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New York: Legible City?

Posted by: Helen Walters on October 29, 2007

Sorry I fell off the planet. Went to San Francisco for the amazing World Design Congress and have been running to catch up ever since. I seem to have missed tons of stuff in the meantime, but this story from the Times caught my eye: a proposal to install decals on sidewalks to help people exiting subway stations in New York get their bearings.

decal.bmp Sponsored by the Grand Central Partnership, which has promised $15,000, the manhole-like covers aim to help people work out which way is up.

It’s an admirable ambition, and it’ll be interesting to see how the pilot scheme pans out (four decals are in place so far, in areas of heavy foot traffic such as 42nd street and 3rd avenue and on the south side of 51st street). But do we really need to encourage more people to stare at their feet? Tourists have every right to bumble (so do natives, for that matter), but actively encouraging people to stop in their tracks at the top of subway stairs seems somewhat unhelpful, and certainly the opposite of what’s really needed in these areas, which cry out for a steady flow of traffic.

Officials would do well to look at a similar project undertaken by the British city of Bristol a number of years ago. “Bristol Legible City” is an ongoing project designed to use innovative wayfinding systems to help pedestrians — and even to encourage more people to use their feet to get around the city. The project has been going since 1996 and is a really thoughtful, proactive way of using design to make every part of a city accessible. Check out the 40 or so projects already undertaken here.

Reader Comments


November 5, 2007 12:38 PM

My friend and I had the idea to do this outside London tube stations when we were at school - although we'd planned to use spray paint! I' glad to see that it's finally happening and hope it spreads to London!

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