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The Search for the Zozo

In the early part of the 1900s, Zozos - large, furry, innocent, purple creatures - once freely roamed New York City's streets, and were seen frequently mingling among its denizens and enjoying the public realm. But with the advent of the automobile their numbers slowly dwindled, until the 1930s when sightings became rare and they were thought to go extinct.

But now thanks to a burgeoning livable streets movement and a marked improvement in public spaces in NYC, Zozo sightings have been reported. World-renowned crypto-zoologist Donald Druthers has convinced us to document the facts - and yes, it looks like Zozos could be making a comeback! See the evidence for yourself.

Presenting our long-awaited mockumentary "The Search for the Zozo," featuring many of New York's greatest citizens. You'll hear NYC urban expert Professor Kenneth T. Jackson from Columbia University talk about the history of the Zozo. But in addition, you'll hear accounts of sightings and Zozo-inspired stories from Colin "No Impact Man" Beavan, restaurateur (and cyclist) Florent Morellet, livable streets advocate Mary Beth Kelly, author Tom Vanderbilt, and a slew of advocates working to make safer streets a reality for pedestrians, cyclists, and the general public.

And if you see a Zozo? Let us know in the comments section, or dial 555-ZOZO. You can also check out our website WhereistheZozo? for the latest in sightings and news.

