I just started here at the Foundation two months ago and it has rushed by. The RTP is doing truly great work, and I get to be a part of it all. Part of that work is sharing that story with the Triangle, North Carolina and the world. My colleague, Anna Rhyne, and I recently traveled to New York City to better understand what makes it such a destination in order to stimulate our creativity, while also generating ideas of things we could implement in RTP as components of our forthcoming Park Center Master Plan! The entry below shares our experiences in New York and our main take-aways from the trip. Enjoy!
New York: The Real Windy City
Our trip to New York was most stimulating – Anna and I kept saying “What a whirlwind!” to one another. We explored the many third spaces (not home, not work, but somewhere else) that took us on through many of destinations, designs, and stories in not even three full days of being there.
Anna and I were surprised at how late everyone stayed out in New York. It was around 8:00 at night as we were reached Bryant Park, our first destination, and many people were still catching up with friends at café tables in the promenade, some were charging their iPhones at the charging station as they had their nightly espresso, and others were spreading out their blankets as they were getting ready for a concert to come on in the main lawn. Everyone looked like they had just left work. Why haven’t these people gone home? But the reason is Bryant Park is a destination. The planners of Bryant Park made this a destination where people would rather scratch the after-work routine to come out and play. It would take some time for me to adjust to working a long day and then whisking away to a café as the night approached.
We slept in the smallest rooms (that they called pods), but it was perfect because we never stayed in our rooms – it was just a landing spot as we sped between our different destinations. The experience of New York was the destination, not the hotel where we laid our heads. We had a rooftop bar and restaurant at our hotel that had a view of the Empire State Building, and on a Tuesday night there was a forty-five minute wait to get to just the bar – not even the restaurant! The cement columns and twinkle lights made this place feel so secure and cozy even on top of a twenty story building. Event this was a destination that drew people out of their homes on a Tuesday night. It was a great example of what we want to create at Park Center as a whole: a destination that will be so attractive that it would compel people to break their routines and leave their homes to come check out what is going on in RTP’s third space.
There is so much collaboration and competition on that little island that it drives design to new heights – literally. We toured Google’s New York offices across from Chelsea Market and their layout was constantly changing. Our tour guide was a friend of a friend from UNC and she had been working in San Francisco for the past month, so she had been out of the office for a while. The three of us saw many new spaces that inundated the senses with possibility. A lego bar? A new multi-level section of the building that was themed after the four seasons? Scooters for when you’re running late to a meeting? New amenities – like cafes – were constantly being constructed and then collapsed to make way for the next idea. It was so stimulating to be in the eye of Hurricane Google. This tour was good inspiration to be adaptable in the new space that we are about to fully occupy and open to the public.
Later in Madison Square Park we not only got to witness some public art but got to witness people witnessing public art. These were normal blokes – not the stereotypical artsy types – examining the piece and pointing out various aspects of it to one another. It was evidence that innovative design can stop people in their tracks and start a conversation. Again, a good reminder to have as we move forward with our plans to facilitate meaningful interaction and collaboration.
Each of these third spaces had to compete to get their story out because there were so many. They had to develop a succinct way to tell the story without saying too much. One place that did that was Eataly – they created an open air Italian market in the heart of the Flat Iron district. A bit out of place, so they had to connect the dots here. As you walked through the market buzzing with energy, each item’s display had a sign that told a little about the family in Italy who produced it. Another way to transform a simple transaction into a meaningful interaction through the art of telling the narrative.
New Work was my favorite coworking space because it was so hospitable and open. Sarah, coworking space management goddess, was not afraid to show us how the sausage was made in their space. The space was so compelling because of the amount of transparency and trust that they created in the place. We asked about issues between tenants and management. She told us that before anything develops into a full-on category 5 storm, she is able to approach involved parties and eliminate the problem before it is a problem due to the community-based narrative that they have implemented from the beginning. The founder of New Work has created a primer for opening a coworking space and has published it online.
The most compelling story to me was that of the High Line because, like we are doing, they took an outdated structure that was slated for demolition and reimagined all that it could be. The Friends of the High Line have not only created a stimulating third space that provides recreation and rejuvenation in a jostling city, but they have been shouting their story from the rooftops along the way. They literally made a park on top of an old rail road track! Who does that? They compel people to get swept up in their mission by inviting them into a story that is much larger than themselves.
To cap it all off, Hurricane Arthur grounded us on our way back and we would not have been able to leave for 28 hours later, so Anna and I picked up our bags went over to Avis and drove through the night back to the land of the pine. As I said earlier on, definitely was a whirlwind of seeing how destination, design, and story can lift you off the ground and make an experience soar to new heights!