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Located on the NW Corner of 87th and Amsterdam Ave Google Map link
With some slight modifications from the previous iteration, a new version popped up on 87th over the weekend. The only significant changes were the addition of some slight suggestive text: “take a book,” “leave a book,” and removing additional shelf material to expose the sides of the actual phone mechanism. I had been tipped off by a telephone repair technician that the likely cause of the prior shelf disappearances could be attributed to the tech’s inability to access the locking mechanisms on either side of the phone, requiring him to remove and probably toss the shelves. Further observation will be required to see if this version can outlast the former’s 5 weeks of operation.
The intersection here is part of a pretty interesting area with a diverse mix of pedestrian traffic. 86th street acts as a strong east-west thoroughfare that effectively splits the northern portion of the neighborhood from the rest of the upper west side, and predictably there is also a visible, distinct change in scale when looking south versus north. The site is a mixing chamber of sorts with four quadrants that come together here: the chain retail stores to the south and west along Broadway; the Innovative Diploma Plus High School and P.S. 334 to the southeast; an eclectic mix of housing scales to the northeast and a growing dining and leisure strip taking off to the north. The goal here is to try play to all those users, and create a community focal point of nearby residents, commuters on their way to and from the train, diners, and spillover from the large retail stores.
It was great to spend a few hours observing how people interacted with the shelves. Even at 9am on a Sunday morning, it quickly became a point of attraction on the sidewalk, at one time hosting a queue of six random strangers waiting to get a closer look. The addition of subtle instructions seemed to help, as this time there were two separate occasion when people left holding a book. It still remains to be seen whether anyone begins leaving their own and adding to the collection, but it will be certainly be interesting to find out.
After further observation of this iteration, I’ll post the cut files if anyone wants to make their own. Let me know if interested.
Made possible with generous support from the following:
Materials and Fabrication:
SFDS Fabrication and Design Shop, Brooklyn, NY
Mrs. and Mrs. Moon
Residents of 951 Amsterdam Ave.
When I first saw this image of my block from the 40s, I knew it was something I wanted to share. Sure, part of it was a sense of pride, that our seemingly nondescript, uptown block once held a moment in time that was deemed important enough for someone to capture. And further, that that historical memory was saved, and became indicative of the history of the subway and the city. Properly fitting amongst a slideshow of once momentous occasions such as crowds cheering with Fiorello at the opening of the 34th St station and documentary photos of the surprisingly frequent automobile on train accidents. But it was also the content of the image.
The included caption was such:
1940: In a view north from 106th Street, only the supports of the old Ninth Avenue elevated line remained as the push to go underground continued.
As the subway ceded elevation in favor of the earth, the Amsterdam avenue elevated train disappeared. I can only imagine the revelation as light and some semblance of uninterrupted silence returned to the street. This image captured a frozen moment of transition, where the elevated train could be either in the act of disassemblage or erection, and with it the hope of revitalization. The newness and flux of urban change was just as relevant then as now, and should serve as a reminder that the present isn’t static and transitions are as true in the New York of 2011 as in 1941. However, that truism seems to have become forgotten in a city where there are now over 25,000 buildings and 100 neighborhoods classified as historic and under the jurisdiction of the NY Landmarks Commission, complete with all the associated zoning regulations and limitations on new building.
The QR code was translated into a laser cut ready file via F.A.T. lab’s QR_STENCILER utility. Using marking chalk, the stencil was painted on the street near to where the original photographer stood in 1941. All in all, this rudimentary, proto-augmented reality was created on the cheap in under four hours.
The removal of the overhead train tracks and the introduction of smart phones in the neighborhood are both changes to be resisted or encouraged. The means of accessibility to this installation are still beyond the means of many people in the area, and as ubiquitous as they may be among some, phones that can read a qr code are still not available to all. In that way, the moment in the original photo and this street marking can define a line through two points, the past and present, collapsed into one and defined by and within the smartphone. The direction and ultimate meaning of that vector is dependent on your own personal point of view. My initial inclination was to create a fantastical image to represent the street in 2081, but that would be devoid of meaning and furthered severed from people’s daily reality. By referring to a historic, shared reality, ultimately then, the means of this technological view of the past is as much of a harbinger of potential futures of the neighborhood as any fantasy image could ever hope to be.
Following from the dispiriting failures of 001, 002 proved to be more successful, and not only because of it’s pumpkin orange color, but because it wasn’t cleared of books within 6 hours and the empty shelves themselves weren’t removed after 10 days. I attribute this mostly to an adjustment of tactics and location. Every block has its own subtleties and micro-urban climates, one block is boarded up with for “rent signs” while the next is a thriving pocket of activities and street-level engagement. By moving to a location 8 blocks further south, 002 was placed nearer to a major thoroughfare – 96th street – and received a more steady stream of mixed pedestrian traffic leaving the express train stop on Broadway and by virtue of being closer to street level retail (a large CVS), educational (a school and church) as well as the residential apartments along 97th street. 001 just didn’t get enough foot traffic and frankly felt deserted. I thought being near a hostel and school would generate some interest, but the hostel is an imposing Victorian Gothic structure with a decidedly prison-like bent reflecting its previous use as a nursing home for “Respectable, Aged and Indigent Females” and unsurprisingly generates little sidewalk traffic and even less urge to stop and inspect some books in a phone booth.
In an attempt to encourage sharing and free distribution of the initial selection of books, I didn’t mark the books in any way. But in lieu of the entire initial selection of 001′s books being carted off within a few hours, I tested out being more explicit and treating the books more like a library. Almost like a Dewey decimal number taped to the spine of a library book, I added a visible logo to the bottom of each spine. I hoped this would prevent the books from easily winding up in the hands of sidewalk book resellers, but I fear that the marking implies an ownership that prevents a casual exchange of taking and leaving their own books. I observed a number of people reach out and pick up a book, flip through it, but then return it to the shelf. Some even doubled back for a second look and to engage in a closer inspection of the shelves, but they still refrained from actually taking a book. Perhaps feeling hesitant to, I don’t know, steal/vandalize (irony) something that’s out in public? I can see how there might be a stigma there, to not just keep walking straight along the sidewalk with your head down, but to stop and engage with the street. I intentionally wanted to avoid any directions, like a sign that would say something along the lines of “hey this is for sharing books, you can leave some here” and I still want to avoid anything that seems overtly prescriptive, but after seeing people hesitate when confronted with 002, perhaps there is a more subtle way to gently describe an intended use.
Even as they are rendered obsolete by the ubiquity of smartphones, I’m interested in pay phones because they are both anachronistic and quotidian. Relics, they’re dead technology perched on the edge of obsolescence, a skeuomorph hearkening back to a lost shared public space we might no longer have any use for. Something to be nostalgic for, in the way I can’t think about a phone booth without conjuring up images of an old, impatient woman banging on the door to one while I was inside using a calling card to ask for money. And of course they are nuisance, basically pedestrian level billboards that only blight certain neighborhoods (good luck finding a payphone in Tribeca, while there are eight separate phone kiosks on one block between 108th and 109th streets and Columbus Ave). But they can also be a place of opportunity, something to reprogram and somewhere to come together and share a good book with your neighbors.
All the books were donated by local residents and the plywood was milled by Kontraptionist.