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.
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.
Updates from our explorers.
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.
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.via Mission Local
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.
- NYC Transit Bus Stop Shelter
- Street Newsstand (part of the Coordinated Street Furniture Franchise)
- Automatic Public Toilet (APT)
- Bike Parking Shelter
We love axonometric views – a 3d orthographic view of the world – and they are one of our inspirations for communicating the taxonomy of specimens we find. The mixture of precision (orthographic projections can be measured) and art (how much detail to resolve is a choice) hits a sweet spot. You can spend hours on the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection, or google, and explore many different views of NYC. We also find a great deal of inspiration by searching the following locations:
- Library of Congress, especially the Historic American Buildings Survey, Historic American Engineering Record, and Historic American Landscapes Survey catalog (HABR, HAER, HALS) – you can search all three collections here
- New York Public Library has a great NYPL Map Warper (but they just announced in April 2021 it will be no longer maintained… booooooo!)
- Old NYC – locating historical NYC photos on a spatial map
- 1980’s NYC – photos of NYC buildings from 1980 land survey
Below are a set of axonometric city views of NYC we have recently found, and have found inspirational.
New York Picture Map, 1963 by Bollmann et al
Anderson map, 1985
Ishihara map, 2000
Notes for friends; thank you all who attended our Jane’s Walk NYC 2021 chat last week. While family and weather meant that it was mostly me talking and less walking, we had a great turnout. We are scheduling future walking events, to keep informed subscribe to the project or go to our Instagram page. We hope you can continue to follow along with this project, and attend future walks.
Here’s an unordered list of questions and resources from the discussion:
- For those who wanted the images I presented, you can download the Typology.city Jane’s Walk NYC 2021 Notes (PDF).
- We discussed Roosevelt Island’s trash pneumatic tube system, more here: New York City’s Trash-Sucking Island
- See also the art installation, Fast Trash: Roosevelt Island’s Pneumatic Tubes and the Future of Cities
- Speaking of tubes the distinct red, yellow, blue, and orange Roosevelt Island Air Tubes in the WIRE section of apartment buildings were questioned, and I still think they are fresh air/exhaust stacks for one of the developments. Would love to have clarity on that.
- NYC 3D Model by Community District is a publicly available model consisting of every building in New York City present in 2014, based on DOITT’s 2014 aerial survey. If you don’t have a sporty 3d software program, you can view the same data via the ZoLa New York City’s Zoning & Land Use Map – choose the “3d Buildings” option at the bottom Basemap layer option.
- Roosevelt Island Master Plan
- On walking cities, here’s an interview: Walking the City with Jennifer Micó