Group Members: Eliza Bruce, Priyal Parikh, Miyeon Kim
We decided to observe and intervene at a small part at the intersection of 10th street and 2nd ave in East Village. The address is 131 East 10th street, abutting St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery. Unbeknownst to us at the time of site-selection, this little park packed a great deal of New York City history. The church itself is the oldest site of continuous worship in New York City. The construction of the first chapel in this location dates back to the 1600’s under the governance of Petrus Stuyvesant. The current church structure we see today was built from 1795 to 1799.
Taking into account the rich history of the space, we set out to observe the park, taking note of who passed by, through, and stopped in the park. Given how small our space is (New York City Parks measures it as 0.16 acres, or 6969.6 square feet), and how relatively unknown, we did not have the benefit of well-documented architectural plans. Therefore, we relied on our own replications of the space based on our time spent in it, and how large we knew it was from Google maps. With knowledge of the space and its history, we recorded qualitative observations: how long people stayed in the park on the benches, how often people passed through, what activities they engaged in while they were there. We found that the park was primarily situated between two very busy streets for foot traffic, 10th street and 2nd avenue, while the pedestrian walkway, Stuyvesant Street (against the church wall), served mostly as a thoroughfare for residents familiar with the triangular shortcut. This tendency for people to walk around the park, but rarely enter it, falls within the definition of a “special land,” as outlined by urban planning journalist Jane Jacobs in her 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. At our park, as in a special land, there is a prevalent boundary that passersby tend not to cross on an ordinary day, as they are often local residents who are less likely to carefully observe the space.
In terms of interaction, there is very little between those sitting in the park and those walking. Marked by restaurants on 2nd Ave and residential complexes on 10th street, this area is not as equipped for they type of visitor who would come to stay a very long time. The lack of interaction and foot traffic through the park are also naturally maximized by the “fixed” design of the space, and its architecture and landscaping. The park is lined by substantial trees and benches that face inward, as pictured in the map above. It is also lined on the church side by a tall, uninviting iron fence with a ledge just small enough that it cannot be used as a seat. Instead, park visitors tend to use the space alone on phones, walking by, or briefly sitting with known company. As a result, we thought it’d be best to use our instruction sets to maximize these social interactions in the hopes of encouraging passersby to walk into the park and take note of it, and to speak to strangers.
In order to create interactions and communications between strangers, we looked at several options with and without use of technology. Our initial focus was on creating an interaction using lights controlled by motion sensors. However, we were unsure of the extent of interaction that would create as it would not have been as extensive and interactive as some of the precedents we saw. Thus, we began the process of finding something more interactive that we would also not be limited to use at night. That is when we came across the option of life-size games. Life-size games have multiple social benefits:
- Engages in interpersonal activities, unlike staring at computer screens or smartphones
- Promotes brain exercise while learning something new
- Improves social skills
- Teaches patience and sportsmanship
- Develops ability of risk-taking
- Creates curiosity and unleashes imagination
In our case, life-size games were the most attractive idea because they could allow us to communicate our intervention without speaking to park-goers and passersby, but also non-textually. We felt it should be noted that we had a misunderstanding of the assignment at this point; we were under the impression that we were required to not talk to any of our participants, but were to provide an actual written instruction set. Therefore, we printed up a board with the instructions to “sift through the bag to pull out and lay down one letter at a time.” However, given the design precedents, and the universal recognition of both Scrabble and Bananagrams, we’re confident that we could have had the same rate of success without written instructions. It should also be noted that our instructions were universally ignored – all participants laid down more than one letter, and most laid down more than one word. As such, our instructions were redundant – participants ultimately played in the way they were most familiar.
On the day of our actual testing, a Sunday afternoon in late September, we came to our site to find there were few people sitting on the benches, and few people passing by. The general demography and foot traffic at this time is common for weekends throughout almost the entire day, as well as weekday afternoons and evenings in the summer. The particular day we chose to test was a very interesting seasonal product of both groups and individuals walking, given the lovely weather, as many people do during the summer, and football fans, as nearby bars host many Sunday football viewings in the fall.
