Field Notes

Farewell Composting Pilot, hello DSNY composting bins

A fond farewell to the Downtown Alliance composting bin pilot, where the bins collected 105,157 pounds of organic waste over 18 months.

People can drop off their compostable waste in the NYC Department of Sanitation’s Smart Composting Bins, as 11 bin locations are already currently active in Lower Manhattan.

Or if you want something a little less transactional, you can bring compost to the following community dropoff sites:

  • 75 Battery Pl.
  • Battery Park City Authority Rockefeller Park
  • Tribeca Greenmarket (Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.)

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

Axonometric views of NYC as inspiration


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:

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

New York City Picture Map – a 3-D Map of Mid-town Manhattan – David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

Anderson map, 1985

Tennant welcomes you to New York. Anderson Isometric Maps 1968 – David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

Ishihara map, 2000

Map of Midtown Manhattan in Detailed Axonometric Projection. New revised ed. – David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

Jane’s Walk NYC 2021 Notes

Janes Walk 2021 Notes

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:

Roosevelt Island Air Tubes

Roosevelt Island Air Tube front - yellow - in color alt 2

Our favorite parts of Roosevelt Island are the exhaust/fresh air tubes which are at the WIRE buildings section of the island, which come in different pleasing 1970’s colors. At least we think they are exhaust/fresh air tubes since if you put your hand on them you can feel air movement, and there is a slight vibration. We are certain they are not part of the infamous pneumatic trash system which links all the buildings on the island by a 22″ trash tube, which you can read about here:

Excuse us a moment as we depart from our normal photography style guide of black and white photography to show some comparative images of the tubes in color versus black and white. We developed a specific photography style in order to bring some level of harmony to a chaotic mess we call this world. This is a stylistic choice, we always save photographs in their native raw format, and employ non-destructive developing processes so we can go back to the archive file. We standardize our photography collection in order to focus on what the specimen does, rather than the appearance, and to keep workflow consistent. But what the specimen looks like is undoubtably important, especially when it comes to color.

Roosevelt Island Air Tube - Orange - in BWRoosevelt Island Air Tube - Orange - in color
Roosevelt Island Air Tube front - yellow - in bwRoosevelt Island Air Tube front - yellow - in color

We plan on conducting more research on these specimens to understand their exact usage, then plan on publishing an entry to the taxonomy guide. While you wait, feel free to look at the Roosevelt Island Master Plan to see what the future looked like in 1969.

Specimens found on Roosevelt Island

Why studying street furniture is important

Street Dining on Lorimer and Bedford at Five Leaves

Street furniture is where public policy meets our bodies.

Topics like zoning and land use are fascinating, and I can speak or read books about these topics all day. But, it’s really really hard to understand zoning – and really difficult to hold zoning in our minds eye without scrambling a bit. We can kind of understand the difference between a R1 and an R10 district in terms of building scale, size, shape, orientation, and bulk. But the differences between a R4A and R4B district takes a minute to really understand and requires diagrams.

You might be able to touch a zoning map (once you print it out); but zoning maps can’t hug you back, or allow you to sit and hug someone.

Street Furniture shows who gets a share of our limited physical space.

We aren’t building new streets. The space between buildings (street walls) generally isn’t changing, and the spatial geometry is pretty much set. How we divide this already-set amount of public space, and for what purpose, is highly contested. Just see how many times people are stealing the North Brooklyn Slow Streets signs on Meeker.

What we put in our public thoroughfares are the physicalized form of urbanism. It’s the culmination of zoning texts, land use regulations at the state, county, and local level. And the decision of thousands of people, often people we never see or hear from.

Street Furniture is the canary in the coal mine or spectrograph of decisions past made. Often what gets put in our public way isn’t up to us – someone with control of the purchase order makes a decision. Or often, a small minority of people affect how we use the city because they show up at a community board meeting.

Street Furniture is the invisible made visible, that we all can touch and argue about.

That’s what makes it interesting.

Primary source in process: The Plan for Welfare Island

The Plan for Welfare Island

Primary sources are incredibly important to decipher the decision making process. Especially when it comes to procurement, and other government decision making. I found out there is a Municipal Library at City Hall (well, adjacent), part of the New York City Department of Records and Information Services. Searching their records, I found this handy primary document:

The plan for Welfare Island: technical report
Prepared for New York State Urban Development Corp.
By: Philip Johnson & John Burgee, Architects.
Contributor(s): New York State Urban Development Corp.
Publication Date: ​October 7, 1969
Call number: S Ur1.96 pfwi

I love finding original primary documents, the digitization of card catalogs has made finding a lot of these items easier; the hard part is gaining access the original or getting a digital copy of it sent. I no longer have an academic credential, and because of COVID many research libraries are still closed or appointment-only. Luckily, librarians are amazing. I mean, amazing. While I don’t have the full 196 pages scanned and in may possession, they have been great about scanning parts of the document so I can zero in on what parts of the technical report will be useful.

Johnson & Burgee Urban Plan from page 10 & 11 (original PDF) – Roosevelt Island Master Plan

About Roosevelt Island

Read more about Roosevelt Island here:

Specimens found on Roosevelt Island

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