Today in subway atmosphere news, we learn from WNYC that the NYPD is partnering with Brookhaven National Laboratory to study how chemical weapons might disperse through the city’s underground tunnels. The researchers plan to release a “non-toxic, odorless gas that mimics how chemical, biological and radiological weapons would disperse” in twenty-one subway stations across the five boroughs in July, with 200 sampling devices deployed to monitor its spread.
“We want to be able to determine how toxic material can flow through the transit system, it’s one of the concerns that we’ve had for a while and how it flows on the streets of our city,” Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said in a statement.
The image at the start of this post comes from the invaluable 1908 classic,The Air and Ventilation of Subways, available to read online here. For more on New York City’s subway vents, check out this BLDGBLOG post.
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.
“Ne travaillez jamais!”—Never Work!— is as much about a resistance to the notion of productivity, of participation in a capitalist enterprise that codes the idea of “good” activity as that which begets profit, as it is a utopian battlecry; likewise, the Situationist dérive is a mode of unproductive walking: traversing space for the sake of experiencing it rather than as a way to get from point A to point B, a rejoinder to the the capitalist city rather than a kind of updated flânerie.
The ethos of the High Line, on the other hand, is to take the unproductive spaces of the city and make them work—work in the sense of performing a function, imbuing them with productive life.
I do like the High Line; I’ve visited now in spring, summer, and winter, and (coming from the seasonless West Coast) that’s definitely part of the appeal, as is the art and the people watching. However, it’s definitely not wild; it’s tamed, and nice, in the worst sense of the word. On balance I’m happy it’s there, but I hope it’s not the model for every park (and every reclamation of industrial heritage) to come.