Speaker: [0:01] Well I came to New York city pretty late, but I did spend time in Central Park. And every time I looked around, there was a zozo. Well one day I noticed there weren't any zozos around. What happened to them?
Donald Druthers: [0:16]
Donald Druthers: The Porantikus Zozopherus or zozo, it's a creature thought to be extinct. We had lots of them in America for a lot of years. But they're not extinct. There's at least one. I am Donald Druthers. I have a PhD is Crypto-Zoology from the University of Phoenix. [0:36] Zozos were introduced to New York originally probably in the 1700s. No one knows for sure. But they started really cropping up in contemporary accounts, the newspapers and the various broadsheets right around the time that New York became a real bustling metropolis. If you look closely at old photographs, the lower East Side, for example, you'll see how much they loved pushcarts and vendors, children playing stickball in the streets.
Professor Kenneth T. Jackson: [1:07] They were in the streets. The streets were more active, a little bit safer. There weren't so many cars going fast. People used public spaces. Streets were sort of a part of a public space. And the zozos were a part of this environment. They ran around. They were friendly. They never attacked people. They especially liked children.
Donald Druthers: [1:27] That was before the automobile. Before the cars and the choking pollution that really drove them into their reclusive state.
Professor Kenneth T. Jackson: [1:39] They began to thin out even before World War II as we made the streets wider and the sidewalks smaller for cars. It just doesn't seem like they loved the city that much.
Tom Vanderbilt: [1:50] This replaced what used to be prime zozo habitat. Zozos going out are very friendly sort of urban creatures that used to congregate here. They would play, they would sing. These are sort of urban manatees. However, an invasive species began to emerge called automobiles americanus. These arrived from Detroit.
Veronica Moss: [2:10] Yeah. Go buddy, go, go. Get in. Animals go extinct for a reason. And it's because they have failed to adapt as the world changes. And they have failed to grow into creatures that can survive the changing demands of a growing world. That's evolution. That's Darwin.
Donald Druthers: [2:37] American streets are more quiet. They're peaceful, they have bicycles, things like that. That's the kind of thing the zozo is attracted to.
George Haikalis: [2:45] There was a horse drawn streetcar line that ran right down this street that we're on. Some people feel that they were attracted to that kind of transportation because it was car-free transportation. And so they would often hitch a free ride. [2:58] We're happy to find that people are beginning to take the zozo seriously. And of course there's scientific evidence, there are people who have been looking at it. Particularly one young scientist who has come to our meetings to find out if we have seen zozo in auto-free spaces.
Donald Druthers: [3:15] Have I ever seen the zozo? No but I've never seen a tiger either and those obviously exist. You have to have faith.
Donald Druthers: [3:24] Each of these pins is a zozo sighting recently.
Shin-Pei Tsay: [3:28] A senior was telling me about having trouble crossing the street. And she said some big creature, fuzzy purple creature came and helped her cross the street. And she showed me this little piece of purple fuzz. I don't know what that it.
Mary Beth Kelly: [3:45] I felt this kind of presence behind me. And I turned and I saw this wonderful big, furry creature. And it sort of winked a little and smiled and then it was gone.
Paul Steely White: [3:57] We went back to this neighborhood after some speed humps and some curb extensions and some day lighting treatments had been installed. And I remember slipping on something on the concrete. And I just thought it was like dog poop or something. And I looked under my shoe and it was purple.
Colin Beavan: [4:14] The zozo is the whole reason why I did the no impact project. I mean, what happened was I was having these dreams at night and the zozo was coming. So the zozo said "I will come to you in real life if you try to live really environmentally." [4:28] So I got a bike, because I thought if I biked around I'd see the zozo more.
Donald Druthers: [4:31] Now this is unfortunately very hostile environment for the zozo. If we were to put up caution tape over every hostile environment, you would need caution tape that is 14 million miles long.
George Haikalis: [4:45] I don't think we'd find zozo here because zozo would be scared to death of this vehicle. I'm scared to death of this vehicle. I'm afraid to even cross the street because these come out of the clear blue and wham.
Veronica Moss: [4:58] I don't carry a weapon. Well, this is a weapon. Well, it's not. It's my sweetheart. I'm sorry. So I go down to Washington and I just...And they are saying, "Hold up, what about cars?" This is a city for people who have to get things done. And they need cars to get things done.
Aaron Naparstek: [5:21] I haven't seen a Zozo yet but I think if I sit here long enough, there is a pretty good chance that I might see one. I mean I have been trying to see one. I really want to see one.
Donald Druthers: [5:36] At great personal expense, I have hired my own multi-camera crew so that we can document this search.
Clarence Eckerson Jr: [5:42] We come out all the time to street is like this. You can see behind me, this is the street that once had rail on it and also has cobblestone streets. Kind of like traffic calm there, a very quiet area.
Clarence Eckerson Jr: [5:54] We've set up a hot line 555-zozo. And we monitor that while we are at the office. We ask the public, please call in if you think you've seen the creature.
Elizabeth Press.: [6:02] Hey guys we've got a purple creature on main street.
Clarence Eckerson Jr: [6:04] Are you serious?
Elizabeth Press: [6:04] Yeah, we got to go.
Clarence Eckerson Jr: [6:05] Let's go. So this is kind of typical. We got a call, public space, zozo, nothing though, nothing. We've seen on our video cameras that some evidence of what looks like a creature they used to call a zozo. We've seen it use some of our newer public spaces and interact with people occasionally. They don't seem all that and scared by it. [6:29] We treat it just like our regular New Yorker.
Christine Berthet: [6:32] I've not seen it myself but some kids have gone home and say...there is this furry thing, purple and we really like it.
The Serrano/Vargas Sisters: [6:41] Well, we came around because we want to play and have a good time. It was a safe and sunny day and there were no cars. And all of us when we were playing, we turned around and this big creature came in our way.
Child Speaker 1 and Child Speaker 2: [6:52] He had brown eyelashes. It was purple and it was really big. We were playing jump rope and hutch cutch.
Donald Druthers: [7:02] Zozo is the kind of animal in urban landscape that if you saw your child playing with, you would be like that is a good thing.
Aaron Naparstek: [indecipherable 07:11] [7:09] Zozo come to me.
Aaron Naparstek: [7:11] Yeah, two hours. Sun is just coming out here. I think if we wait long enough. We are going to see a zozo.
Susan Donovan: [7:21] I was out for my usual run and I past this blur. It was kind of like a bear but purple. I tried to explain what I saw to my husband and he didn't really understand what I meant. So I drew a picture to kind of show it what the picture looks like. It was purple all over. It had this long snout and kind of a fringe on the top. Kind of like this. [7:47] I drew two of these. I mean the eyes, what I remember the most, it was just staring right at me. I have never seen anything like that before.
Speaker: [7:56] When you were laying down the gravel surface that we use on Broadway. The epoxy hadn't dried completely, was drying overnight. We came back the next day. We saw these big footprints in the gravel. [laughs]
Florent Morellet: [8:09] It seemed bear foot print but actually bigger than bear footprint. I stopped and looked at it and it just had crossed the area. I ...was a little lost. [music]
Mark Gorton: [8:25] I have some lovely kids here and I want the world that they live in to be safe for them to play. And that same environment that is safe for kids is the exact sort of environment that Zozo used to thrive in. So when I'm working to make our world safe for kids. I am also working to restore zozo habitat.
Susan Donovan: [8:44] I also hoped that I will see it again. We have lot of really great places in the city and the one thing that I noticed is that when I saw it, I was in one of those places. So I was looking out for you.
Speaker: [8:55] There's the Zozo.
Paul Steely White: [9:01] Zozo. I think I am to the point where I am starting to believe that this actually really might be the real thing.
Professor Kenneth T. Jackson: [9:08] Now that we are moving in the direction of more pluses and making the streets more friendly to bicycles and pedestrians, I think many of us are really hoping, we will begin to see zozo again because we made the city such an exciting and friendly place. [9:24] It can developed again.
Colin Beavan: [9:26] I am just really excited that we are doing something about this city and making the Zozo come back.
Christine Berthet: [9:34] Maybe we will see the furry, purple animal.
Donald Druthers: [9:40] Of course, I'll see it. I have faith because we know that there are zozo. That we think we are very close to ...there is at least one.
Veronica Moss: [10:02] What I don't understand is why if they hate cars so much, they don't move to rural Wyoming. Go there.


