Whyte Introduction & Chapter Two

“The city is full of vexations”, so begins Whyte’s introduction. Speaking lightly about the mild antagonisms of New York City, his words turn to quiet enthusiasm when he sets the stage of his observations. He speaks of New York in the warmer weather, “an outdoor ambiance in spring and summer that is almost Mediterranean”. Whyte describes how “direct observation was the core of our work”, and explains how “mostly we watched people”. Some of his frustrations are expelled when he speaks of how cities are headed to become  “cities for people who do not like cities”, but quickly resolves his introduction with the optimistic thought – he thinks “the center is going to hold”.

Reading about psychological studies is always fascinating to me. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of hearing about how people react when caught off guard, about hypotheses coming true, or (sometimes even more interesting) hypotheses that do not reach the predetermined conclusion. Whyte poses his question – “how far would people move out of the pedestrian flow to have a conversation?” He then explains a few different things that people may assume to be true, but then describes how people talk to others on the street. “What attracts people the most is other people”, Whyte explains, and then describes how the implications are that women on the street would be much more likely to talk to men, and more likely to touch people. Instead, Whyte finds that not only do men “tend to talk somewhat longer than women”, but that “men did more touching than women…most frequent[ly] it was men touching men”. My inner feminist was not at all surprised by these claims by Whyte – of course men are talking more than women, men don’t ever know when to shut up (I suddenly remembered that two men will be reading this), and of COURSE women are blamed for talking more, because men are supposed to be forever annoyed by women talking all the time (but oh my goodness have you ever actually seen a study of how often men are talking? Like really seen a study of how often men talk, and women can’t get a word in edgewise, whether in class or business or wherever else because they were raised up on entitlement and women on propriety?) And of course men touch each other, they always touch each other, for every “no homo” that some heterosexual white man throws out to someone he considers a friend, there are three men feeling totally comfortable touching a stranger. It’s better than a man feeling super comfortable touching a woman. But I digress. It was interesting to hear how Whyte reacted to some of the criticisms about a study in the middle of the city. He recognizes that “the city [is] deemed too unique, to skewed, too much of a distorting mirror”, and admits, “New York is a place that exaggerates things”. Whyte was an incredibly interesting read, and I’m excited to read more of what he has to say.

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