The design of Manhattan and the traditional retail store layout share a similar approach, implemented in the 19th century, and based on the grid. This rigid architecture, and its obvious efficiency that has worked well in the past, seems to be under review by city planners as well as retail store designers.
Experiments on the streets of New York and in the aisles of Stop & Shop are creating environments that are more casual, perhaps more democratic and certainly more interactive. In both cases the planners are responding to an interest in making their spaces more humane, and more enjoyable for the casual pedestrian to stroll, to relax, and shop.
Look at the street map of Manhattan at left. It looks a lot like the traditional grid structure of most Wal-Mart stores. Notice the casual line that snakes from the upper left to lower right, that’s Broadway, mid-town Manhattan’s only concession to informality. These same kinds of informal swathes are being experimented with by most retail planners.
New York’s new transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, has a grand plan to make Broadway a series of pedestrian plazas and bike paths, inspired by what has happened in Copenhagen in the last decade. An architectural review of this effort, by Nicolai Ouroussoff, is in the New York Times today.
I see a lot of similarity between the experiments of city planners and the efforts of retailers to make their spaces more humane, and to borrow a technology term, more user-friendly. Most retail stores are experimenting with ways of making the shopping experience more personal and less programmed, planning spaces that allow shoppers to wander in ways that their interests of the moment and personal shopping lists take them.
In fact I wonder if the lessons learned about the way we use the internet is influencing any of these decisions. It will be interesting to see if the way we use, and personalize, the web and other forms of communication influence other areas of our lives. These two examples may be the first of many instances where rigid social structures are giving way to more informal user-directed environments.
The Times Square photo above is by Damon Winter for the New York Times