Street Dining on Lorimer and Bedford at Five Leaves

Why studying street furniture is important

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.

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