The High Line: Free Urban Spa in Manhattan

October 12th, 2010

The High Line: Free Urban Spa in ManhattanThe High Line: Free Urban Spa in ManhattanThe High Line: Free Urban Spa in ManhattanThe High Line: Free Urban Spa in ManhattanThe High Line: Free Urban Spa in ManhattanThe High Line: Free Urban Spa in Manhattan

If you want an example of how an imaginative repurposing of a public space can change people’s perspectives of their own city, the best example in recent years is The High Line in New York. We “walked it” last month for the first time. It is perhaps the most provocative, creative, optimistic piece of modern design of this decade – as visually and culturally relevant, and as original, as Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao last decade.

In the 1930s The High Line elevated rail was constructed as part of the West Side Improvement project to serve the meatpacking and garment district of Manhattan without disrupting pedestrian traffic. By 1980 the rail was abandoned and in threat of being torn down as a result of the nationwide increase in interstate trucking. It was an irrelevant anachronism, and many felt the logical thing to do was tear it down – it served no rational urban purpose. Instead, community forces worked together to convert the structure into a mile and a half long public park and walkway. It now gives anyone and everyone a place to hang out, snooze, read a paper, people watch, jog, learn about the indigenous plants and view the city and its architecture from an elevated perspective.

Quiet. Reflective. Clever. Friendly. Inclusive. Pretty. These are not the adjectives we normally assign to most new urban developments. The fact that the private and public sectors even tried to pull this off is reason for giddy optimism; their success (and the final product) borders on the miraculous.

Architects Diller Scoffidio + Renfro and landscape architects James Corner Field Operations are responsible for the rehabilitation of The High Line. They blended historic and new materials and languages – leaving old chunky iron rails and hardware exposed and incorporating newly poured concrete creatively. Instead of denying the past, they incorporated and transformed it. The High Line has the feel of an outdoor museum – charming kids, foreign visitors, and locals alike. It combines indigenous flora and many designer details like the elegant modern outdoor benches. The neighborhood has been truly refreshed, and visitors are treated to forgotten vistas of the city.

We have examples of intelligently repurposed public spaces in San Francisco: Crissy Field, Fort Mason, and the Ferry Building, for example. But the High Line has a unique drama and character derived from its elevated structural nature and connection to the past. Like Chicago’s celebrated River Architecture Tour, it is equal parts education and entertainment, and perhaps destined to be as popular. (The River Tour is Chicago’s premiere tourist attraction).

Having given San Francisco and Chicago their due, it must be said that The High Line is another example of New York’s leadership in creatively reshaping public spaces to make the city more livable.
Check out more of our photos of The High Line on Flickr.


Knog Gekko Taillight

Knog TaillightBicycling around at dusk or at night without a highly visible blinking rear taillight is unsafe. When we turn our clocks back on November 7th we need to be extra cautious of bicycle safety. There are many bike taillights on the market, but very few that pass our test for being easy to install, easy to remove, elegant, and highly visible. Our Knog Gekko Taillight is a house favorite for its size and functionality. Made from flexible silicone, it wraps around almost any seat post or frame tube easily, and comes in several colors. Its three bright red LED lights keep you visible up to 1,800 feet. Ride on with safety.


M3’s: Back in Stock

Orange M3The first deliveries of our PUBLIC M3 sold out in many sizes and colors early this summer. It turned out to be our most popular model. Our next delivery comes in this week. We will be filling backorders – thanks for waiting – and taking new orders for immediate shipment. This easy shifting 3 speed is especially suited for those who wear skirts or those who prefer not to swing a leg way up and over a typical crossbar, i.e. it’s good for guys too.


Strange on the Streets

September 29th, 2010

Park(ing) DayPark(ing) DaySWA StudiosPark(ing) Day
Park(ing) Day

2nd Street SOMA

One of SOMA's six lane thoroughfares

3rd Street SOMA

Pedestrians crossing SOMA's six lanes

Brannan Street SOMA

There was a unique street event in San Francisco (and simultaneously around the world) last week called PARK(ing) Day. Businesses and community groups were encouraged to convert the metered parking spaces in front of their establishments into alternative public spaces. The event plays off what it means when you pay for a parking space, demanding a little awareness from us about this wholly habitual transaction. What is a parking space? What could it be? It’s a fun and quirky event, spread out mostly in the South of Market (SOMA), Hayes Valley, and Mission parts of the city. The best designed installations involved some humor, cleverness, and visual thinking ­­ an architectural pop-up environment made from the recycled cardboard tubes of large format printers by SWA/Studios SWA/Studios on Howard Street and the Pig (Harry Allen), a parked astroturf car piece at Propeller Propeller on Hayes. There were several animated spaces on Valencia Street that included insect habitats, brown bears, panda bears, maroon walruses on bikes (of course ), and more.

