I have spent a few afternoons huddled on a stoop in Soho waiting while friends and family shop (Patterns 65: People sit with their back protected and 66: Sitting people observe their environment). I was ostensibly reading a book of poetry but mostly just watching, and because I was sitting low to the ground what I mostly watched was people's shoes. In Soho shoes are a badge of tribal membership. And watching shoes one gets a good feel for the rhythms of the street (Patterns 1: People walk in the sunshine, 3: Street vendors facilitate pedestrian movement, 13: Tourists carry bags, 17: Street vendors reinforce fluctuations, 42: People walk more slowly in the afternoon).
This is a wonderful little book on urban patterns, closely observed, in Soho NYC. It picks out what makes Soho work as a place - its intensity, consumerism, variety and intimacy. There are many suggestions in here for other places as well. I would like Vancouver to study these patterns and see how they could be applied on Commercial Drive, along Robson, in Yaletown and Gastown, or along 4th and in smaller communities like Marpole. Could we apply Pattern 20: Cars Park in Niches and get rid of on-street parking in places - think of all the possibilities this would open in Yaletown.
The book is not perfect, but it could be a starting point for a great pick up in the study of urban patterns, and it builds well off Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction (Cess Center for Environmental) and Kevin Lynch's The Image of the City (Harvard-MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies Series) classic work. I hope we can see similar books about other parts of NYC, other cities (can someone do this for Aoyama in Tokyo), and other types of urban environment.
I felt the book had a few serious flaws, that prevented me from giving it five stars.
1. It situates Soho overwhlmingly as a site of consumption. This is superficial as I know a number of designers and makers, even a few artists, who make things in Soho and making is, or should be, as important to us as comsumption.
2. The patterns are primarily captured and thought out visually . The soundscape has patterns too and these often reveal intimacies and rhthms that are otherwise hard to notice.
3. I would have liked to have seen more data cited. There are interesting economic claims on density, cars, shopping patterns and rents that I tend to believe but would like to see back up.
4. The patterns are not linked into a system and there is no index (see Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software for some best practices.
My favourite patterns? Pattern 85: Weeds Reduce Aggression and Pattern 100 Fracture Create Friction.
Ten years after 9/11 NYC remains a wonderful diverse and dynamic place. And a resilient one. Thank you NYC and its people and its first responders.