Friday, January 19, 2007
[“Downtown Week,” continued …]
What land uses make a city distinctive, memorable, and pleasant? In addition to buildings, roads, and vegetation is its “street architecture.” New York City, that crazy mélange of neighborhoods and districts, is in the process of revamping city land fixtures, such as signs, bus shelters, and newsstands. What’s an overarching requirement? Sturdiness, of course. Too many cities have put in benches, shelters, and signs that simply can’t stand the rain, wind, and, most importantly, the inevitable attempts at vandalism that occur in any big city. In New York, of course, all these concerns are heightened. One thing that won’t change is the bold san serif subway signage, which has been in place since the ‘60s. With clear, easy-to-read white on black words (the reverse would have disastrous in filthy New York, of course) and with routes designated by a letter or number in a colored circle, square, etc. (replacing the old confusing references to the original private companies, such as BMT and IRT, and informal names, such as “Broadway Local”), the city’s subway signs have (along with the largely successful effort in cleaning up the graffiti on trains by guarding them better when not running), helped pull the city out of its cultural near implosion of the 1970s. If the new street architecture works as well and lasts as long as its subway signs, New York will be have succeeded.