InstaBlog: Turnstyle Market at Columbus Circle

Author's note: Warning—this is a blog-style post based on a social media post. Beware typos and poorly elucidated thoughts. For more polish, perhaps try an article!

Turnstyle is a new shopping center, food hall, and—dare I say it—public space built into New York's Columbus Circle-59th Street Subway station.

I'm often asked—okay, scratch that, I often ask myself—since you tend to be quite critical of privatized "public" spaces, yet you also pontificate on the power of transportation facilities as public spaces, do you have examples of it done well? And to be honest, other than my two major go-tos, Grand Central and Washington, DC's Union Station, I don't have many.

That's why I was so excited to accidentally stumble across this relatively new development (opened in 2016), built into what had been a one-block long empty, underground corridor. At first glance, Turnstyle might feel like a mall. But looking a little closer, it is full of many details which help it be more of a *place*. It is almost entirely composed of local businesses. It has ample seating, which encourages you to pause, while NOT requiring you to purchase things. It is busy, always full of people doing different things, and thus it can be a freeing space to simply exist in urban space. In other words, it operates, at least somewhat, as a *public* space—something akin to a modern-day, indoor agora.

And perhaps that is no surprise: it is operated by Urbanspace, the same group that operates Bryant Park and Union Square Holiday Markets, amongst many others. I have to admit, while I'm not always enamored of these markets, they are interesting—& popular—uses of public space, particularly at times where they may otherwise be underutilized.

Which is the key: to leverage busy but underutilized spaces to create public, urban places that function year round. Is Turnstyle perfect? Probably not: it is still highly consumerism-focused, and ultimately, is a privately-controlled public space. It remains to be seen just how well it will operate as deeply public space. But with its chairs, its lack of oppressive security, its openness, and its local businesses, it is one of the best attempts I have seen recently!

Here's hoping more such developments follow this pattern, and not turn into the traditional, sterile malls the Port Authority has built at the World Trade Center or the George Washington Bridge Bus Station...

Based on an Instagram post.
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