Archives for posts with tag: public space

amsterdam centraal

The train platforms in Amsterdam’s Centraal Station are completely accessible to the public.

You can get to them, even if train tickets have not been purchased. Because of this, the platform is public space — and a direct extension of the city’s street life.

The train-fares in the Netherlands are collected by the OV Chipkaart system. It is highly automated so the gates onto the platform are left open. Paying train-fare correctly is the responsibility of the traveller, and not the train authority. Tickets and fares will often be checked on board, once the train has left the station.

ov chipkaart

The open gates of the OV Chipkaart

That the Centraal Station’s platform is public space means it plays a strong role in the psyche and imageability of the city. The wide open concourse and sweeping architectural arches that form the iconic half-cylindric roof of Centraal Station are available for appreciation from a wide audience, even those who aren’t taking the train.

I like this feature because it is fundamentally about access: not having to pay to get into somewhere changes its nature and role in the city. We can feel the potency of the “public” in public space.

union station

Toronto’s Union Station

Toronto’s central train station, Union Station, is currently undergoing a revitalization. Its dingy train-platform is being “Europeanized”, and plans show a lovely glass atrium with sweeping architectural gestures that reference Train concourse halls built in the late 20th century constructivist tradition (e.g. the Eiffel tower).

union station 2

Architectural rendering of ‘revitalized’ platform

I am excited about this project: it shows a shift in perception and a respect for rail infrastructure as a viable means of transportation versus the car – this is a big deal in auto-oriented North America.

But will the Union Station platform be similarly part of Toronto’s public space, an extension of its street life? Will we be able to explore its grandness without necessarily taking the train? It wasn’t before, and as a result, it doesn’t play a strong role in the city’s image.

I often describe North America as a “private property paradise”. It would be healthy for Toronto’s identity and imageability if Union Station’s platform was a public space, but at odds with the private nature of space in this city. Now that I think of it, the main hall of Union Station, a beautiful concourse is indeed a public space, enabling chance encounters, lingering and undeniably contributing to the imageability of the city. Technology, such as the OV Chipkart system in the Netherlands enables that publicness to extend even further onto the platform — a more equitable experience of the city.

I wonder what the platforms will be like in Union Station.

See also Honour System Anarchy

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Cross-posted from the Pop-Up City

Amazingly, this is a project that beautifies public spaces, broadens the services offered by a city, and makes use of the most locally sourced fertilizers possible!

When Nature Calls is a project by Columbus, Ohio based industrial designer Eddie Gandelman. It is a public urinal that uses filtered pee as fertilizer for plants growing in an attached planter. When properly filtered, urine provides a number of essential nutrients that are vital to healthy plant growth.

'When Nature Calls' by Eddie Gandelman

Most urinals are a guaranteed eyesore in public space, cluttering otherwise open squares and adding unwanted odors to the aromas of the city. This design however, not only beautifies the urinal itself, but contributes to the aesthetics of its surroundings, filters urine to be smell-free, while providing a nice, shady oasis for its users.

'When Nature Calls' by Eddie Gandelman

The concept of using urine as fertilizer is nothing new. (Beyond peeing on the shrubs after a night of drinking, gardeners have been doing it for centuries.) But as urban agriculture becomes more of a reality and serious business, and people are becoming more concerned with sourcing materials locally, cities have to come up with systematic ways to gather and distribute useful, locally sourced waste – without having everyone peeing everywhere. Rather than a centralized solution, the When Nature Calls urinal offers individual, site specific resolutions to the question of collecting and reusing human waste.

'When Nature Calls' by Eddie Gandelman

And what about number two: Could solid human waste ever be used to fertilize a cities greenery, or to boost the productivity of urban farms? Composting toilets, though gaining in popularity, are for the most part completely banned in cities around the world. The taboo of poo is, understandably, hard to get over. But given enough time to decompose, humanure is a good source of fertilizer for plants such as trees, where the fruit is grown far from the ground.

Ingenious interventions such as this urinal represent the city’s progression toward a model of a circular economy – where there is no waste, no end to a product’s life cycle and everything can be reused – even pee!