Between 6th and 7th Avenues, running from 51st up to 57th Street in Manhattan, can be found a collection of public access building lobbies and passageways that create a continuous path for pedestrians. The city recently bestowed the lane with a formal street designation (the cheekily named 6 1/2 Avenue), as well as street crossing marks and stop signs to legitimize what had heretofore been widely practiced mid-block jaywalking. Here’s a block-by-block account, in photos.
6 1/2 Avenue is entered at the north end through 142 W 57th Street.
The hallway inside feels a little bit like Tron, though no one fired an identity disc at me.
Emerging at 56th Street, one finds a small brick courtyard, near the Russian Tea Room.
Crossings like this are the most visible, and somewhat controversial, changes made by the Transportation Department.
150 W 56th Street.
Between 140 and 150 W 55th Street.
W 53rd St.
Johnny is part of the security team minding the space between 53rd and 52nd Streets. He says that, while the area had always been popular among the people who worked in nearby offices, he hasn’t noticed any particular increase in foot traffic since the street was formally recognized.
Other than a few benches, there didn’t seem to be that much going on in these passages, making Johnny’s observation not too surprising. A public space only becomes a destination when it ceases to become “space” and transforms into a platform for activity and interaction. While I love a good walk for walking’s sake, I’m ultimately going to gravitate to the places that have the things I want to do and people I want to see.
W 52nd Street.
The last block of the pedestrian arcade comes closest to the kind of features that improves a place’s rating on my informal scale of “interestingness”. But it’s still a bit of a non-starter. A few benches, a Starbucks and some fast-ish food restaurants do not a lively location make.
At the end of my walk I couldn’t help but feeling, besides being hot, that 6 1/2 Avenue seems like a blank canvas. Other than a scattering of benches and one instance of outdoor cafe seating, little distinguishes the passage from a bare hallway. If this were a city in Europe or Asia, there would at the very least be popup vendors selling goods and street food, if not more permanent installations. Osaka’s Shinsaibashi (心斎橋) and other shotengai throughout cities in Japan feature an entire ecosystem of retail and services businesses custom tailored to this specific urban form. Certainly, credit is owed to the respective building owners for coordinating this architectural feature that improves the area’s permeability, and to the city for formally recognizing its utility, but there’s a great opportunity here to bring texture and life to an empty vessel.