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Drawing Out Relief and Engagement in the Urban Environment Samantha Moore

School of Visual Arts MFA in Products of Design Thesis


around Drawing out Relief and Engagement in the Urban Environment

Samantha Moore

School of Visual Arts MFA Products of Design Thesis


Acknowledgements

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Thank you to all the people who helped me through this journey.

Especially: Damon Ahola Matthew Barber Rona Binay Willy Chan Allan Chochinov Richard Clarkson Abby Covert Mansi Gupta Charlotta Hellichius Kathy Kaiser Gabrielle Kellner Clay Kippen Marko Manriquez Kathryn McElroy Meghan McEwan Brooke McKim Shannel McNair Cassandra Michel Gaia Orain Zena Verda Pesta Meghan Roderick Andrew Schloss Sinclair Smith John Thackara Rob Walker Joseph Weissgold Emi Yasaka

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Table of Contents

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Acknowledgements

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Introduction

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Research

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Methodology and Lenses

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Comics

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Looking Ahead

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Image Index

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Footnotes

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Bibliography

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Introduction

New York City is a bustling hub of creativity, culture, and opportunity. Because of these attractions, each year thousands of new people call this city home. According to the 2010 US Census data, for the first time in six decades, more people are moving into 1 the city than leaving it. New York’s population is one of the most diverse in

the country, second only to San Jose, California.2 It is also, according to a 2011 study, one of the most stressed populations, trailing only Los Angeles.3 This might be chalked up to the fact that New York has the least affordable housing, the most extreme population density, and the highest cost of living of any US metropolis.

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In this fast-paced city, many residents—with numerous obligations at home and at work—don’t take time for enjoyment. For the health of New Yorkers, an intervention is required, one that affords them access to relief from stress and engagement with others in the urban environment. In determining the focus of my thesis, my


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initial experiments led me to deeper thought and deeper research. Ultimately, it was a personal quest that became my focus. I felt an urgent need for relief from stress: a respite from the pressures of graduate school, the city, and my own thoughts. Like me, millions of other people live in New York, variously working, raising kids, showing up for appointments, throwing parties, and meeting deadlines. With busy schedules in a busy city, life can feel chaotic. The result can be stress, which manifests as depression, anxiety, frustration, and so on.

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In 2007, the band LCD Soundsystem released “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” a song describing their personal struggle with loving to hate and hating to love the City of New York. The dichotomies of the five boroughs can help explain why residents’ inner lives might vary between bliss and misery: some of the wealthiest populations in the country—and some of the poorest—live here. Mere blocks separate the safest of neighborhoods from the most crimeridden. Also, a crowded schedule doesn’t allow a person to take advantage of much that the city has

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to offer. The objective of this thesis is to change the context in which we city dwellers experience New York. I do not plan to restructure the city itself; to try to do so would be unnecessary—and impossible. Rather, I plan to introduce interventions that restructure the way we think about and interact with the city. With these thoughts in mind, the focus of the thesis is three words: (1) access, (2) relief, and (3) engagement. A design targeting the residents of New York must be accessible in several ways. The design must be located in a spot that

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accommodates busy city dwellers’ schedules. Further, the design must be physically accessible. Finally, the design must be an inclusive one, equally available to residents of all socioeconomic groups. The US Census Bureau reports that the income gap in New York is larger than in any other US city. So how might I design to include those who are not part of New York’s elite? The aim of this thesis is to provide relief to those New York residents who experience it. Toward that end, I explored current research regarding design and well-being, and I looked at ways in which this research can be reframed and targeted to the urban environment. This topic of exploration is close to

my heart. I came to New York for graduate school. By nature an optimistic and joyful person, I tend to romanticize the city, seeing it as the New York of the movies. Although it is a wonderful place, it can also be a difficult place to live. In a city as large and diverse as New York, there are obstacles and inconveniences residents must deal with and overcome in

