Softwalks

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New York City has over 189 miles of scaffolding covering the sidewalks. These dark tunnels are also called sidewalk sheds, and they have a detrimental impact on the walkability of urban environments. However, in NYC the vast majority of sidewalk sheds are inactive construction sites, presenting a unique opportunity for temporary placemaking. Softwalks developed a kit of parts to make construction infrastructure more appealing to everyone. A simple chair, counter, planter and lighting fixture are installed to create pop-up parks, transforming an eyesore into a community asset. We arrived at this solution with the genuine and unexpected insights from users. NYC is known as a premier walking city. Thus, almost everyone is a user of the sidewalks. Our design development consisted of hosting workshops, bringing together diverse user groups to brainstorm and develop practical and useful interventions for sidewalk sheds. In addition, we spent countless hours observing and interviewing pedestrians on the street. We quickly realized people appreciate functionality far more than aesthetics. For example, bikers lock their bikes to sidewalk sheds, while elderly folks lean or perch on the horizontal bars at bus stops, and in a rainstorm people flock to a sidewalk shed to escape the rain. Instead of beautifying sidewalk sheds, we chose to make them more useful for everyone who walks down the street in NYC. The result is obvious yet unexpected, and thoroughly appreciated by everyone.