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Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Sitting on Public Stairs

They are a place to rest, to wait for someone you're meeting, to relax and watch the world go by. On a thriving city street, large public stairs are naturally filled with sitting people.

Steps at the New York Public Library https://maps.app.goo.gl/2mDZYiMqBh4AhmRH9

Steps at the Metropolitan Museum of Art https://maps.app.goo.gl/AUwfbgf6ENYpHErr5 

So when I see an image of a large staircase on a busy street with nobody sitting on it, something is wrong with the picture:

There are a couple possibilities here. It could be a simple oversight by the artist.  Alternately, it may reflect the developer's attitude toward the public life on the sidewalk. 

This private project at Grand Central incorporates significant improvements for passenger circulation as well as new public areas at the level of the elevated roadway. The project was covered in Commercial Observer, which notes, "The public areas will be landscaped with flowers and a reflecting pool, and include seating; two cafes; outdoor art..." It may seem this is just an issue of the artist's interpretation. My personal experience, after all, has been that renderings often do not accurately portray all aspects of the projects I work on.

Yet the developer approved the image for release. Apparently not all the renderings have been approved. At minimum, this would seem to indicate a lack of interest in the civic function of the steps, and it still leaves a real possibility that the intent is to tamp down on sitting on the steps.

There may be some question about why the renderings of the public spaces have not been approved. Perhaps there is some wavering in their level of commitment for these spaces?

These concerns may not be entirely misplaced. There is a clear difference between seating enmeshed in the vibrant life of the public street and seating areas in a quasi-public, privatized space a floor above street level that is curated, commercialized, and undoubtedly carefully controlled.

Whatever the case with the rendering, it seems there are two possible outcomes. The steps can take on a civic life as a place of enjoyment integrated with New York City street life, or they can become a space that is constantly policed to ward off the people it attracts..

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