Islington in London started something similar years ago, with a “technology mile” and iPlus kiosks. They still seem to be there, and I’m not sure if they’ve been spruced up recently, but my main memory of them is that they were terrible to use.
Partly it was the old-style touchscreens, which were unresponsive, and partly it was that I suspect they really didn’t have fast enough connections, but the kiosks themselves ended up being largely ignored, while the wifi wasn’t worth the hassle of connecting to when there was 3G around instead.
I also recall that BT converted a few of their telephone boxes to include keyboards so you could send SMS and emails from them, but I don’t think I ever saw anyone using one (and at £1 a shot, I can see why).
Obviously, technology moves on, and a new attempt with a new generation of hardware (hell, three or four cycles of Moore’s Law have passed) might well prove more usable and useful, but I thought it was worth adding a little historical perspective from another city.
A few weeks ago, I posted to Twitter that I’d managed to micro-optimise my commute home by heading through an alleyway between a hotel and conference centre, then through a car park, and finally passing through a department store and shopping mall, direct to the metro station.
It only saves a minute or two (although it’s slightly drier on the rare occasions when it rains), but I enjoy doing it partly as a minor piece of urban hacking. The land is almost all the weird hybrid of public but private, or vice versa. The section through the hotel’s car park feels least welcoming, but the municipal car park requires a walk by the internal ramps, and using a shop that you never buy anything in feels a little odd to me too.
In the wake of mentioning it, I pointed friends at the latest in a series of New Yorker articles written by those who aim
to walk from the Empire State Building, on West Thirty-third Street, to Rockefeller Center, on West Forty-eighth, without ever setting foot on Fifth or Sixth Avenue — to knife through tall buildings in a single bound, or at least in stepwise forays. A writer for this magazine accomplished the feat in 1956, and a photographic attempt appeared on our Web site last year.
I was reminded of all of this because there’s recently been a proposal to turn an area a little way from this - from Fifty-first to Fifty-seventh, between Sixth and Seventh avenue - into an official path.
The New York Observer has more on how this space came to be, and it also explains the tiny POPS logo in the bottom right of the map:
If it seems strange that all these public passageways should line up, that is how it was always meant to be. These spaces are a legacy of the same era that brought us Zuccotti Park. Privately Owned Public Spaces, or POPS, as they are often called, have been much in the news lately, thanks to Occupy Wall Street. The spaces in Midtown are at once similar and different. While none are as big as Zuccotti, they were all built to add precious square footage to the towers to which they are connected.
Sometimes this meant little more than opening up the lobby to the public, while other times developers would build soaring open air arcades. The stretch contains one of the greatest POPS in the city, the UBS Gallery at 1285 Sixth, the southern anchor of 6½th Avenue, which houses works from the Smithsonian and not only runs north-south but also east-west.
The article goes on to note that the plan isn’t quite signed off yet, with the mid-block crossings the sticking point - also a problem on my walk, since I have to cut across Howard (Mission does have a mid-block crossing between the shops and parking). Still, it’s an interesting counterpoint to London’s declining highwalk system and its still-thriving backstreets, and I’m curious to see how it turns out.