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Field Observation

The TurnStyle is an underground market at 59th Street Columbus Circle Subway Station. This station connects the A, D, B, C and 1 train and is one of the seven busiest stations in the system. Approximately 70,000 commuters pass through per weekday and 22 million a year. 

 In 2012 the MTA decided to explore leasing spaces on the concourse level, running from 57th Street to 59th Street. A simple idea, turning a subway station into a destination for commuter, tourists, residents and employees of nearby office buildings. This was the first full out experiment to transform a section of an older station into a mini mall/food court. The 30,000 square foot space cost about $14.5 million dollars and took 5 years to renovate. It has 5 entrances/exits and is home to about 39 retail and food vendors. 

On a busy Tuesday afternoon, I wait for the train to pull into the 59th Street subway station. The train is packed as usual at this time of the afternoon. I get off the train and trudge up the steps to the entrance to the TurnStyle. As I exit the subway, I am greeted by 5 cheerful people who work for the Save A Child Foundation. I watch as they try to get anyone passing by to stop and listen to them. They are trying to get people to sign up to help kids around the world. I move further into the corridor which is decorated for Saint Patrick’s Day. Streamers of sparkling green with shamrocks are attached to the ceiling. There is music playing on the speakers overhead and each store has its own music. 

My nose is assaulted by the many different aromas coming from some of the restaurants. I smell dumplings, cheese, pasta sauce and freshly baked cookies! I can even smell the coffee aroma coming from Starbucks.  I am impressed by the many different stores and restaurants that line the sides and middle of this small space. These stores do not feel cramped or tiny. They are well lit, welcoming and have beautiful displays of their goods. The restaurants are offering samples of food for anyone to try. There is a communal area for you to sit, eat or just to sit and chat with friends.  

I find an empty table to sit and begin my observation. I immediately notice the many different groups of people moving through this area. Students, parents, kids, tourist, workers etc. Even though there are different groups of people you notice the similarities. Most students are dressed in jeans, tshirts, sweaters and black coats with their smartphones and headphones on. Adults are dressed similarly, jeans/dress pants, tshirts, sweaters and mostly black coats. Most of the adults are on their smart phones with headphones on as well. The only exception to this seems to be the toddlers with parents. Most of these toddlers are dressed in brightly colored clothing with bright jackets. Their parents are NOT on their phones as they must pay attention to what the little kids are doing. But these toddlers have tablets and are using them to watch shows. 

 People are either rushing to the subway, eating or taking their time to look at the stores and restaurants. A group of high school students sit at my table. It goes from a mild hum to very loud. They are boisterous. Their conversation ranging from schoolwork to friendships and parents to summer plans. Summer plans? It’s not even spring yet!  

Another group of young people sit behind us. These young people are using this space to conduct a meeting. They pull out their tablets/laptops and begin a discussion. The table in front of me consists of different people. Some of them work in the Time Warner Center, another is a doorman from the Trump Towers.  Another group of people are asking for directions to Central Park. This group are tourists. They are visiting from Finland. The only reason I know this is because I am asked for help with places to eat and am told that they are visiting from Finland. I advise them on a few places that I like to eat and bid them good luck with the rest of their vacation.  

As I sit here and watch the flow of people, I realize that this space is used for many different reasons. It is no longer just a subway station. It is a unique place to shop, eat or even to do a research project. It also occurs to me that many students use this place as a safe, public area to hang out with their friends. Who would have thought that a New York City subway station would be considered a safe place for kids to hang out in. Being in this space also makes me realize that there are no real malls in Manhattan anymore.  

I think the MTA accomplished what they set out to do. They took a space that was dirty, dingy, not safe and made it into an area of business. New jobs were created, places to eat and shop were created and all as you go to and from the subway