Clarence Eckerson, Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/futurebird Susan Donovan

    So much fun-- I'm glad I got to see it tonight even though I could not make it!

  • B.

    Congrats to everyone who worked on this. And Ken Jackson? Wow, how great he decided to be in it.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/vudu Vladimir Zlokazov

    That's really cool!

  • Ed Pino

    Great job I will keep a look out for ZOZO The more we do the more they will come.

  • StreetsPariah

    I think everyone who worked on this film has collectively lost their minds.

    Not that this is a bad thing, of course.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/darkpilot Ian D

    But those Zozos are always crossing the street when they don't have the green and they even go the wrong way sometimes, and they scare seniors on the sidewalk -- so let's have more speeding trucks to keep the Zozos at bay. >_<

    Great job, everyone!

  • Ken

    The Zozo was last seen on Central Park's loop road in 1899, the first year cars were allowed there. But I've heard a few intrepid ones come out during the one-week Marathon closure, only to flee back into the Rambles again for another year.

  • http://la.streetsblog.org Damien Newton

    So what's the area code on that phone number? Because I'm sure I'll be seeing one on my bikeride to Downtown L.A. any day now.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/JulieRobDubov Juliana Roberts Dubovsky

    This is fantastic! Keep up the great work!

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/Matty Matthew Lang

    Excellent work Clarence and team. I seem to be having trouble embedding this one on the Twin Cities Streets for People website. Have you modified your embed code in some way over the past couple of weeks that might be causing problems in Firefox or Safari? I'm just getting a white box without the movie when I try to embed.

    The last Streetfilm I embeded was the Curbita BRT piece which worked fine. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/Glenn Glenn McAnanama

    very cool. It's like all my friends went and made a hilarious short film just for me.

    I hear Zozos are most likely to appear at 4:20pm in the afternoon.

  • BAW

    Did you know that when "Curious George" was first published in the UK it was retitled "Curious Zozo"? At the time, their King's name was "George" so having a monkey in a children's book with that name was thought to be disrespectful.

  • http://www.sutp.org Sunny

    Wonderful Job!!! I also suggest that a facebook group be started which will bring more people to support the ZoZo hunt and discover the ZoZo's that are getting extinct in various other cities in the world.

  • http://www.lacreekfreak.wordpress.com Joe Linton

    Sometimes I think I see one out of the very corner of my eye... but then I look and there's nothing there.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/Manivela Manivela

    We enjoyed this a lot.

  • http://www.sidewalksamerica.org SideWalks4Kids

    ZOZO is So Cute! I Hope to SEE A ZOZO!

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