Thursday, April 21, 2005

Wireless (or not) in Bryant Park

So upon Will R's advice (see prior post & comment), on my last morning in Manhattan I walked down to Bryant Park. I wasn't just in search of free wireless. I also wanted to see up close for myself how it works as public space--it is a great success story.

The site of New York's first world's fair, the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1853-54, by the 1970s it had become a good place to buy drugs or get mugged. Then it was redesigned and turned around. It was opened up fully to the streets around it, for as Holly Whyte observed, people want to be in the middle of things. It became populated with hundreds of moveable tables and chairs, inviting people to make their own seating arrangements, to create their own space. (Some of these tables and chairs have migrated to the steps of the public library, for people want to be in the middle of things, even at the risk of being tripped over.) The gardens and lawn are now lush and well-maintained. And there is free wireless, sponsored by Google! Or so it says.

People were everywhere in the park, and they looked happy. But I wasn't so happy. When I tried to log on, I got a Verizon home page asking my ID. Assuming that either Will was mistaken or something had changed, I didn't argue. I now realize it was probably relevant that I was sitting on the corner of the park across the street from a Verizon office. Possibly the Verizon signal overpowers the Google one for at least a part of the park. I might have been able to free-range into the free range. What's disappointing is that I was so ready to believe it--willing to believe that market forces had won out over the commons here. I don't really know if they have or haven't.

But the park is great. It inspired my comments this afternoon on the WCHL forum where I was on the panel to discuss the Lot 2 & 5 project.

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