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The invisible City

Municipalities – Cities, villages, urban and suburban areas – are full of small bits of urban fabric which we almost never foreground: street furniture. These bits of urbanity are the unsung heroes of city life. They help keep us moving safely about our day by deploying signage and traffic lights; hold our newspapers before and after we read them; street furniture protects us with bollards and separated bike lanes; and street furniture brings us joy with trees and art.


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Street Furniture is the invisible made visible, that we all can touch and argue about. Street Furniture shows who gets a share of our limited physical space. Street furniture is where public policy meets our bodies. 

Municipalities purchase street furniture from a finite set of manufacturers. However, the composition, range, and context is different in each community. This website endeavors to present a wide cross section of communities, taking into account varying densities, geographic location, community age, and mobility mix, allowing wider insights. 

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Field Notes

Updates from our explorers.

CANCELLED: Jane’s Walk 2022 – Roosevelt Island Street Furniture: Where Policy Meets our Bodies

Janes Walk Title Square

Jane’s Walk is just around the corner, and we are hosting a session! Join me on a virtual self-guided tour of your neighborhood where we’ll explore different examples of NYC street furniture during Jane’s Walk 2022.

We’re going to start live-streaming from Roosevelt Island – please follow along at home or work.

Municipalities are full of small bits of urban fabric which we almost never foreground, but are the manifestations of our public policy: street furniture. These bits of urbanity are the unsung heroes of city life. We’ll use Roosevelt Island – that Mid Century island in the middle of the East River – on a walking tour to see the urban choices made at the scale of the person, and the building.

For those who wish to go on a walk while tuning in, I recommend joining via the Zoom app on your mobile device.

About Roosevelt Island

Read more about Roosevelt Island here:

Specimens found on Roosevelt Island

About the Project

A lot of attention is paid to the big moves of the city and great work has been done, from Kevin Lynch’s The Image of the City, to Lewis Mumford’s The City in History, to the most iconic example, The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. These are big overarching books well worth your time. 

But they miss the smaller details of urban living. Municipalities – Cities, villages, urban and suburban areas – are full of small bits of urban fabric which we almost never foreground: street furniture. These bits of urbanity are the unsung heroes of city life. They help keep us moving safely about our day by deploying signage and traffic lights; hold our newspapers before and after we read them; street furniture protects us with bollards and separated bike lanes; and street furniture brings us joy with trees and art.

I envision this project to be similar to another seminal, if controversial book: A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander. Perhaps these are the smaller-scale patterns which flow from the objects themselves. I can only be so presumptuous. This website endeavors to present a wide cross section of communities, taking into account varying densities, geographic location, community age, and mobility mix, allowing wider insights. 

Read more about the project

Paris Bollard: ode to the bollard as culture generator

Can you fall in love with a Paris Bollard? Perhaps.

In these parts we love bollards as an idiosyncratic typology: when done right they become usefully iconic, when done poorly they stick out of the urban fabric as security-theatre impediment.

Here’s a great article by the Social Life Project called The Little Bollard That Could… Do a Lot about the simple bollard which supports social life in Paris:

Bollards are seemingly simple parts of our public spaces. At the most basic level, they are poles or posts designed to separate and protect pedestrian areas from vehicle traffic. But beyond serving this important safety function, we have seen that these bollards also uphold social life in our communities. In Paris, bollards make the city more walkable and enjoyable.

When done right, bollards can be multifunctional: They separate vehicle traffic from pedestrian activities, while also supporting social life. Bollards are often used as seating, places to lean, and hubs for people-watching. Bollards make space for social life, including spillover effects from dynamic storefronts and cafés. This is especially true on corners and at intersections. Bollards can “nudge” drivers towards better behavior around pedestrians, providing a visual cue to slow down or preventing parking in undesignated areas.

The Little Bollard That Could… Do a Lot

We don’t have a bollard style quite as iconic as the one in Paris (shown above), but we have Protectus bolus as a key player in creating safe streets here in New York City. We’ve been collecting bollard styles from NYC for awhile, and it’s almost time for us to publish the specimen’s entry. But it’s clear: we don’t have a bollard strategy (since we barely have a safe streets strategy). While this might be a small part of the urban fabric, it’s emblematic of the larger failure of both the good people at the NYC DOT (which they are doing pretty well in a pretty difficult environment), the design community who continues to push for new and “innovative” solutions when we should be pushing for simpler set of deployable tools for the streetscape, and ultimately it’s the elected leaders and the unelected Community Board members who wield outsized power over the street; power which comes with almost no responsibility, not being held accountable as day-by-day the streets as designed are doing what they do best: make it dangerous for pedestrians and bike riders, in order to move more cars.

We can do better; we need to make the streets safe for people (not move cars), and to make it easier to ditch your car (and tell Putin to go fuck himself).

Between now and when we hit enter, you all should be following the World Bollard Association™ twitter feed for all things bollard-related – especially all the different vehicles which bollards stop in their tracks (many of which seem to be BMWs).

Rooftop Catalogue by MVRDV

We have a huge professional crush on the Dutch architects MVRDV. We love their playful style, use of colors, and clear deployment of typologies. So when we saw that MVRDV was commissioned by the Municipality of Rotterdam to make a Rooftop Catalogue, a book of typological interventions on the rooftops in Rotterdam, we opened up our wallets instantly:

In modern cities, miles of unused flat rooftops await a new function. In Rotterdam alone we have over 18 square kilometers of unused flat roof. That must change, and the rooftops can provide the space to realize the housing challenge, energy transition, climate change and inclusiveness in cities. As a starting point for the realization of this, MVRDV was commissioned by the Municipality of Rotterdam to make the Rooftop Catalogue

You can buy the Rooftop Catalogue here, though if you live in the states the shipping might be more than the book itself. We can’t wait to get our hands on our copy. We are interested in how the presentation, data coding, and illustrations help make sense out of a complex set of opportunities and context.

Our love for 3d axonometric views is also well known, please visit these other examples of inspiration and interviews we have conducted.

San Francisco’s toilet and kiosk contract with JCDecaux under investigation

San Francisco JCDecaux Public Toilet

Street Furniture giant JCDecaux is in some trouble in San Francisco, linked to an ongoing public corruption scandal with Public Works boss Mohammed Nuru – with the most recent action being 2 Contractors Plead Guilty To Bribing Mohammed Nuru Over 7-Year Span. But for our part of the world, we are interested in how this interfaces with the world of street objects:

Multiple sources have confirmed to Mission Local that a long-running toilet and kiosk contract with JCDecaux — lamented by city officials as one of the nation’s worst — is under review by the City Attorney and controller in the wake of Public Works boss Mohammed Nuru’s arrest last month on fraud charges. 

The Public Works contract involves the ubiquitous army-green toilets located throughout the city. A pact with French transnational JCDecaux for self-cleaning toilets sporting ads was sealed all the way back in 1995 under Mayor Frank Jordan. Willie Brown decried it as a “giveaway” during his subsequent campaign vs. Jordan, but later sang its praises, expanded it and locked it in place for decades — after visiting JCDecaux officials in ’96 for a decadent French jaunt in which he was lavished with a helicopter ride.

via Mission Local

JCDecaux through the acquisition of CEMUSA NY in 2015 runs and operates a whole bunch of street furniture here in NYC, some of which is noted below:

  • NYC Transit Bus Stop Shelter
  • Street Newsstand (part of the Coordinated Street Furniture Franchise)
  • Automatic Public Toilet (APT)
  • Bike Parking Shelter

San Francisco JCDecaux Public Toilet Photo by Paul Sableman


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