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daily living, for example, crowds on the subway, no opportunity to get away from the city, and the sensory overload of sounds and sights. These are the moments I chose to explore and design for: the daily obstacles and inconveniences. Initial experiments led me to the realization that my work might seem to be absurd. But although my ideas might seem


illogical or ridiculous, innovation is often seen as absurd—at first. Take television: Who would have thought in the late 1920s, when television programs were first made available to the US public on an experimental basis, that this little picture box would become a staple of US households? My thesis explores solutions to daily obstacles and inconveniences in the city in the form of absurd designed objects explained through comic strips. I experimented with different mediums for my work and finally landed on the comic strip, because it is a canvas that allows for my sense of humor and my take on reality. By using the humor and unpretentiousness of comics, I hope to spark imaginations and allow readers to view the city with a bit more ease while I propose ideas that—who knows?— might be the future of the urban environment. The research and designs presented in these chapters combine to tell the story of a journey from the current landscape to my research to my design offerings. It is a look into my thoughts and insights regarding the path I took during the year that I wrote my thesis—and it is a preview of what is yet to come.

“I look at the world and see absurdity all around me. People do strange things constantly, to the point that, for the most part, we manage not to see it.” -David Lynch

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Research

In 1988, Peter Sterling and Joseph Eyer of the University of Pennsylvania named our body’s capacity to maintain stability throughout change and its capacity to cope with this change “allostasis.” This process is important in keeping us mentally and physically sharp, which is why some experts believe that small spurts of stress are actually good for our health.

It is when this process cycles too often that harmful wear and tear occurs, which is called the 4 “allostatic load.” Nicholas Christenfeld, a psychology professor at the University of California, has some staggering statistics that put the reality of New York’s environmental challenges into perspective. For starters, the rate of heart attacks is 55 percent higher in the city than the

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national average.5 Even more surprising, a visitor to New York has a 34 percent greater chance of suffering a heart attack. Lack of time is the most commonly reported barrier by New Yorkers when it comes to relieving stress.6 The average New Yorker works four more hours a week than the average American, and a new report by the Partnership for New York City finds that commutes in the city are longer than the national average by 13 minutes.7 Aside from an overly full schedule, why are New Yorkers so prone to health problems? The human body reacts to every sight and sound that occurs, and the city is full of things to react to: someone steals your cab, the subway is packed, your apartment is cramped, a stranger bumps into you, a bus honks, a tourist walks too slowly—the list goes on and on. Living in an urban environment means that you have more varied sensory experiences, which is the reason many move to cities in the first place. But all of these experiences take their toll, and living in the largest city in the country, New Yorkers take a bigger beating


than most. This city isn’t all bad; we wouldn’t live here if it were. But there is no denying that the population could benefit from some relief from stress—and New York has the bones, or the infrastructure, to support it. Tim Stonor is an architect and urban planner, devoted to the study of and design for human behavioral systems. He cites New York as a well-laid-out urban setting, one that can deliver sufficient social, economic, and

environmental value. The New York City grid connects the streets, public spaces, and parks together, which, he says, is “the only kind of grid that 8 is truly sustainable.” That is to say, the connections the grid creates link people, along with spaces. Urbanist and people watcher William Holly Whyte studied human behavior in public spaces and believed that bringing people together is the backbone of a great community. He created the research group The Street Life Project in The

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Social Life of Small Urban Spaces to study how city inhabitants actually use spaces. He found that “what attracts people most is other people. Many urban spaces are being designed as though 9 the opposite were true.” This notion that people want to be with other people is also of interest to and a topic of study for urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg. In his book The Great, Good Place, he discusses the importance of the third place 10 environment. Oldenburg calls home the first place and work the second place. The third place, he defines as a place where people

congregate and join in casual conversations; it is a place of social refuge from the demands of home and work. On television, the characters of Friends hang out at Central Perk; the characters of Seinfeld get together at Monk’s. These places of gathering create community. Social interaction is proven to be beneficial to health. The Harvard School of Public Health researched data from the Health and Retirement Study, which focused on US adults fifty and older. They found that those who were regularly socially engaged had the slowest rate of memory 11 decline. When we

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think of New York, we often think of therapy, a particular type of social interaction. Although the number of New Yorkers who see a therapist is not as great as the media make it out to be, many city dwellers take advantage of this type of relief from stress. Talk therapy is something that almost anyone, regardless of age, can potentially participate in—but not everyone has access to a registered therapist. In New York, there is approximately 1 therapist for every 12 1,868 people. Living in a city that includes investment bankers means that therapists can charge $600 or more


