City of Streets

with Kelsey Rico

In response to the contested development of the Marx Brothers’ Playground in Upper Manhattan and the ceding of public space to private interests that the case represents, this project takes to the street as the last true commons of the city, a space owned by no one but belonging to everyone.

Using a fictional organization called the Public Lab for Allied Education (PLAE) as a mechanism for interfacing with municipal agencies, accessing grants, and initiating participatory programs, we sought to use the connective tissue of the street and its physical surface in order to integrate play into the fabric of the city.

The Open Source Guide to Street Resurfacing

PLAE’s Open Source Guide to Street Resurfacing, available to download and print here, instructs individuals on strategies that can be used to alter the street. While imbuing the street with the possibilities of a robust public life, the initiative also seeks to introduce educational and employment opportunities to East Harlem and to improve the character of vast NYCHA superblocks. This guide is published in the hopes that the street might become an unassailable public space, safe from the whims of zoning, and that it might even begin to influence the development around it, rather than the other way around.

The project was piloted along E99th Street in East Harlem, from Central Park to the East River. The resurfacing program engaged local residents through after-school sessions, block parties, and vocational training programs.

Fall: E99th St between Madison & Park Ave, Carver Houses

Winter: E99th St & Lexington Ave 

Spring: E99th St between 2nd & 3rd Ave, Washington Houses

Summer: E99th St & 1st Ave

Urban Equipment 

The resurfacing program began with a community workshop in which vestigial elements of the street were redesigned into objects of play. Ubiquitous scaffolding and under-utilised medians were reimagined as playspaces. Sandpits were embedded into the sidewalk, taking advantage of the Sanitation Department’s seasonal routines. The exercise sought to consider the vital urban functions embedded into the street, adding play and public education to this list.

Call for Proposals: Free the Playground

With the intention of encouraging a poly-authorship in urban design, PLAE put out a call for proposals to redesign East Harlem’s Cherry Tree Park, a playground on the corner of E99th St and 3rd Avenue which currently remains segmented by an excessive number of fences. The announcement asked designers to reimagine the relationship between the playground and the street, inviting the public to rethink spaces of play in the city. Below are some of the entries we received.