I spent the morning observing a potential location for a new project. The location is at the North side of Union Square in New York. In the next couple of weeks I'll be working with Genevieve Hoffman and Stepan Boltalin to intervene in this location (or another location, should this one not prove hospitable) using networked technology. In this post I describe some of my observations from the exercise.
I sat at the corner of 17th and Broadway (1 on the map) observing the busy intersection; a confluence of people coming from and going to Union Square, and people walking along 17th avenue. Into this mix you have an on-street seating area, cycle lanes, a roadway, payphones, street vendors and a lot of busy shops. It's a complex little area - oh, and in case I forget; there's also Rob Pruitt's statue of Andy Warhol sitting smack bang in the middle of people eating their lunch.
The second location is actually on Union Square, at the seating area in front of the grand entrance to Union Square park. From here I could observe people entering the Northwestern area of the square, making their way North up Broadway, or into the open plaza. This is a far less dense space than the first observation point - people enter and exit the space slowly, so it's a chance to see where and how they walk through the space.
My key observations from the first location relate mostly to how people use the space. It's a space of transience, but also density. People walk through the space in orderly bubbles/tides - which are broken up by the rhythm of the traffic lights.
I also noticed that tourists and (apparent) residents use the space differently. The tourists are drawn along the orderly lines of the pedestrian crossings, many of them walk directly towards the statue of Andy Warhol. The residents exit the pedestrian crossings early, breaking off in a particular direction - with some definite end point in mind. I just thought it was interesting to see how you could discern different profiles of movement from carefree visitors and those with a few minutes to spare from work.
The second observation point told a completely different story. From here I could see how people entering the large open square essentially all follow a small number of paths. They enter and exit far more continuously than at 17th and Broadway; it's less clear that they are being controlled by the rhythm of a traffic light, or even the arrival of a subway train. I noticed that between the small number of desire-lines/paths there's essentially a dead zone where few people walk. Taking this path would lead them to no place in particular in either direction - so it sees less footfall. This was interesting because, if our intervention in the space sought to break up a flow of people it's pretty clear that there are good places and bad places to do this. On the other hand, if we want to stay out of the way we now know where to stand/wait.
So, they are some quick notes from the morning. There are more photos and notes on Flickr.