“Besides a mate and a job, we need a dependable place of refuge where, for a few minutes a day, we can escape the demands of family and bosses.� - Ray Oldenburg


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per session. Even one session is financially out of reach for many, and it takes approximately ten to fifteen sessions for a client to make significant 14 improvement. The simple act of talking while another person listens could be all that a person needs to feel better, especially because a client’s relationship with his or her therapist is what sociologist Mark Granovetter calls a weak 15 tie. He defines a weak tie as one between people who know each other in a loose sense, but are not as strongly connected according to the following criteria: the emotional intensity, the intimacy, the amount of time and reciprocal services that characterize the tie. In a city of more than eight million, there is no shortage of people to talk to, and taking advantage of the population density to form weak ties could mean relief for many. A project by SoulPancake, the

brainchild of actor Rainn Wilson, explored this idea of encouraging city dwellers to talk to each other. A portable pit filled with colorful plastic balls was installed on a Los Angeles public plaza. Above the pit

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hung a banner: Take a Seat and Make a Friend. The spectacle of the installation brought strangers together in the ball pit, who then shared in conversation. Questions printed on some of the balls allowed participants to learn about each other and form friendships, which had the potential to continue when the 16 ball pit was no more. Another example is the Swingers chair, designed by Cho Neulhae, which aims to provide sidewalk seating for two strangers. The rounded bottom causes a seesaw motion, linking the two strangers


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together. Both designs bring strangers into a situation of shared play. As we become adults, we tend to stop imagining and exploring. In an essay published in St. Nicholas in 1900, Theodore Roosevelt said that in order for an American boy to become an American man, he had to work hard and 18 play hard. New Yorkers need not be reminded

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to work hard, but “Play hard” is sound advice. Play not only increases brain function, but it also reduces stress hormones 19 in the bloodstream. A number of designers have created interventions in urban settings that encourage people to play more often throughout the day. Artist Harmen de Hoop creates illegal installations that point out the loose ends and failures of the public spaces in which they are placed. A number of

these installations are settings in which play can occur such as a basketball court under a highway overpass, and some of de Hoop’s unsanctioned works of art have led to a city acknowledging the gaps and remedying 20 them. StreetPong, designed by Sandro Engel and Holger Miche, is a concept that brings two strangers together for a game of Pong while they are waiting to cross the street at a red light. A prototype of this game

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is currently being tested at an intersection in 21 Hildesheim, Germany. The Fun Theory, an initiative by Volkswagen, aims to change human behavior for the better through fun. One of their projects, Piano Staircase, involved turning a little-used staircase— an opportunity for exercise—in a Stockholm subway station into what looked like piano keys.22 The installation included adding white and black panels to the treads.


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When stepped on, these panels produced a musical tone. Not only did use of the stairs increase by 66 percent, but the mood of participants and manner in which they carried themselves also changed 23 significantly. The addition of the musical tactile engagement made the piano staircase even

more successful. As director of the Exhibition Department at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Michael Meister is an expert at engaging a wide audience. The key, he says, to helping people be mentally transported to a different

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place is to reach them through tangible and sensory elements. It’s no surprise that 53 percent of Americans report that their main form of stress relief is listening to music or that stress balls (small, flexible balls meant to be squeezed) are popular for calming the nerves.24 Being able to use the


“People suffer when they separate themselves from the world of real objects, or from their instinctive responses to particular objects, materials or tools in their own hands.” -Frank Wilson senses can help take the mind to a more positive place. Neurologist Frank Wilson, author of The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture, asserts that the hands, and how they are used, are an important key to a fulfilling life. He explains, “People suffer when they separate themselves from the world of real objects, or from their instinctive responses to particular objects,

materials or tools in their 25 own hands.” Antistress for Free, a stress-relieving commuter station in Milan, uses the natural inclinations of the human hand. The installation allows commuters to pop bubble wrap sheets while they wait for their bus to arrive. Participants have praised the installation as a great way to relax and take their minds off their 26 travel time. A potential project involving the human hand is a dream

of LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy. He wants to provide a platform for New Yorkers to orchestrate the soundtrack of the subway system. Each subway line would have a specific line of music attached to it. When the turnstile’s rotated, a note would play, and during rush hour an entire melody would ring out. In this way, city residents would “have a hand” in the “composition of the city,”

