There’s so much scaffolding covering New York City sidewalks, if lined up, the ensconced sidewalks would stretch 189 miles, from New York to Baltimore. The spaces they outline, called “sidewalk sheds,” are already used by pedestrians to wait for a bus or escape from the rain. Now a local design studio, called Softwalks, is intervening to make sidewalk sheds more people-friendly: by developing a kit that would let anyone transform the darkened walkways into a cozy place to sit, chat, and hang out.
These pop-up parks take advantage of scaffolding poles to hang chairs, counters (to support a cup of coffee), lighting reflectors, and planters. According to founders Howard Chambers and Bland Hoke’s Kickstarter video, the temporary furnishings constitute “incremental improvements to sidewalk sheds for immediate enjoyment. Our strategy mimics how pilot projects are changing New York City streets into pedestrian plaza, revealing new functions for public space.”
Over the summer, the duo exhibited Softwalks at street events and festivals, where the public would try them out and give feedback over the course of a day. After reaching its $13,000 Kickstarter goal earlier this month, Softwalks plans to pilot a kit in a test location for a longer period of time to get a deeper understanding of how to refine the design.
If you’re wondering why anyone would want to stop and hang out at what looks to be a construction sight, the Softwalks team explains on their website that often scaffolding can remain even when construction isn’t ongoing. “Most sidewalk sheds are up from six months to two years, however we found some up for over 10 years! In New York City, many are installed because of Local Law 11, which requires any building over five stories to inspect the facade of the building every five years. Many sidewalk sheds are installed for this purpose and aren’t active construction sites with cranes.”
Thus, what ought to be a temporary interruption to the urban fabric lingers for far too long. Perhaps the Softwalks can bring a bit of life back to the street in the interim.