Protecting New York’s Public Space

Question: Has New York used its pedestrian space effectively?

Enrique Penalosa: Well, New York was very innovative.  I like to tell the people in the developing world, "Look."  New York is very innovative.  It was innovative in the past.  I like to tell the people in the developing world cities, "Look.  European parks were mostly the playgrounds of the wealthy, of the nobles, and the Kings, and the aristocrats, and sometimes it was necessary to cut their heads off in order to turn this land into parks.  But Central Park was a park done by a democracy and it was done around 1870.  When New York was smaller and poorer than most developing country cities today and even with that example developing county cities don't have many central like park examples to show."

But I would say that recently New York has invested again in public pedestrian space and has done some very interesting things. The Hudson River Park, the bicycle ways.  What has been done recently by Janette Sadik-Khan, the transport commissioner, and Mr. Bloomberg, making more bicycle ways—so far only painted lanes mostly, but hopefully, more and more, they will be physically protected bicycle-ways. They have created the High-Line, the elevated, the former Red-Line, which has been turned into a park.  It will be the same as there is one in Paris, too. These are fantastic public pedestrian spaces; these new public pedestrian spaces are some that are taking care of by private organizations, such as Central Park.

 But, I think, first, there are some things that are still needed for the future and some that are have to be done to better conserve what exists.  I mean, the main issue is New York sidewalks. I am very concerned with the New York sidewalks; there is a lot of dirt and the vendors are really taking over the New York sidewalks.  Somehow, people think this is democratic to allow anybody to go and sell anything in the street.  No, the vendors are not the poor people.  The poor people are the hundreds of thousands of people who walk in New York sidewalks.  If we want New York public space to be a space for integration between the wealthy and the poor, we have to keep this clean and there is nothing wrong about having beautiful spaces.  Not people just putting up ATM machines in the sidewalks and nobody seems to tell them anything.

Some streets in New York really are almost now like if they were in the most backward developing world cities, like Canal Street, and many places. So I think New York sidewalks need to be better kept; vendors have to be erratically restrained. I mean, you may allow a few vendors I suppose, with some restrictions and some regulations. But it is really becoming--it's getting to a point where it's completely…So they say that there are some constitutional restrictions to restrict vendors, but I don't see why because in Chicago the sidewalks are perfect and you have the same constitution in Chicago.

So, I think there is –you have to be extremely careful, but the thing is that you see that the new pedestrian spaces that have been created are the ones that are cared by the private sector, like Central Park or the high-line, or the Hudson River Park, they are beautiful; they have nice flowers, they are clean, they don't have vendors. Why? They are not managed in the same way the other public pedestrian space is. Now, for new projects.  

Enrique Peñalosa discusses the legacy of public space in New York and how it can be improved in the future.

A map of America’s most famous – and infamous

The 'People Map of the United States' zooms in on America's obsession with celebrity

Image: The Pudding
Strange Maps
  • Replace city names with those of their most famous residents
  • And you get a peculiar map of America's obsession with celebrity
  • If you seek fame, become an actor, musician or athlete rather than a politician, entrepreneur or scientist

Chicagoland is Obamaland

Image: The Pudding

Chicagoland's celebrity constellation: dominated by Barack, but with plenty of room for the Belushis, Brandos and Capones of this world.

Seen from among the satellites, this map of the United States is populated by a remarkably diverse bunch of athletes, entertainers, entrepreneurs and other persons of repute (and disrepute).

The multitalented Dwayne Johnson, boxing legend Muhammad Ali and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dominate the West Coast. Right down the middle, we find actors Chris Pratt and Jason Momoa, singer Elvis Presley and basketball player Shaquille O'Neal. The East Coast crew include wrestler John Cena, whistle-blower Edward Snowden, mass murderer Ted Bundy… and Dwayne Johnson, again.

The Rock pops up in both Hayward, CA and Southwest Ranches, FL, but he's not the only one to appear twice on the map. Wild West legend Wyatt Earp makes an appearance in both Deadwood, SD and Dodge City, KS.

How is that? This 'People's Map of the United States' replaces the names of cities with those of "their most Wikipedia'ed resident: people born in, lived in, or connected to a place."

‘Cincinnati, Birthplace of Charles Manson'

Image: The Pudding

Keys to the city, or lock 'em up and throw away the key? A city's most famous sons and daughters of a city aren't always the most favoured ones.

That definition allows people to appear in more than one locality. Dwayne Johnson was born in Hayward, has one of his houses in Southwest Ranches, and is famous enough to be the 'most Wikipedia'ed resident' for both localities.

Wyatt Earp was born in Monmouth, IL, but his reputation is closely associated with both Deadwood and Dodge City – although he's most famous for the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which took place in Tombstone, AZ. And yes, if you zoom in on that town in southern Arizona, there's Mr Earp again.

The data for this map was collected via the Wikipedia API (application programming interface) from the English-language Wikipedia for the period from July 2015 to May 2019.

The thousands of 'Notable People' sections in Wikipedia entries for cities and other places in the U.S. were scrubbed for the person with the most pageviews. No distinction was made between places of birth, residence or death. As the developers note, "people can 'be from' multiple places".

Pageviews are an impartial indicator of interest – it doesn't matter whether your claim to fame is horrific or honorific. As a result, this map provides a non-judgmental overview of America's obsession with celebrity.

Royals and (other) mortals

Image: The Pudding

There's also a UK version of the People Map – filled with last names like Neeson, Sheeran, Darwin and Churchill – and a few first names of monarchs.

Celebrity, it is often argued, is our age's version of the Greek pantheon, populated by dozens of major gods and thousands of minor ones, each an example of behaviours to emulate or avoid. This constellation of stars, famous and infamous, is more than a map of names. It's a window into America's soul.

But don't let that put you off. Zooming in on the map is entertaining enough: celebrities floating around in the ether are suddenly tied down to a pedestrian level, and to real geography. And it's fun to see the famous and the infamous rub shoulders, as it were.

Barack Obama owns Chicago, but the suburbs to the west of the city are dotted with a panoply of personalities, ranging from the criminal (Al Capone, Cicero) and the musical (John Prine, Maywood) to figures literary (Jonathan Franzen, Western Springs) and painterly (Ivan Albright, Warrenville), actorial (Harrison Ford, Park Ridge) and political (Eugene V. Debs, Elmhurst).

Freaks and angels

Image: Dorothy

The People Map of the U.S. was inspired by the U.S.A. Song Map, substituting song titles for place names.

It would be interesting to compare 'the most Wikipedia'ed' sons and daughters of America's cities with the ones advertised at the city limits. When you're entering Aberdeen, WA, a sign invites you to 'come as you are', in homage to its most famous son, Kurt Cobain. It's a safe bet that Indian Hill, OH will make sure you know Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, was one of theirs. But it's highly unlikely that Cincinnati, a bit further south, will make any noise about Charles Manson, local boy done bad.

Inevitably, the map also reveals some bitterly ironic neighbours, such as Ishi, the last of the Yahi tribe, captured near Oroville, CA. He died in 1916 as "the last wild Indian in North America". The most 'pageviewed' resident of nearby Colusa, CA is Byron de la Beckwith, Jr., the white supremacist convicted for the murder of Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers.

As a sampling of America's interests, this map teaches that those aiming for fame would do better to become actors, musicians or athletes rather than politicians, entrepreneurs or scientists. But also that celebrity is not limited to the big city lights of LA or New York. Even in deepest Dakota or flattest Kansas, the footlights of fame will find you. Whether that's good or bad? The pageviews don't judge...

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Image: Abel Suyok
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