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using its infrastructure. This installation would use narrative to change the way New Yorkers think about the urban setting. The sounds would tell a story about their surroundings.27 Stories can also be told through visuals. Storytelling through imagery dates back to at least the time of cave drawings, the oldest of which is more than 28 40,000 years. It wasn’t until the invention of the printing press, allowing a separation between images and type, that the visual medium of narrative was accessible to the masses. The first illustrations were of religious scenarios. Soon illustrations of political, social, and

satirical topics arrived. Caricatures, drawings that use exaggeration to add humor to a subject, were introduced in the fifteenth 29 century. Richard F. Outcault is considered the inventor of the modern comic strip, defined as the

format of divided cartoon frames and speech bubbles. His comic series, Hogan’s Alley, debuted in 1895. The easy exchange of information through this visual form makes cartooning a medium that is accessible to many.

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Comics and cartoons don’t rely solely on words to get a message across; sometimes they don’t rely on words at all. The medium is flexible, allowing a discussion of subjects—ranging from political satire to superhero journeys—to exist in the same space. Absurdity and ridiculousness is welcome in the boxes of a strip. The medium is also flexible in terms of where it can live. Once viewed only as pages of a newspaper or comic book, comics have lately enjoyed a resurgence of popularity by appearing on the

Internet, thus reaching a worldwide audience. Of particular interest to me in the comics is its treatment of the subject of invention. This type of cartoon uses

designed objects as props for reimagining the world we live in and the scenarios we regularly experience.

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Rube Goldberg was an American cartoonist with a background in engineering, whose passion for drawing led him to pursue cartoons. One of his most famous cartoons follows a character named Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts and his inventions. These inventions take a simple task, such as scratching your back or getting rid of an olive pit, and carry it out in an elaborately complex way. His cartoons are humorous, playful, and easily relatable.

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Dominic Wilcox is another cartoonist who uses invention as a subject matter. He explores and reimagines the everyday in cartoon sketches of designed objects in his book Variations on Normal. Wilcox illuminates and provides an alternative perspective on the things that we take for granted. He turns some of his comics into physical prototypes, exploring their application to and absurdity in a real-life context.

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Self-taught designer, inventor, and futurist Steven M. Johnson sketches ludicrous ideas that he hopes add value or at least amusement to readers’ lives. He even created a drawing station on his car dashboard to think up ideas during a boring commute. His ideas, such as the hot tub car and duplex toilets, stem from both real and made-up problems.

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Illustrator, Author and New Yorker Nathan Pyle created an illustrated guide to life and etiquette in New York entitled, “NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette.� He created the series as a guide for newcomers to help them adjust to city life. They touch on everyday occurrences such as warning of the empty train car, the proper stance for hailing a cab, and appropriate space between strangers in different situations.

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It’s impossible to talk about cartoons in New York City without mentioning the cartoons of The New Yorker. The New Yorker is a weekly magazine covering politics, commentary

on pop culture, fictional writing and current affairs, while supplying readers cartoons in each issue. Cartoons have been a part of the magazine since it was published in 1925. Bob Mankoff has

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been the cartoon editor since 1997. He says New Yorker cartoons, “are part of our cultural heritage, a culture which over time has more and more seen 30 the value of humor.” These examples of comics and cartoons allow an audience to imagine an alternative reality while viewing their own in a new way, and they also provide a healthy dose of wit. Humor is a powerful tool. When we laugh, we feel good. Humor has physical, cognitive, emotional, and social benefits, which explains the saying “Laughter is the best medicine.” Laughter increases endorphins and reduces cortisol, which in turn reduces pain and stress while increasing energy and elevating mood. Humor allows us to bond with


people during a moment in time, and it reinforces group identity (i.e., inside jokes). Humor has also been shown to increase a person’s creativity, ability to problem solve, short term memory and capacity to cope with stress by changing his or her perspective on personal problems.31 In addition, a study at Vanderbilt University showed that laughing 10-20 minutes a day can burn 40 calories. Charlie Todd is the founder of Improv Everywhere, a performance collective based in New York, which creates moments of joy and absurdity in public spaces.32 The collective has completed more than one hundred “missions” in the city. One of its most well-known missions is the No Pants Subway Ride in New York, which is exactly what it sounds

