I’ve never admitted this before, but I got lost once. (Yes, just once, ever). As an urban-planner-type who harbors a mild obsession with maps and cities, and has called the five boroughs home for a full decade, this is taboo. Very taboo (in fact, if you tell anyone, I will have to kill you). This incident occurred many years ago in the neighborhood where Manhattan’s predictable and logical street grid suddenly turns on itself. It is the neighborhood where the linear becomes organic; where north/south streets begin to veer east just when you were sure of your direction, and where the streets are no longer numbered (Stone? Beaver? What?). I’m talking about Lower Manhattan.
After swallowing my pride over the “L-word-incident,” I found myself intrigued by Downtown. The architectural gems! The pioneers of skyscraper technology! The narrow streets! This was way cooler than the rest of the City. After a few minutes I found my way back onto Broadway (I was, after all, just a block away), and though my encounter with Lower Manhattan had ended for the time being, my fascination with the district had not.
This is a neighborhood to be appreciated. Let’s be honest: New York City buildings can be boring. It’s an endless maze of tall, modern structures, all with the same glass and steel façades on the same wide streets. In Lower Manhattan, I had finally stumbled upon a genuinely old place in New York City. Perhaps not the old of crumbling Greek ruins, but old enough to evoke a sense of multi-century history. Working in Lower Manhattan for 3 years now has convinced me that this is by far a more unique and interesting place to spend my days.
Getting lost is fun, especially in Lower Manhattan. The attributes that once turned my direction-finding skills on their head are precisely what make it such a unique place to explore on foot. After years of therapy, I’ve finally moved beyond my hang-up over getting lost. In fact, occasionally I now “get lost” intentionally Downtown. Gasp! As we approach Labor Day weekend, instead of fleeing for one last jaunt at the beach, stick around to take in the calm that is New York City on a holiday, and venture out for a “directionless” stroll south of Chambers Street. There is always a new nook or cranny to stumble upon or a building to be seen in a new light – literally or figuratively. Start your walk heading south on Broad Street and make a left on whatever cross street strikes your fancy. Take a few turns here and there, grab a drink or lunch on Stone Street, and perhaps stroll up to Crumbs for a cupcake on Beaver Street. You likely won’t know if you’re heading north or east at any point during your walk, which is precisely the point of intentional lost-ness. Fear not fellow walkers – at some point you’ll stumble back to the grid of Manhattan’s more linear world.
And, of course, the trusty Downtown Alliance wayfinding maps are there to point your way should you feel a need to use them. But I hope you won’t.