Monday, April 25, 2016

Market Diner Demolished

When we last checked in with the doomed Market Diner it was locked behind green plywood. Now reader Shade Rupe sends in photos of the gruesome remains.

photo: Shade Rupe

A bit of stone foundation still stands. A stairway to nowhere. The rest is dust.

photo: Shade Rupe

The Market Diner was here since 1962. It was beautiful and unusual. Developer Joseph Moinian's Moinian Group bought it, evicted it, and is replacing it with a 13-story building. If it matches their existing two towers across the street, it will be yet another dull, dead luxury box.

You can like those towers or hate those towers. But here's the thing: All the glass boxes around the city are making us sick--mentally and physically. They are literally killing us as they hasten our deaths.

Cognitive neuroscientist Colin Ellard studied what happens to people on the sidewalk when they stand in front of a bland glass fa├žade. In one study, he placed human subjects in front of the Whole Foods grocery store on the Lower East Side, strapped skin-conducting bracelets to their wrists, and asked them to take notes on their emotional states.

He reported, “When planted in front of Whole Foods, my participants stood awkwardly, casting around for something of interest to latch on to and talk about. They assessed their emotional state as being on the wrong side of ‘happy’ and their state of arousal was close to bottoming out. The physiological instruments strapped to their arms showed a similar pattern. These people were bored and unhappy. When asked to describe the site, words such as bland, monotonous and passionless rose to the top of the charts.”

Moinian's two towers across the street

In his book Happy City, Charles Montgomery calls this “an emerging disaster in street psychology.” The loss of old buildings and small businesses, the homogenization from suburban chains and condo boxes, is more than an aesthetic loss. It is damaging us both psychologically and physically.

Writes Montgomery, “The big-boxing of a city block harms the physical health of people living nearby, especially the elderly. Seniors who live among long stretches of dead frontage have actually been found to age more quickly than those who live on blocks with plenty of doors, windows, porch stoops, and destinations.”

You have to wonder if the developers and corporations putting up these buildings and facades actually want anyone around. Montgomery points out that many corporate towers are built to be “deeply misanthropic,” intended to actively repel people with repellant street-level design. In a city where people are reconceived as consumers, not citizens, it is best to keep everyone moving and disconnected.

Market Diner in happier days

The opposite is true when people walk along a diverse block of small businesses and buildings. As Ellard found on the Lower East Side, they feel “lively and engaged.”

Visually interesting architecture and human-scaled, idiosyncratic storefronts enliven us. I would bet that they stimulate our brains to produce happy chemicals, warding off stress and the damage it causes. It's not far-fetched to say that buildings like the Market Diner, with unusual shapes and inviting facades, don't just make us feel alive, they keep us alive. And yet City Hall continues to encourage developers to kill them off.

More and more, we are living in a zombie city, its aliveness murdered by politicians and developers. It's only a matter of time before all of New York becomes the undead.


Ken Mac said...

Holy shit that is depressing. A big part of my past was in that diner. Fuck these fuckers

Peter said...

I never ate there, but I can appreciate it's Googie architecture.

Tal Hartsfeld said...

Thanks for addressing a quality-of-life issue.
In this case the effects a monolithic aesthetically unappealing physical landscape has on our personal mental/spiritual ecosystem.
Creativity and openness seems to be an anachronism anymore.

John K said...

I tweeted about the psychological and physiological effects of this bland, mono-style architecture, but I think many people have just shrugged it off. New York is rapidly approaching a scenario out of a J. G. Ballard novel. One of the saddest aspects of all of this is that one reason why many voters decided to support de Blasio lay in the belief that he and the City Council would address gentrification. Instead, he seems to have become a pod person for the real estate industry and their backers, and the City Council appears incapable of acting. Meanwhile the hypergentrification and zombification of New York accelerates, and spreads (to Jersey City, etc.).