like, happening one day each year. Charlie Todd speaks of the collective saying, “Our goal is very simple, we want to make everyone smile, make someone laugh. We want to take someone out of their routine, even just for a few minutes. I think everybody, particularly in a big city like New York, is guilty of putting their head to the ground and putting their blinders on. I certainly do it, pretty much every time I have to get from point A to point B in the city. I do that. And I think Improv Everywhere can serve as a reminder for people to stop and take a look around, and enjoy the wonderful things that could happen at any moment in the city.” By changing the way New Yorkers view their surroundings, I also hope to provide relief to these urbanites through humor.

“Our goal is very simple, we want to make everyone smile, make someone laugh. We want to take someone out of their routine, even just for a few minutes.” -Charlie Todd

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Methodology and Lenses

This thesis uses my research, my personal interest, and my design expression in order to explore solutions to a problem through the methodology of multiple lenses. This methodology allowed me to view and think about a problem in diverse ways, using various scales and contexts. I was able to reframe a problem in order to produce solutions that were personal and social interventions. These solutions took shape

in the world as the following: speculative objects, a set of instructions, designs for social innovation, and a branded object. I approached the setting of New York in various ways, using a number of lenses to investigate where my design would create the most significant change. With more than 8 million people living in the City of New York, the audience for design is potentially huge. The work presented in this thesis focuses on reaching

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the busy, on-the-go individual. Because time, or the lack of it, is the largest barrier to relief from stress and engagement with others for New Yorkers, the interventions allow participants to have access to relief and engagement as an easy, simple part of going about their day, moving from place to place. Walk Score, an organization promoting walkable neighborhoods, says that New York is the most walkable city in the 33 United States. There


are 12,750 miles of sidewalk throughout the city, connecting people and places in the five boroughs. A design intervention on the street would provide relief and engagement for a large number of people without them having to go out of their way to get to it. It is also on the streets where the sounds, smells, sights, and interactions of the city collide, putting users in the center of it all. A person getting from destination to destination isn’t

necessarily walking outside, and thinking about solutions for transit riders leads to other opportunities. In 2012, the number of subway rides taken in

New York City was 1.65 34 billion. An intervention that utilizes commuters’ idle time on city transit could be an interesting direction to explore. The City of


New York itself is a large stakeholder in any design that is implemented within it. A design must work with the city’s infrastructure. The framework has been laid out, and the challenge is to work within those constraints in a way that provides value to the people of New York, not changing, but complementing, the structure of the city. The thesis work spans many different points of

entry, addressing the issue of relief in a holistic manner. Various lenses influence each other and lead to new opportunities for exploration in the City of New York. I began my investigation of design offerings with an experiment aimed at understanding what drives decision making. What are the details of this thought process? Why are people drawn to the things that they are drawn to? To explore this

idea, I placed a box of twelve cubes on a table. The cubes were all the same size but differed in color, texture, and material. The task was simple: Choose three cubes from this box. The participants were observed and asked why they decided on the three they did. The purpose of this exercise was not to draw conclusions about what a choice said about participants as individuals. Rather,

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it was to see what patterns, if any, arose in the way people interacted with the cubes. Most participants chose the three by feeling them. Texture and material were a large factor in the decisionmaking process. It was surprising to see that no one based his or her decision solely on what the cubes looked like. Instead, they chose the cubes based on their interactions with the cubes. I conducted a second experiment, this one looking at the way we experience the familiar and how this can change in simple ways. Participants sat around a table, and a stem of flowers was given to each person. Immediately,

participants smelled the flowers and exclaimed at their beauty. The participants were then instructed to alter the stem in a way that would allow a person

to experience the flowers differently. One participant braided the stem, showing the natural strength of something that seems delicate. Another laid

