November 30th, 2011

I just returned from New York where I had the pleasure of seeing The High Line in the fall for the first time. Here are some pictures. I almost said ‘where I had the privilege of seeing…’ because the place is that great. This is a truly transformative public space, which is why we have written about it on several occasions. If only we could achieve a fraction (99% comes to mind) of The High Line’s success with our other public spaces ­­– our parks, streets, sidewalks, bike lanes.

I guess the first thing a society has to decide is how to use their public space. Public squares were originally intended for people to congregate, hear the local news, and express their opinions. Do we still endorse that purpose (pepper spray notwithstanding)? The Occupy Wall Street movement is forcing us, individually and as a society, to grapple with that question. Do streets exist only to get us from one place of business to another? Must they always be kept clear so that commerce can flourish? Should they be car-centric, bike friendly, welcoming to pedestrians? Should they be beautiful; should they have shade? These questions don’t answer themselves.

Public space, like public education, public health, and public safety, are the truest measures of a civic democracy. Our sidewalks and streets are also public spaces and our design of (and commitment to) them might be one of the best measures of our civility. This is why we adore sidewalk cafes, neighborhood parks, pedestrian walkways, and bike lanes that connect us more closely with our communities. Name your favorite city, and I’ll bet it will be abundant in public space.

We tend to take our public spaces for granted (99% of the time?) until a demonstration like Occupy Wall Street comes along, or something amazing gets accomplished like the New York High Line. We should thank the people behind these movements for raising our awareness.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

Here is a great read or Christmas gift, by Joshua David and Robert Hammond. The book has received five stars reviews all around, and this is an apt summary:

How two New Yorkers led the transformation of a derelict elevated railway into a grand—and beloved—open space. The story of how it came to be is a remarkable one: two young citizens with no prior experience in planning and development collaborated with their neighbors, elected officials, artists, local business owners, and leaders of burgeoning movements in horticulture and landscape architecture to create a park celebrated worldwide as a model for creatively designed, socially vibrant, ecologically sound public space.”

High Line: The Inside Story of New York City’s Park in the Sky
by Joshua David and Robert Hammond
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 339 pp., $29.95 (paper)

NEW SPECIAL EDITION BIKES

We also believe that one great public space to occupy is the seat of a PUBLIC bike. I put together seven new PUBLIC models this season. They are designed to create different bicycle personalities and to suit a range of personal styles (and budgets). One example is the Bleeker, shown here, with vintage-style aluminum hammered fenders, black Brooks B17saddle, and many other details to compliment the black frame.