Softwalks: Turning Scaffolding into Pop-up Parks

Softwalks designed a "Kit of Parts" to make the ubiquitous scaffolding in New York City more liveable.

Scaffolding is a common sight in big cities. In New York City, where we live, there is no shortage of "sidewalk sheds," heavy duty temporary scaffolding that covers sidewalks. Lined end to end, the estimated 6,000 sheds would stretch from Manhattan to Baltimore—189 miles. To a typical pedestrian, it appears as if most of New York City is under construction. Yet many sidewalk sheds are vacant and unoccupied by construction workers, trucks, and commotion. This is in part due to NYC Local Law 11, which stipulates that every five years a building must undergo a facade inspection. For a period of time while an inspector combs the facade of a building, a sidewalk shed shrouds businesses underneath and gives the appearance of an active construction site.
After researching sidewalk sheds and the effect they have on public space, Softwalks designed a "Kit of Parts," a selection of improvements, such as chairs and planters, that can be added to standard sidewalk sheds. The Kit of Parts works with the existing sidewalk shed system. This means the chairs use standard stud bolt clamps, the counters fit within standard bays, and the planter is a replica of a light pole planter. We made these choices consciously because we are not trying to reinvent the entire sidewalk shed system. As a whole, sidewalk sheds have been designed to accommodate the infinitely variable street conditions in NYC. Our Kit of Parts is designed to accommodate the diverse communities throughout the city.

The perception of sidewalk sheds is at the root of our project. We discovered when people see a function in the structure, they generally appreciate them. For instance, in a downpour people flock to sidewalk sheds marveling at how useful they are. Cyclists love sidewalk sheds for locking bikes and we have seen urban gymnasts swing through the steel structures with grace. These observations helped us focus our efforts on addressing basic needs for city life such as seating and places to socialize.
We began our design process with a survey of every effort to improve sidewalk sheds in NYC and internationally. Concurrently, we interviewed pedestrians, contractors, stakeholders and anyone that would give us their perspective. Later on, we narrowed our focus to instances when people appreciated sidewalk sheds and began designing parts that would be universally loved. A turning point in our research was learning how streets were blossoming into places for people, catalyzed by pilot projects to close off a street and sprinkle lawn chairs and planters around. As a precedent, these pedestrian plaza spaces were perfect examples of how public space can be re-imagined with the addition of simple amenities.
We're on Kickstarter now raising funds for a pilot project to test Softwalks. Please consider supporting our campaign.
Click here to add supporting Softwalks to your to-do list. \n
Softwalks was also an entry in the Transform a Public Space Project by GOOD and BMW Guggenheim Lab last summer. \n
Images courtesy of Softwalks\n

Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

RELATED: Bill and Melinda Gates had a surprising answer when asked about a 70 percent tax on the wealthiest Americans

"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.

via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

Former Secretary of State, first lady, and winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, sat own for an epic, two-and-a--half hour interview with Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show Wednesday.

She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

In the far-reaching conversation, Clinton and the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" and, without a doubt, the best interviewer in America discussed everything from Donald Trump's inauguration to her sexuality.

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The healthcare systems in the United States and the United Kingdom couldn't be more different.

The UK's National Health Service is the largest government-run healthcare system in the world and the US's is largest private sector system.

Almost all essential health services in the UK are free, whereas in America cost can vary wildly based on insurance, co pays and what the hospitals and physicians choose to charge.

A medical bill in the US

One of the largest differences is cost. The average person in the UK spends £2,989 ($3915) per year on healthcare (most of which is collected through taxes), whereas the average American spends around $10,739 a year.

So Americans should obviously be getting better care, right? Well, the average life expectancy in the UK is higher and infant mortality rate is lower than that in the US.

RELATED: The World Health Organization declares war on the out of control price of insulin

Plus, in the U.S., only 84% of people are covered by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Sixteen percent of the population are forced to pay out of pocket.

In the UK, everyone is covered unless they are visiting the country or an undocumented resident.

Prescription drugs can cost Americans an arm and a leg, but in the UK, prescriptions or either free or capped at £8.60 ($11.27).

via Wikimedia Commons

The one drawback to the NHS system is responsiveness. In the UK people tend to wait longer for inessential surgeries, doctor's appointments, and in emergency rooms. Whereas, the US is ranked as the most responsive country in the world.

RELATED: Alarmingly high insulin prices are forcing Americans to flock to Canada to buy the drug

The New York Times printed a fair evaluation of the UK's system:

The service is known for its simplicity: It is free at the point of use to anyone who needs it. Paperwork is minimal, and most patients never see a bill. … No one needs to delay medical treatment until he or she can afford it, and virtually everyone is covered. …

According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States spent 17.2 percent of its economic output on health care in 2016, compared with 9.7 percent in Britain. Yet Britain has a higher life expectancy at birth and lower infant mortality.

Citizens in each country have an interesting perspective on each other's healthcare systems. UK citizens think it's inhumane for Americans have to pay through the nose when they're sick or injured. While Americans are skeptical of socialist medicine.

A reporter from Politics Joe hit the streets of London and asked everyday people what they think Americans pay for healthcare and they were completely shocked.