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out every part of the flower, revealing how many details go into something so seemingly simple. Each of these explorations showed that a slight reframing of the way information is shared can completely change a person’s thinking and perception. My third experiment explored making the evidence of thoughts physical and the interactions that this transparency allowed. At the beginning of the thesis process, students conducted research to help them decide what to design. I thought that it would be beneficial to be able to quickly get a look at the thoughts of other students within the studio in order to share common ground. Bookshelves were hacked and students were asked to each place a book on it that helped to inspire their thesis work. This was a chance to figuratively see inside the minds of everyone in the studio. These books changed as the theses evolved, with the library acting as a representation of the journey. Conversations about the books ensued. This simple gesture of students’ sharing their inspirations with others in the studio sparked social interactions that otherwise might not have taken place. The

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platform led to new discoveries among students in the studio, a collective interest in the work of others, and a chance to quickly gauge the breadth of knowledge of the members of the studio. These experiments confirmed two things. First, it is through the senses that humans connect to the things around them. Second, changing the context in which information is presented can completely change the perception of this information. These findings inform the rest of this thesis. Urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg states, “Besides a mate and a job, we need a dependable place of refuge where, for a few minutes a day, we can escape the demands 35 of family and bosses.� This quote inspired my speculative object Refuge. Because time is a barrier for New Yorkers and escaping the demands of home and work is often impossible, Refuge is a box with a handle that allows a person to escape without physically leaving. The user looks inside the boxes and sees one of two comforting scenes: a cozy den with a fireplace and shelves of books or a tropical

getaway with a sandy beach. It is a threedimensional scene, with texture, designed walls, and materials true to the setting these scenes reflect. Headphones supply the sounds of the setting, and the handle is made of a material complementary to the scene. For example, when peering into the den, the sounds of a crackling fireplace are heard, and the handle is covered in faux fur. When peering into the tropical scene, the sounds of ocean waves and seagulls

play, and the handle is sprinkled with sand. This designed object is easily transportable, allowing the user to escape for a couple of minutes and then return to reality, recharged. The thesis as a set of instructions comments playfully on city life. It is the first example of cartooning in the thesis as the design methodology of choice. Each comic strip in the series Stress and the City follows a character, Sam, in her quest to cope with the things

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that bother her most. The first story, “Mother Who?,” shows Sam being frustrated with the lack of green space in her neighborhood. She decides to create a pair of grass sandals so that she can feel the grass between her toes as she walks on concrete pavement. The second story, “Something Stinks,” explores Sam’s dislike of the city’s undesirable smells. She replaces these scents with a spritz of her preferred smell: apple pie. The third story is “Rude”; it is about Sam’s aversion to impolite remarks. She decides to wear a pair of headphones—“kind cans”—that take verbal disrespect between

strangers and transmit them to the listener as kind remarks. Obviously, Sam’s solutions aren’t realistic recommendations, but they serve as a jumping-off point for conversation; in that sense, they are a set of instructions. How do others deal with these frustrations? What is the core of these issues? How can these issues be addressed? These comics could be weekly postings in a local paper, on a website, or on fliers posted on the streets. The lense of the thesis as social innovation explores using multiple levers to strengthen a society. The goal of the first lever is to catalyze

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transformation through modifying public perception. The design Taking It Slow creates public awareness about the fast pace of life in New York. Borrowing design language from the streets, a sign that detects and displays the speed of pedestrians hangs above the sidewalk. In addition, a series of bumps on the sidewalk force speeding pedestrians to slow their pace. This two-part installation encourages participants to reflect on and reconsider their own behavior. It is a reminder to take a breath and slow down. The second lever is technology that disrupts the current system, leading to social


change: A pedal on the sidewalk, when stepped on, envelops the user in a fog that resembles the steam that emanates from service access covers. The pedestrian

can hide in this fog for a minute or two to rest and recharge until it disappears. Pedestrians can take advantage of this technology whenever they need

relief. The third lever, bright spots, takes current impactful programming and replicates it in another location. I considered

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what has worked successfully elsewhere that could be reframed and applied in the context of New York City, specifically the subway. On the subway, with its delays, inadequate seating, and rickety motion it is hard

to keep your balance. Too many times, a passenger has nothing to hold on to and so is jolted when the train brakes or accelerates. What if we applied the fun of arcade games, specifically simulators, to reframe the ride?

