Brooklyn and Manhattan residents know that the NYC Parks Department, often with help from privately-funded non-profits, have done a terrific job in the past decade or so renovating, redesigning and even creating parks in many of our formerly-forlorn public spaces. Madison Square Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Hudson River Park, Transmitter Park, the High Line, the East River Promenade, Governors Island, community gardens galore, on and on… the list is hearteningly long and geographically diverse. But there’s still so much more that can done! This is a massive city, ever changing, full of energy and creativity, and the opportunities for turning even the unloveliest public space into an oasis of calm and comfort are seemingly endless.
For example, here’s a proposal that all NYC apartment residents can get behind: transforming those grim scaffolding / sidewalk sheds, ubiquitous in this age of constant construction and repair, into spaces that are not only (relatively) pretty, but also a comfortable spot to sit and relax for a bit. And all without slowing down pedestrian traffic!
Winner of Fast Company’s 2012 Innovation by Design Award, Softwalks is a multi-faceted plan from a pair of former Parsons’ students to turn sidewalk sheds into social spaces. To core of the proposal, as far as I’m concerned, are the ingenious chairs that can be easily bolted onto the shed’s support poles. I happened to be in DUMBO during the Softwalks demonstration this past fall, and can attest that these seats are comfy and unobtrusive. The proposed planters, counters, lights and “screens” are also pretty cool. Whether Softwalks becomes a reality in any form remains to be seen–though they did hit their goal in the Kickstarter campaign–but it’s certainly a solid idea.
A more common device for making the most of NYC public spaces is the dressing up of those sidewalk tree guards, whether in a purely decorative fashion or, even better, by having them serve a dual purpose and topping off the sides with “benches”. I’ve come across these scattered around town for a while now, but the Wall Street Journal recently pointed out that residents of Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill rental apartments along Myrtle Avenue have seen more than 80 new guards–some with seating, some without–installed over past couple of years. These are great–practical, pretty, welcoming–and the really great part is that most were designed by local artists and even Clinton Hill elementary school students.
Finally, DNAinfo reports on an effort to create a park in a most unlikely setting, right at the Manhattan entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel on 34th Street. Set into motion by a coalition of area residents and transit advocacy groups, the 7,200-square-foot park would be built where three lanes of traffic currently travel. The Community Board unanimously approved the plan. Fingers crossed that this excellent idea–turn roads into parks!–gets through the next couple of stages intact.