As my mind was racing last night after a whirlwind Christmas holiday, I decided to glance through my notes from the beginning of my thesis journey. Besides getting even more confused about what I want to do, I may have stumbled upon the overall meaning of my work.
I grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut on a standard parcel of land somewhere in the backcountry. We barely interacted with our neighbors, and my parents seemed quite content about that (they grew up in the bustling neighborhoods of the Bronx, so maybe the peace and quiet was ideal for them). On my road there wasn’t a community in the sense that people waved to each other and chatted about their kids, borrowed cups of sugar, or planned holiday get-togethers. I didn’t have a group of neighborhood kids that I could run outside and play with anytime. My brother and sister are ten and twelve years older than me, and they were off to college by the time I was eight. I grew up feeling like an only child, and even though I had a lot of friends from school, time for play dates had to be well-planned.
Greenwich is a beautiful town, but once I moved to the city when I was twenty-one, I realized how much character the streets, buildings and neighborhoods could have. Since New York is a very pedestrian city, I was constantly impressed by the street art found on the walls of old buildings, and hidden doorways and various nooks and crannies found in the older settlements. Greenwich, like most suburbs, consists of long main roads and shorter side roads, and you need to take the car to get anything done. While the town has a character of its own and I lived there for twenty-one years, it’s not something I grew a strong attachment to.
Both of my parents passed away by the time I was twenty-one years old, and settling in the city was a way to grow roots somewhere. The city became a constant character in my life, and I’ve grown an attachment to it that I can’t fully explain. Thus my intention with thesis work is to tell a better story about what I love about New York City, and to offer alternate ways to experience it. My attachment to the city’s landscape and character has also activated a fear – the fear of losing anything that makes New York what it is, whether it’s the authenticity, energy, or diversity.
The conclusion I finally come to after all of this thesis stuff is finished will have nothing to do with preserving the way things are, or nostalgia for the way things were. New York City is constantly being transformed – rebuilt and recreated by its people. That may be the thing I love the most, and the thing that makes New York City what it is today.
SOME THINGS THAT MY THESIS IS NOT ABOUT:
While corporations with out-of-place branding is deplorable in historic neighborhoods, that is not something I want or need to tackle. I feel that corporations like McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts should have flexible branding strategies for their retail outlets, in order to connect with the community and enhance the beauty of the built environment, but this is something that needs to happen at the top levels of management. Many neighborhoods welcome chain stores because of the economic contribution, or convenience of easily grabbing a latte, gadget, or cheap shoes. Only a few community boards will completely block chain stores from opening in their neighborhoods, and some will place strong restrictions on signage to maintain visual integration.
The greater issue is the lack of historical and contextual awareness of retail stores, but costs would skyrocket if research and attention to context were required for every outpost. The responsibility is with the corporation to make a meaningful contribution to the community they enter, and many already have policies for employee volunteerism and grant programs. In this new age of social responsibility, maybe every globalized behemoth will make an effort to integrate visually and also with their community. In fact, it may even bring in a new customer base.
Also, I’m not trying to place meaning where there is none. Branding is a giant industry that tries to create beauty from the banal; to create meaningful experiences from trivial ones. I’m not interested in making the everyday beautiful, just to understand that the quotidian is enough. I’d like to uncover the truth in what is already there, and find my own meaning in the city I’m surrounded by every day. Maybe once I find truths hidden in the cracks and shadows of New York City, they can be applied to other cities around the globe.
So there you have it – a quick psychological interlude. Also it’s my personal context that helps explain where I’m coming from and the color of glass that I’m peering through.