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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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.

Jane’s Walk 2021 – Street Furniture: Where Policy Meets our Bodies

Jane’s Walk is just around the corner, and we are hosting a session! Join me on a self-guided tour of your neighborhood where we’ll explore different examples of NYC street furniture during Jane’s Walk 2021, on May 4th.

Check out our event page, Street Furniture: Where Policy Meets our Bodies:

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. This is an activity simultaneously hosted on Zoom, while attendees can also go on a self-guided in-person walk, starting wherever, and encounter pieces of street furniture, and hopefully share what they are seeing, listening, hearing, and smelling with the group. It would be on public sidewalks, hopefully near transit.

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

Zoom information:

Topic: Street Furniture: Where Policy Meets our Bodies
When: May 4, 2021 11:00 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Register in advance for this meeting:
https://us06web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJEsf–hqDgtHtEEgjDfnLBIFW5SLXkK5pH_
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

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

Roosevelt Island Master Plan

I spent the weekend playing around Roosevelt Island, the tiny island in the East River between Manhattan and Queens. It’s an amazing place, which feels like another world. Accessible by the F train, Tram, ferry, and car you can get to it, but it isn’t easy.

At the southern end is the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms State Park designed by Louis Kahn in 1974, but only brought to life in 2012.

But what’s always special is the urban design of Roosevelt Island. It’s decidedly 1970’s in many ways (both good and bad): there are giant colored tubes, lots of concrete, and a failed idea to keep vehicles off Main Street. The master plan (PDF) is by Philip Johnson and John Burgee and it’s grown on me.

First, let’s take a moment and acknowledge how problematic Johnson is. He was an outright supporter of Nazis, an apparently unreformed fascist, and surrounded himself with the most unseemly of characters. So let’s acknowledge his horribleness while we look at the spaces and urbanism he helped bring to life.

The urban plan is basically a single mainstreet down the spine of the island with apartment buildings branching off, with pedestrian space on the riversides. This creates a narrow canyon of compression in the middle, with release by either going under, through, or besides buildings to the riverside. I can’t make up my mind if Main Street is too narrow or just right.


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