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The Transformation of NYC’s Madison Square

We figured we'd hit at least one spectacularly warm day during the doldrums of winter, and yesterday was it. So Streetfilms ventured out to Madison Square to remind the denizens of Gotham just how sassy some of these new public spaces are - and how much support they have.

We already touched on Madison Square in our in-depth interview with Janette Sadik-Khan last fall, but we always felt that it deserved a much closer examination based upon all the footage we couldn't use in that Streetfilm. In fact, I feel like even at this length, this short doesn't really do it justice. It also hit me while editing that I've started to forget what an ugly nightmare that nexus of Broadway & 23rd used to look like. Chances are you have to, so here is a reminder of the great work NYC DOT has done there. Take a gander, then go out in your community or city and spread the word that well designed public spaces work.

[intro music]

Clarence Eckerson Jr.: [00:02] It’s a beautiful, balmy mid February day here in New York City and everybody’s out enjoying the public space. I’m sitting on the asphalt in Madison Square because there’s nowhere left to sit behind me. We thought since we’re in the middle of winter this might be just the perfect time to look back at Madison Square, what went on to get this place created, how it came about, and talk to some of the people that made it happen.

Speaker: [00:36] I was just telling everyone it just makes me not want to leave New York.

Speaker: [00:40] Just being able to have space where everyone else is moving when you get to sit still and people watch. It’s a nice way to take a break especially when you’re work in an office all day and you just want to go out and get some sun rays.

Ryan Russo: [00:51] We were very eager for this area because it’s changed so much over time and has so much potential as part of the central location of the city, with lots of pedestrians, lots of cyclists, lots of motor vehicles, trucks, buses.

Jennifer Brown: [01:05] What DOT did was totally reconfigured the traffic pattern and then create all of this public space. So we’ve actually had a lot of good reaction on both sides of it, the traffic reconfiguration, the new bike lanes of course, and then also the seating areas. Despite the fact that we’re immediately adjacent to one of the most premier public parks in the city, people still seem to really embrace this type of public space on the plaza.

Janette Sadik-Khan: [01:27] What we did is on 23rd Street, it used to be the longest pedestrian crossing in the city, it was the equivalent of two football fields to cross that intersection, and so what we did is we reengineered the streetscape so that we’ve created about 45,000 square feet of space that we’ve turned back into really a public plaza.

Ryan Russo: [01:49] For motor vehicles it was sort of a confusing area, a little slip road to go from 5th Avenue to 5th Avenue, we’ve actually widened that and made that more rational.

Randy Wade: [01:58] Laying out the space we… I had previously used granite blocks that we salvaged from the Williamsberg Bridge to form the edge of the pedestrian plaza at 9th and 14th Street. This year we ran out of salvage blocks, but there was such a love for them, the natural stone, so at the last minute we bought some of these from a quarry and if you get some pictures, they’re just so beautiful that everybody’s found them really lovable. The furniture was chosen by our partners, they also selected the umbrellas, they’re just similar to what we used at 9th and 14th Street. We found it possible to use these plastic planters as a safety device, forming the edge in places where we don’t have a regular sidewalk kerb.

Jennifer Brown: [02:40] From the moment they approached us and we as a community based organisation said we’re interested in being involved, it was really a collaboration, so we helped pick out the furniture. The horticulture elements were designed by our contractors. So we’ve had a lot of stake in it.

Speaker: [03:00] When the weather is nice we often come out here and we actually have meetings outside where we bring, you know, internal and external people to, you know, to pitch our wares.

Speaker: [03:10] I enjoy coming out here for lunch, the market’s close to where I work, it’s great on a nice day like today to be able to come out and sit in the sun.

Speaker: [03:17] I don’t even remember what this part was, I know it was like a scary section of a street, you didn’t know if cars were coming, it was crazy. I’m glad they did something with it.

Speaker: [03:25] I think it’s a privilege and we’re really lucky that we get a space like this in the city.

William Vallejo: [03:29] People think it’s easy to put this together, but in reality there’s a lot of work. People were asking questions, what is this, why are you doing this, and it was really, really fun to explain to everyone around how we’re making New York City better.

Ryan Russo: [03:44] This is a resounding success. Many of our projects get mixed feedback. This has gotten near unanimous positive feedback.

Jan Gehl: [03:56] I do think that it’s quite miraculous what they have accomplished here. And in such a short time they managed to take out so many square metres and show people that a place like this one could be transformed in many ways.

Janette Sadik-Khan: [04:10] And now you have a safe place to sit down, read the newspaper, drink a cup of coffee, catch up with a friend or catch up with your email and enjoy this space.


Transcript Divas Transcription Services

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://samsix.com Steve McMaster

    Great video showing what can be done with excess or confusing traffic lanes. We are close to having a critical mass of these street transformations right here in the city which we can point to for all future projects as overwhelming proof of how they improve the quality of life for NYC citizens. It used to be Clarence had to travel thousands of miles away to film city reclamation projects, now he only has to go a few blocks away to show what can be done!

  • The Wallbash Cannonball

    Another big hit! One note, really loved the graphics and the way you used titles, especially the end credits were dope.

  • Wowsers


  • http://www.myspace.com/mrcolombia Diego Garces

    Great video! A big hit once again, even though there is one thing i do not like, i was actually there today with some friends. I wish the the bike lane had an actual separator from the vehicles, or that it would have been placed inside the place to protect the cyclist.

    Other than that its remarkable to see this space being given to the people of NY!

  • Engine No. 9

    The plaza would be a lot nicer if it weren't straddled by 2 or 3 lanes of heavy auto traffic on either side of it. I don't know how you you can relax in such a place with the roar of fast moving traffic surrounding you on all sides whizzing past nonstop within a few feet of you.

  • Bambi L Yost

    I can't get the subtitles to work and want to show this in my class. I have several international students and one deaf student so subtitles would be ideal. Is there a trick to getting them to work?
    Bambi Yost, ISU Landscape Architecture Professor