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Decals in the shape of snowboards or surfboards on the train floor turn the ride into a fun experience, and the movement of the train car is even welcomed. The inconvenience of attempting to stay upright becomes


a mission to stay upright. This reframing of context allows unpleasant moments to be experienced with a little more ease. Snowboarding or surfing the subway is also a spectator sport. The humor of watching people pretending to surf the subway makes the trip enjoyable for everyone in the car. The fourth lever uses data and insights to reveal a design opportunity. For this intervention, the insight is that many people don’t know they are stressed until they begin to experience serious symptoms. This led me to think about a way that the public could check their stress level and be prescribed relief on the street. This idea was behind the service Let It Out, which includes Venting Machines. These vending-style machines are stocked with a

variety of objects for varying levels of need, providing users with an outlet for their stress and frustration. The objects are humorous and somewhat ridiculous, changing the way a person thinks about overthe-counter medicine. Originally, the output object was decided by analyzing the user’s arm for perspiration, temperature, pulse rate, and muscle tension. When experimenting with this concept, I found that the action of sticking an arm

in a machine to be “analyzed” actually increased participants’ unease. The means for diagnosing a stress

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level and prescribing a treatment evolved into a combination of science used subtly, so as not to scare the user, and a bit of self-diagnosis. This is the process: A user approaches a venting machine on the

street or in the public mezzanine of a subway or commuter station. The touch screen asks the user to first say hello to the machine. This creates a connection and is also the first bit of information to be

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analyzed. The machine captures “Hello� and uses voice recognition to place it on a spectrum: excitement, contentment, depression, and distress. The second screen asks the user to select


a picture to describe his or her mood. These pictures are a range of nine different facial expressions placed on the screen in random order. After these two prompts, the machine turns to a programmed matrix. The machine sees in which voice quadrant the “Hello” belongs and looks at the facial expression chosen. Based on this, the machine dispenses the appropriate object. Some of these objects are designed to be used by only the individual, and some require more than one participant. For example, if a user’s voice shows that he or she is content but the user selects the sad picture, the machine will dispense an onion in a bottle and a set of instructions. The onion is a catalyst for the user to cry, as the machine has determined that the user needs a good cry to feel better. Alternatively, the user’s voice might show distress, but he or she selects the indifferent picture. The machine dispenses two cans and a string with instructions to find someone to talk to, as social interaction is what the user needs to let emotions out. These objects engage the user, prompting the user to take control of his or her own relief. These machines would

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be placed in accessible public locations throughout the city, so residents could seek this relief whenever they need it. The final lense of the thesis explores branding an object. The venting machine—which replaces traditional medication with “prescription objects”— was the inspiration for this design. Prescription pills at a pharmacy are not accessible to all. They are expensive and require a doctor’s permission to purchase. Plus they don’t allow the user to be in control of his or her own well-being. The Let It

Out line of ventingmachine products allows a New Yorker to let out emotions through interactions with an object. Crying, screaming, or laughing can provide relief from built-up tension but doing so in public is not always socially acceptable. The objects in the bottles serve as a catalyst for these actions. The Cry bottle is filled with slices of onion. When torn in half, these onion slices force the eyes to water leading to the opportunity for a good cry. The Scream bottle is filled with binder clips. When clipped onto on

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the fingernail beds, these clips cause pain, which encourages the user to scream. The dose can be increased to whatever level the user needs. And the Laugh bottle contains a USB drive filled with humor: jokes, riddles, and so on. In the analog form, the Laugh bottle contains a balloon with a face drawn on it. When inflated, the graphic turns into a funny face, which encourages the user to laugh. This family of products has a website that provides information about the line and further information about relief.


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In continuing the thesis work, I explored the ways in which the audience determines the success of a proposed idea by analyzing audience wants and needs. I wondered, What would an on-the-go New Yorker love? Through interviewing and researching this population, I realized that there is a consensus among New Yorkers that there is not enough time in the day. I wanted to explore this idea, allowing myself to think conceptually and speculatively and use scientific findings in the work. The media portray New Yorkers as busier than the rest of the country. Although this is not true for every individual, the environment of New York does promote a full schedule. With buildings so close together, the “Oh, I can squeeze it in” mentality is rampant. The length of the workday is longer than the national average. Commutes are longer than anywhere else in 36 the country. But there is another, not-alwaysacknowledged reason that New Yorkers are busy: the perception of time. Neuroscientist David Eagleman studies timing in the brain and how the way in which we experience events determines

the perceived speed at which they pass. In a profile in the New Yorker, author Burkhard Bilger summarizes Eagleman’s findings:

