Friday, December 17, 2010

New York City's Sadik-Khan Hits Another Home Run

New York City's Transportation Commissioner is not only responsible for the city's biggest expansion of bike lanes in history and the largest (planned) bike-sharing program in the US.

She's also taking charge of one of the simplest infrastructural changes you could think of, one that turns out to have a dramatic influence on the quality of our experience as pedestrians.

In a Lower Manhattan pilot project, Sadik-Khan has installed "pop-up" cafes that take up the space where parked cars would normally sit. Because land uses in cities are generally determined by what developers call the 'highest and best use,' it bears questioning whether having a six-foot swath of highly-trafficked streetscape devoted to parking our cars is truly the highest and best use.

It comes down to a question of priorities - do we build our cities to move traffic or to move people? Increasingly, progressive leaders like Sadik-Khan are choosing the latter.

The locations in Lower Manhattan were so successful that this pilot program is being expanded to 12 additional locations across the city. Each pop-up cafe is just six feet wide - the width of an ordinary parked car - and roughly five cars long.

Each pop-up cafe is sponsored and maintained by a neighboring business across the sidewalk, generally a restaurant or coffeeshop. These stores are reporting a 14% increase in business when the sidewalk tables and chairs are installed. Although they are privately financed, the spaces are considered as public as any park.

Originally inspired by similar "parklets" in San Francisco's Castro and Potrero Hill neighborhoods, this type of "guerrilla park design", if you will, is destined to become a permanent fixture wherever it's installed. Simply by provoking thought about the purposes of our street space - how much space for parked cars, and how much for people - seems to be enough to provoke people to take back the public space that is rightfully theirs.

A similar transformation, albeit on a larger scale, took place in NYC's Madison Square Garden. Take a look!

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