PARK(ing) Day asks people to reevaluate the very nature of urban street design and to prioritize the human experience over the car experience. It’s a mild-mannered demonstration, a lot easier for most drivers to accept than the more confrontational Critical Mass. PARK(ing) Day shares much in common with the hugely successful Sunday Streets program where sections of the city are closed to car traffic for a day. Both are international events, exploding in popularity, and well received by the residents and business alike because it increases friendly sidewalk traffic, not car traffic.

It’s great to call attention to these urban design issues with these diminutive installations, but a little sad that the monstrously dominant visual element that defines our environment – the massive swaths of asphalt – are implicitly given a pass. In our SOMA neighborhood numerous six lane one-way thoroughfares crisscross miles of the city and define the urban plan of the district. These supersized runways were smart design elements at one time. They were constructed back in the 1930’s in order to accommodate commercial trucks that serviced the heavy industries that made up this part of city.

But industry has left most of SOMA. Factories have been replaced by lofts, yoga studios, bars, eateries, art museums, music clubs, and design offices – a myriad soulful community-based enterprises. There is a vibrant community here, but not many of us enjoy walking around much. It’s impersonal in sight, sound, and scale not really designed for humans. One-way high-speed traffic runs counter to the needs of civilized neighborhoods. We live and work on highway corridors that serve freeways and bridges for outlying communities, not ours.

Logically, it is time for these thoroughfares to be retrofitted with trees, pedestrian zones, bike lanes, parks, and sidewalk cafes. All of this could be done at low cost with community support and with marginal impact to traffic. San Francisco also has some stellar examples of repurposed public spaces ­the Ferry Building and Crissy Field at the top of the list. Tourists and locals alike flock to these retrofitted destinations. Community is nurtured. What’s not to like about it?

It seems so obvious. Some of the most attractive and valuable real estate in the world we have operating as underutilized sober grey asphalt runways. I guess we just don’t see it. Or we are too busy hustling through it or making sure we don’t get run over crossing the streets to think about the possibilities. This is what is really strange, a lot stranger than maroon walruses talking to bears to be sure.

Park(ing) DayPark(ing) DayPark(ing) DayPark(ing) DayPark(ing) DayPark(ing) Day

Bikes Back in Stock (Almost)

PUBLIC's Orange M3As many of you know we have been out of stock on most of our 3-Speeds for months. Thanks for your patience. We will have Medium sized M3’s in Cream, Orange, and Blue ready to ship by October 15th. We sold out of these quickly before, so this is a good time to place your order.


PARK(ing) Day on Sept. 17

September 13th, 2010

One of our favorite days in the city is the annual PARK(ing) Day. This year’s PARK(ing) Day is on Friday, Sept. 17.

PARK(ing) Day started in 2005 by our friends at Rebar, who are some of the most creative urban designers and planners we’ve come across.

We’re teaming up with our friends from Bike Basket Pies and Nomad’s Kitchen to convert a few parking spots near our office as temporary picnic areas. We’ll have tables and chairs – and a bookshelf with reading materials to inspire visitors to read about our world of design and bicycles. We’ll have a few other surprises too.

We’re lucky to work in South Park where there’s already some green space and picnic benches – but on a beautiful day there’s more people looking for spots to sit on than there are seats in the park. So we hope to provide some additional seating areas where our neighbors and visitors can relax on.

Here’s a short history of PARK(ing) Day:

    “PARK(ing) Day is a annual open-source global event where citizens, artists and activists collaborate to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into “PARK(ing)” spaces: temporary public places. The project began in 2005 when Rebar, a San Francisco art and design studio, converted a single metered parking space into a temporary public park in downtown San Francisco. Since 2005, PARK(ing) Day has evolved into a global movement, with organizations and individuals (operating independently of Rebar but following an established set of guidelines) creating new forms of temporary public space in urban contexts around the world.”

You can learn about other PARK(ing) Day spots around the world here. Or check out the growing map of San Francisco locations.

We hope to see you and your friends at 123 South Park. And maybe we’ll run into you on our PUBLIC bikes when we visit the other PARK(ing) Day locations around the city.

PARK(ing) Day: User-Generated Urbanism from Brandon Bloch on Vimeo.

Different Gears – Same Destination

June 24th, 2010

Different Gears - Same Destination

PUBLIC attends VELO City 2010 in Copenhagen

We traveled to Copenhagen for VELO City 2010, an international platform where passionate professionals join to exchange ideas on bike policy and promotion. VELO City 2010 will:

“(VELO City) will highlight the bicycle’s potential to enhance the quality of life around the world and to solve global challenges such as congestion, obesity and climate change.”
– Quote from VELO City About Section

Seeing the large presence of the bike culture in Copenhagen is an inspiration for PUBLIC’s mission. Check back soon for daily updates from our trip to Europe.

Copenhagen TrainTransporting a ladder by bike