Our thesis semester is structured so that once a week we meet with our advisor, in the context of a small group with five classmates. Separately we schedule private thirty-minute tutorials with a writing advisor.
At this week's recent meeting, I led a mapping exercise with my classmates and professor to glean insights about what it means to be a resident of a neighborhood. I prompted them to sketch their mental map of their neighborhood and highlight the places that they frequented, favorited, and avoided. I then verbally asked each of them to describe some of the map features and answer follow-up questions.
I'm fully aware that my data is biased because I've polled educated unmarried transient residents as my case study (besides my professor who has lived multiple years in her home).
Here are the main insights from the activity:
- Three of the non-Manhattan students feel like outsiders in their neighborhood and they do not know anyone's name
- Their activities in their neighborhoods – Journal Square, Flushing and Bushwick/Bed-Stuy – are based on utility
- Walking routes are strategically decided based on feeling
- Janson always takes the longer route home to avoid the quiet street and walk past the commercial area
- Isa wants to pass the Japanese coffee vendor who says hello
- Lara walks quickly through the area right around the subway because it's so crowded
- Sneha's actions are based on convenience
- Small talk, especially on a sidewalk, is awkward
- Turned off by parades for their culture (i.e. Indian and Brazilian) because it feels phony
- It feels good when people remember your name
- Lara deeply values the weak ties with her bodega man, nail salon, gym, laundromat, etc
- Janson likes that the coffee shop knows his order
- Isa avoids some places because she thinks the proprietor might remember her and then strike up an awkward conversation.
- Isa appreciates have an activity or reason to go somewhere. For example, she went to a book club by herself because she was interested in the book and in being surrounded by like minds. She also appreciated having access to event details on Facebook.
Final question I asked: Do you want more neighborhood connection?
- Yes: Lara, Ricardo, Alix
- Neutral: Janson (he's satisfied with his school community)
- Only if Utilitarian: Sneha