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Dumpster Diving on New York’s Park Avenue

Credit: Alan Miles NYC (Flickr Feed)

Of the many unique activities New York is known for, the most entertaining this summer involved closing roads and opening pools, specifically dumpster swimming pools.  

For the third summer in a row, New York’s Department of Transportation presented the Summer Streets program, closing almost seven miles of posh Park Avenue to motor vehicles from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park. Numerous residents and visitors came out to run, walk, bike, blade, play and even swim on the first three Saturdays in August.  

There were many free activities to choose from including attending concerts and theater productions, a group bike ride set to music, yoga, fitness and dance classes, and of course, pool parties in a dumpster. Wait, swimming in a dumpster? Who ever thought shipping containers used for trash could serve a higher purpose?  

The unique dumpster swimming pools, located near Grand Central Station, enticed New Yorkers to grab their swimsuits and make a splash in the streets. Three clean, unused, garbage dumpsters were repurposed into portable, code-compliant swimming pools. The 8-feet by 22-feet pools, 3 to 4 ½ feet deep, all had protective liners (with felt on the bottom) and their own built-in water filtration system. Even though the pools came with lifeguards and 5-foot wide wrap-around metal decks (with a nonstick rubber surface to prevent slipping) swim time was limited to 10 people a session. And just like permanent pools, there were even showers for rinsing, hammocks and bean bag chairs for lounging and stalls for changing underneath a colorful cabana. The dumpster pools were created by design company Marco-Sea and actually debuted last summer in Brooklyn. This year, the pools moved to Manhattan and drew more attention.  

Considering much of the Mid Atlantic and Northeast broke records with all-time-high temperatures this summer, dipping (because diving is actually prohibited) into a re-imagined swimming pool sounds like a mighty fine way to cool off 🙂

Some great photos of the dumpster pools can be found here.

The Range of Street Closure Efforts in Cities

Cities around the world are shutting down streets for pedestrian, cyclist and mass transit thoroughfares and plazas, wrote John Mattson in an article in Scientific American last month. Case in point is New York City’s move to shut down portions of Broadway around Times and Herald Squares. These car-free areas in the heart of Manhattan have become incredibly popular with pedestrians — locals and tourists alike. But the actions described in the article can come in many ways, so exactly how are cities successfully shutting down these car free spaces and creating pedestrian zones? Below we take a shot at describing some different forms.

1. Permanently closing street areas. Copenhagen is a poster child for this, and several cities have followed suit around the world, in places such as Arequipa, Peru and as mentioned, in Times Square in New York City. Copenhagen architect/planner Jan Gehl described the Copenhagen actions as a series of small steps over many years in gaining public support and success.

A word of caution here also. Many U.S. cities created so-called “pedestrian malls” on wide American streets starting in 1959 in Kalamazoo, Mich. and as many as 200 more in the following 20 years. Yet only a select few have been successful. The successful and surviving ones (the Kalamazoo mall was converted back to cars) seem to have been programmed and well-managed (mostly in college towns) in a more updated view of how public space functions. Two others, the 16th Street Mall in Denver and Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis are viewed as successes, but they are actually transit malls — and well managed and programmed.

2. Putting a road diet on streets and creating pedestrian space from freed up areas. Sometimes, a street may be best left open to traffic on some level instead of turned into an all pedestrian area. This could be because the street is too wide, it has insufficient density to have sole pedestrian access or it may be decided that the street is an important thoroughfare for car traffic.  Two examples come to mind. First, again in New York, aside Madison Square Park the city narrowed streets to provide a pedestrian plaza with chairs and tables with a stunning and direct view of the famous Flatiron Building. In Seattle, the parks department is building a linear park on a street known as the Bell Street Park while still maintaining limited car flow. This is basically a variation of the Dutch Woonerf or British “Home Zone.”

3. Closing park roads. Countless examples from across the country from Central Park in New York to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and Kansas City’s Cliff Driver in between. This is a growing trend, and there remain many roads that are not serving their parks and cities well by being open to cars.

4. Temporary “ciclovia” closures. Around the world, city streets are being shut down to cars on one or more summer weekend days — in the U.S. this includes Portland’s Sunday Parkways, New York’s Sunday Streets and Baltimore’s B-more Streets for People. The concept originated in Bogota and then other Latin America cities such as Mexico City and Guadalajara before going global.

There are more ways this has been done, including one idea in the Scientific American article from Paul Steely White of New York’s Transportation Alternatives on “time-flexible streets,” which might be open to vehicle traffic during part of the day and pedestrian-only at other times. “You’re accommodating peak use—that could be peak deliveries in the morning and peak pedestrian use during lunchtime,” he says. “That’s something I think you’ll see more of, and something we’re pushing for.” Some streets already have this, but not on a regular basis — so we will watch for some examples.

There are more examples or one could use a different typology for closing streets, but in any case, these efforts can help land-starved cities provide great public space to residents by just using land already in public ownership.

Some news from around…

  • The New York Times reports that budget problems are forcing many of the nation’s state parks to close their gates or cut services. The National Trust for Historic Preservation agrees, listing State Parks at the top of its “Endangered Places” list.
  • New York City Economic Development gets creative to address unfunded park project, temporarily transforming a planned park site on Manhattan’s East Side into a parking lot and movie storage to cover construction costs. (Observer)
  • Yonah Freemark at Next American City covers the street closure movement, focusing on the recreation and transportation needs of residents.
  • Andrea Appleton at the Baltimore City Paper covers recent activism in Baltimore relating to majestic Druid Hill Park. A bus tour through the park and surrounding neighborhoods introduced the area’s former Jewish residents, who mostly left in the early 1960s, to it’s present day challenges – vacancy, poverty, and abandonment. Through Barry Kessler’s innovative program, we hope community nostalgia will muster support for the park and its users.

Some news from around…

  • Students in the Bronx celebrate their new playground, one of 42 vacant lots that the Trust for Public Land has transformed into playgrounds and community spaces in New York City. (NY1)
  • Proof parks are brought to life by their communities — Youngstown, Ohio residents set up a temporary “pop-up park” in a downtown parking space. (Rustwire)
  • The New York Times covers yet another planned pedestrian plaza in New York City. The Bloomberg administration plans to close portions of Union Square to automobiles, creating safe spaces for bicycles and pedestrians and enhancing the community space surrounding the year-round farmers’ market. Streetsblog NYC provides clear, detailed illustrations and descriptions of the plans.
  • In Indianapolis, parent volunteers escort children to school on foot and bike. The First Lady’s “Let’s Move” initiative awarded the community $250,000 to continue ensuring children safe walking paths to school, encouraging children to be more physically active. We believe parks and greenways are an integral part of that effort. (Fox News)

Turning Times Square into a Pedestrian Square

The New York City Department of Transportation is undertaking an experiment to close parts of Broadway that traverse Times Square, and started this on Memorial Day. So far, lots of people out on the new public spaces and no significant traffic problems. (See article and video) For cities looking to create more space for the public to gather, one possibility is to look at retaking the already existing places that have been given over to cars.