St. Mark's Place
Runs between Cooper Square and Avenue A in Manhattan
New York, NY
Submitted by: Ben Adler
A residential and commercial street that plays host to a wild pastiche of characters, day and night.
St. Mark's Place is vibrant at all times of day. It teems with interesting stores, including numerous record stores and tattoo and piercing parlors. It also has a wide array of bars and eateries, catering to a very mixed crowd. The prime block of St. Mark's, between Second Avenue and Cooper Square, is full of people at all hours, while the beauty of the architecture is more noticeable on the eastern end of St. Mark's, which is quieter.
What Makes St. Mark's Place a Great Place?
St. Mark's has the ideal design for an urban street, it runs from one public square to another. At the west end is Cooper Square, where numerous streets converge, and teenagers can be found skateboarding and hanging out on any sunny day. There is also a subway station there. On the other end is Tompkins Square Park. Once blighted, it is now a well used and popular greenspace in the center of Alphabet City, New York's trendiest neighborhood.
The westernmost block of St. Mark's can be so crowded as to create impediments to foot traffic, but it is not a street one would choose to walk down in a hurry. There are simply too many interesting things on display in store windows, and too many people with interesting body art, not to stop and take notice.
St. Mark's is without question dominated by pedestrians rather than vehicles. It definitely makes a good first impression on anyone interested in streets with diverse urban life on display. Considering that it once had a very seedy reputation, it is reasonably clean, and the crowdedness and heavy police presence keep it safe. People sit at outdoor restaurant tables, on stoops and doorsteps or anywhere else that they can.
The range of activities on St. Mark's includes but is not limited to: shopping for any kind of item, eating and drinking, people watching, on the quieter eastern blocks possibly reading, and hanging out and talking. It would be hard to find a nook or cranny on St. Mark's that has not been used at one point or another (although that would include a lot of "undesirable" activities.)
It is a sociable street, although it is too much a destination for people from all over to constitute a neighborhood street where people know one another. St. Mark's is a meeting place for like-minded individuals from all over the world. Most of the people on St. Mark's at any given time are probably "visitors" in that they live elsewhere in the NY metro area, but many are probably regulars there. There is also a sprinkling of tourists, but St. Mark's is not "touristy.”
History & Background
Although originally designed as primarily residential, it is lined with old brownstones and tenement buildings, St. Mark's Place filled up over the years with businesses on the first and second floors of most buildings, especially between Cooper Square and Second Avenue. In the 1970’s it was the heart of New York's punk rock scene. It has retained some of that image, but styles change, and the surrounding East Village neighborhood has gentrified. When the rock club Coney Island High closed a few years ago, a major part of St. Mark's Place went with it. Gentrification has also brought homogenization, a few years ago a GAP opened up on St. Mark's. But, while the heyday of its grittiness may be gone, St. Mark's remains a fun and fascinating destination street, and today it is much safer than it once was.