We began by putting up our instruction board next to the bags of letter tiles, but soon after decided instead to dump out all the letters so they could be laid out and each letter sifted through much more easily. This move ultimately made the game look a lot more authentic and somewhat preposterously large, as a supersized board game would in real life. We also laid out one letter each to get the game going. These two decisions were probably the most effective non-textual probes that we provided – when people see those tiles, and the unmistakable crossword-style layout, they know exactly which game they were to play.
From here, we decided to separate and observe our participants from different angles. Miyeon sat on the closest bench with camera and record the whole process, and Eliza and Priyal were mobile, but mostly Eliza hide behind the tree besides the church, and Priyal sat on the other bench to observe and record the number of participants. Our setup can be seen in Figure 6 above.
Here is the video of our process and iteration in the park:
From 3:30pm to 4pm, we barely drew attention. So we, very slowly, decided to put more words to make the puzzle bigger. While we were putting down some other words, one old man who was sitting on the bench from the beginning came and expressed interest. He read the instructions carefully and chose a few letters to finish what we had already lain down, and created the word ‘GLOW.’ His participation drew a few more looks from passersby on 10th street and 2nd avenue. Initially, still, some people came through the park, but they would stop and read the instructions, and didn’t participate. Most of these people who read the instructions and didn’t play were alone.
There were couple of people participated from 4pm to 4:20pm. People who were sitting on the bench since the first time started to interact with people who pass by, ask them to join the game or talk to them about words other people made.
Around 4:40, we started to get more attention from diverse range of people, such as old couples, students, group of friends, kids and so on. And what’s so interesting about it was that even person who’s alone tried to join the game when many people are around. And since group of people tried to talk to each other, person alone also was better able to blend in with the crowd. Especially with the inward-facing benches, we figured that people walking by alone didn’t want to feel so on-display while they were participating, but anyone who was in a couply or a small group didn’t feel quite as self-conscious. Finally we ended up our observation at 5pm, with 53 different words.
As a final observation, total 279 people viewed and 21 people actually participated the game. We observed a number of interactions with strangers, especially among young and old, and participants and observers, but most importantly we increased the foot traffic to the middle of the park, as seen in the figures. Thus, we achieved the goals we set out to reach, successfully breaking the constructed boundaries of the park.
Here are also some charts outlining our results:
Center for Urban Research, CUNY Graduate Center. “Zoomable Map.” Accessed October 4, 2015,http://www.urbanresearchmaps.org/comparinator/pluralitymap.htm.
Fernandes, Andréa, January 24, 2012 (7:34pm), “26 Life-Size Versions of Popular Board Games,”http://mentalfloss.com/article/29823/26-life-size-versions-popular-board-games.
Gallegos, Demetria, January 4, 2014 (9:08pm), “How Family Games Taught Our Kids Many Skills,”http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303453004579290342281387758.
Google Maps. http://maps.nyc.gov/doitt/nycitymap/?searchType=AddressSearch&street=131+east+10th+street&borough=Manhattan&featureTypes=LANDMARK%2CLANDMARK_INTERIOR%2CLANDMARK_DISTRICT%2CSCENIC_LANDMARK&Submit=Submit
Jacobs, Jane. The Life and Death of Great American Cities. New York: Random House LLC, 1961.
“Marilyn Appleberg: 2012 Village Award Winner.” May 24, 2012.http://gvshp.org/blog/2012/05/24/marilyn-appleberg-2012-village-award-winner/
New York City Parks. “Abe Lebewohl Park.” http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/abe-lebewohl-park/history
Robin, Winter. November 7, 2013. “Surprise! What NYC’s Former Cemeteries Are Now.”http://wisewitchessociety.ning.com/group/cemeterieswisewitches/forum/topics/surprise?commentId=3659052%3AComment%3A102943&groupId=3659052%3AGroup%3A101785
Staroversky, Ivan. February 23, 2015, “The Benefits Of Playing Board Games,” http://staroversky.com/blog/the-benefits-of-playing-board-games.
Wikipedia. Last modified July 20, 2015, “St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery.”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Mark%27s_Church_in-the-Bowery