public place and use your street smarts.

When meeting people, introduce yourself and explain why you're visiting the neighborhood. Get them to tell you their story - or as much of it as they're willing to tell.

Take pictures of the neighborhoods, not of individuals or groups of people, to help tell the story.

You should leave your last neighborhood by 4:15pm at the latest. You need to be at Ping's Restaurant in Chinatown (Manhattan) by 5:30pm.

The Experience:
We were all broken into three groups of eight. Each group was assigned between two and three subway stops to get off at and streets to walk around. I was in Group 1 with Julie, Keri, Pierre, Tom, Heidi, Zach and Rachel. This is all we were given:
Group 1: Manhattan and the Bronx

  • Concourse Village - Train B or D to 167th
    • Be sure to visit the Sheridan Ave & McClellan St intersection
  • Washington Heights - Train C to 168th Street
    • Be sure to walk between 168th St and 175th St
  • Harlem - Train 2 or 3 to 125th Street
    • Be sure to walk between 135th St and 135th St on Lennox Ave
At first, it was nerve wracking to think about walking up to complete strangers and asking them about their lives. Actually not at first, the whole time it was nerve wracking and hard to accomplish. When we got off each metro stop we would break into partners, give ourselves about 30 to 45 minutes and then meet back at that location. Therefore even though we were in the same group, we all had different experiences. 

Group 1finding its way in NYC
For this post, I am going to simply write my notes and observances of each neighborhood in bullet points. 
Washington Heights: Rachel and I were partners and to ease into the process we thought it would be best to go to schools and try to talk to people there. Turned out it was the last day of school and all the administrators were too crazy busy to talk to us. However, we did enjoy simply walking around the school and seeing everything on the walls. 
  • A little Dominican Republic
  • Spanish, Spanish, Spanish
  • Cutest little girl driving a pink cadillac down Broadway
  • Number of veggie and fruit stands on the sidewalk
  • Major security to enter into the schools
  • 97% of the middle schools is hispanic
  • Good number of restaurants and stores were closed up or not open
  • Spanish/Latin American looking mural on side of building that symboled prosperity
  • Graduation occurring across the street from where we ate lunch
  • Huge number of inspirational quotes on the walls of the school
  • Felt like "the other" in the schools because we immediately stood out and people would say "are you lost?" "can I help you?"
  • Colombia University Medical School appeared completely out of place
  • Little diversity, did see a Vietnamese church, though

Adorable poster at one of the schools. Each kids says
what they want to be when they grow up.
The Bronx: Zach and I were partners and simply wandered around. It was more residential than Washington Heights. We did talk to a group of girls about ages 9-13 who were selling some frozen drinks, rice and some homemade goodies. We didn't learn much, though, because they were all talking over one another. 
  • Not much time to explore, only 30 minutes
  • Mostly residential with a scattering of stores
  • Witnessed classic NYC moment with fire hydrant spraying and the cutest little kids running through it in the street
  • Felt extremely out of place as a preppy, white girl
  • Still many hispanics, but also more of a mix of Africans
  • Heard African languages being spoken
  • Saw African men with long muslim tunic shirts and caps and girls in headscarves
  • Supermercado next to an African market
African Market next to Supermercado
Harlem: Rachel and I were partners again. We walked into a Starbucks to get some iced coffee to give us extra energy. While we were there a man started talking to us and come to learn he's a published author and poet. "Blue" was his name and he's performed at the Apollo. Interesting character but we were able to find out a little about the area and read some of his poems. Pretty good stuff. By the time we finished talking to him, it was time to meet back up with the group to head to Chinatown for dinner.
  • Crowded sidewalks
  • More commercial with H&M and Gap but still many street vendors
Famous Apollo Theatre
Street art in Harlem
Group Debrief:
The group was able to debrief and share lessons from the day. Here is a list of only some of them:
  • It was harder than we thought
  • It was easier than we thought
  • External signs (like appearance) are important
  • A lot of these neighborhoods were the land of immigrants and their storefronts reflected the places from which they came
  • Language is key! It's harder to form connections when you can't understand each other.
  • Communicating is much easier when it is organic rather than trying to get information from people using the direct approach.
  • There were blurred cultural lines for most of the neighborhoods and they became a melting pot for all cultures involved.
  • Transportation was a privilege, some places were a Subway desert. 
  • We carry and reflect our own culture. Watch what you say that is unspoken!

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