Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New street furniture coming to Philadelphia

By the end of the year, the City of Philadelphia will put out its request for proposals (RFP) for a 20-year street furniture contract to replace its current one. Though the exact elements of the contract have yet to be decided, it will very likely include new bus shelters, bike racks, newsstand corrals, and information kiosks. This presents a major opportunity for Nutter's City Hall and Deputy Mayor Rina Cutler. Street furniture is an essential part of a city's appearance at street level, and the most successful cities understand the vital role that well-designed, distinctive street furniture can have in shaping the perceptions of visitors and residents alike.

The idea is generally well understood by European cities. Paris is perhaps the best example of a city that has reinforced the high quality of its public spaces through well-designed street furniture such as the bus shelter pictured above. Brussels' unique transit shelters pay homage to the city's Art Nouveau heritage. These two examples have been pictured above.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia has been stuck with some of the most underwhelming, nondescript street furniture of any major American city. Our current bus shelters are installed and maintained (just barely) by CBS Outdoor, an outdoor advertising firm which apparently has absolutely no appreciation for quality public design. Representative Richard Ament summed it up quite recently at the Academy of Natural Sciences when he explained, "We're not a design company." No kidding. For more examples of the junk that they offer, their site displays them quite proudly in a photo gallery (sort Media Type by Street Furniture).

Most fortunately, it looks like we will be able to do much better this time around. Also present at the Academy of Natural Sciences forum on Monday were representatives from Cemusa, JCDecaux and Clear Channel Adshel. Cemusa installed the very sleek bus shelters, automated toilets, and newspaper boxes that came to New York two years ago. Pioneering mega-firm JCDecaux operates Paris' street furniture, and claims to have invented the bus shelter. Likewise, Clear Channel Adshel has extensive experience in European cities. So there will be no lack of quality options. And best of all, since installation and capital costs are paid by the company, none of this will put a drain on the city's coffers. Let's just pray that they don't pick CBS Outdoor.

Lastly, the city is running a public opinion online survey. Please do tell City Hall what you think. This will shape the streets of Philadelphia for years to come.

Academy of Natural Sciences street furniture forum [PlanPhilly]

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