Walking through Penn Station in New York, I remembered how much I love its open structure. By “open,” I don’t mean bright and airy. I mean “open” in a topological sense. The station has three below-ground levels–the uppermost has ticket counters (and, what is more relevant nowadays, ticket machines), some crappy stores and restaurants, and a crappy waiting area. The middle level has Long Island Rail Road ticket counters, some more crappy stores and restaurants, and entrances to the 7th and 8th Avenue subway lines. The lower level has train tracks and platforms. There are stairs, escalators, and elevators going everywhere. As a result, it’s easy to get around, there are lots of shortcuts, and the train loads fast–some people come down the escalators and elevators from the top level, others take the stairs from the middle level.
The powers-that-be keep threatening to spend a couple billion dollars upgrading the station. I hope that never happens, because I know that it will all become much more organized and airportlike, with “gates,” long lines, and only one way to get from point A to point B. Something horrible like that new Chicago public library (not so new now, I guess–it was built around 1990) that was so pretty and so nonfunctional.