Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The Tipping Point................AGAIN!

I've experienced a fair number of subways/undergrounds/metros in my time, from the grim and grimy New York Subway to the elegant and sophisticated Paris Metro. Although the London Underground may seem very different to the Clockwork Orange, they share an abundance
of similarities. All subways suffer from congestion and travellers often feel frustrated and disoriented. I started by looking at how these problems could be tackled. For this I looked to the subway masters - The Japanese! The Tokyo subway is the cleanest, safest and best organised of all. To start with, Tokyo's subway stations are well designed by reputed architects through design competitions. Nobody likes to spend their time waiting and having to stand in a smelly narrow box with tons of advertising posters on grimy tiled walls. Most subway systems tend to be filthy and rather dull aesthetically. But there are cities that explicitly foster arts and good architecture in subways. Works of art or sophisticated architecture can be delightful, inspiring and thought-provoking for daily commuters as well as an attraction for visitors. Distinctive colour schemes and works of art help passengers for orientation. Furthermore, there is evidence that vandalism diminishes in appealing stations because works of art and good designs are widely respected. The organic station designs, of Tokyo, are well cared for and seem to be loved by the entire community. Subways need not be boring or dreary. Many operators of subways want to attract more passengers with good station design. This often means extra effort and higher costs for the subway operators but it seems to pay off when a subway is more than just a means of transport but something the residents can be proud of, however, subways are currently designed to keep people moving, to get their money and get them on their way. I wonder if subways should be transformed from somewhere you pass through as fast as possible, to somewhere people want to spend time. In the 1970s planners proposed directly tying the Union Square Station in New York to a department store, blurring the distinction between a space of transit and the surrounding city.

Subways could be a public space, a meeting place where people could eat, drink and socialise. The exquisite Moscow Metro (dubbed the people's palaces) took a bold step in this direction by hosting the first underground mobile arts exhibition. Thirty-five watercolours were chosen by Russian Museum experts for this unique Metro train-turned-picture gallery. The metro train had to be adapted to accommodate the picture frames. The trains are set up like moving museums with paintings on the walls of the cars
instead of windows so that everyday people can experience art on their journey home. I thought that this could be adapted to jewellery or any other art form.

I believe that everyone enjoys music in some from. Bringing organised music to subways could make them more welcoming and cause people to take time out to stop and listen. In New York most musicians are licensed to play underground through a program known as Music Under New York, which started in 1985 and is sponsored by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Every spring, 60 to 75 acts, chosen from about 200 audition tapes, try out before a panel of judges Grand Central Terminal; about two dozen of them are selected. The result is that more than 100 individuals and ensembles give 150 free performances every week at one of 25 belowground locations.

The people of Toronto took this even further by organising a 'Subway Dance Party' (I think this was befor the TMobile adverts) bringing people together to socialise. This led me to think of how people tend to avoid eye contact in the confined space of a subway train. A cities subway has the most fascinating mix of people from different cultures passing through it but we never find this out as we deliberately avoid contact. Why not designate one car as a 'Social Car' to get people talking? And perhaps a 'Quite Car' for journeys home from work after those particularly stressful day!

1 comment:

  1. Apparently the London Underground used to play fast marching music during the morning rush, and calm relaxing music in the evening rush - the first to get people moving, the second to calm them down again!

    In China I noticed that in some tunnels they have video screens playing but at slightly different intervals to match the speed of the train, so that as you're looking out of the window you see an uninterrupted picture as you pass by, a bit like an old zoetrope...