The more detailed the memory, the longer the moment seems to last. “This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older,” Eagleman said—“why childhood summers seem to go on forever, why old age slips by while we’re dozing. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.” 37

In a city as large as New York, with so much going on in the urban environment at once, surroundings might be observed as a blur of activity, rather than

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as having memorable details. This led me to the question, How might I design to alter the perception of time and make the day—or moments of the day—seem longer? In pursuit of an answer, I designed a set of viewfinders inspired by ones that artists use. This type of viewfinder is used to home in on and compose an image that is taken from a much larger landscape. My viewfinders are the size of a credit card, making them very portable. By cropping the sight, an onlooker limits the information he or she takes in and can focus on the details that surround him or her. My viewfinders also contain a grid

that allows the user to notice relationships between shapes and the relationships between the elements that compose the city such as the buildings, people, and streets. The set of viewfinders includes a viewfinder with clear film for a realistic view. The set also includes three colored films: yellow, red, and green. These colored films distort reality and create novelty. By focusing on specifics, the familiar becomes unfamiliar, and the user can potentially slow down the perception of time or at least the perception of the speed at which time seems to pass. In the same vein, I explored what an individual in New York

would hate. I sent out a survey to a group of New Yorkers and based on my investigation, I designed an app called Agitate. This app discourages users from any sort of activity, destination, or route within the city that might be the least bit stressful. (There aren’t many options that this app would allow.) This application is based on an alert system, using a smartphone’s location services. It lets you know when you are approaching something that could lead to a frustrating, anxietyprovoking, or otherwise less-than-desirable situation while nudging you to stay home, turn around, or come back another time.

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Agitate This restaurant is pricey. The Gray’s Papaya across the street is much more affordable.

OK


Discovering that much of the work that I was creating took familiar concepts and reframed then for different contexts led me to try my hand at fiction. I looked at the territory of my thesis topic and found research that could influence my work. These topics ranged from the mole people in the undercity of New York to ideas of time perception to synesthesia. Those with synesthesia associate two or more senses: tastes seem to have colors, sounds seem to have forms, and so on. I decided to focus on the topic of synesthesia, as the senses are an integral part of designing for your surroundings. The city is not a place with only things to look at or only things to hear or only things to smell. It is a cornucopia of sensory experiences. Inspired by the topic of synesthesia, I wrote a short work of fiction, exploring a world in which tying the senses together in order to mask undesirable realities is routine:

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Two hours have elapsed since Laura’s most recent rewiring. Growing up, she had asked her parents for the procedure, but they had dismissed the idea. They had not wanted their daughter to be, as her mother put it, “another shell of a person adrift in a world of fantasy.” On her eighteenth birthday, Laura had treated herself to her first connector. Ten years later, she was up to seventeen connectors. The procedure involved connecting sensory triggers in the brain, one preexisting and one selected from a catalog of options, for a specific encounter of choice. The doctor had worked with Laura to find a combination of senses that appealed to her. She had placed the scent ring in her nose and the scope to her eye, finally settling on two connectors. She had rested the 120 minutes the doctor required and exited into the world with anticipation. With every honk, she saw a puff of color; the deep horn of a tractor-trailer appeared to be a royal blue, the shrill cry of a taxi a cotton candy pink, making the street a visual celebration. The sight of garbage bags on the street corners no longer elicited thoughts of spoiled food or diapers. The scents she now experienced were vanilla, lilac, or peppermint, depending on the neighborhood. Once again, she was pleased with Dr. Clark’s work. The moments she had previously found infuriating were now occasions that she looked forward to. She was already deciding what she would connect next as it started to lightly rain. She couldn’t stand the rain in the city; it always seemed to be blowing sideways or straight up 68


from the sidewalk. Her clothes always ended up soggy. It wouldn’t be such a burden if she tasted caramel every time a drop touched her skin. Yes, that was it, caramel rain. She would alert Dr. Clark to schedule the procedure for the following week. Her parents had warned her that this would happen, that she would feel a lust to change everything around her that she found displeasing. But rewiring was commonplace. Some parents even had it done to their newborns before leaving the hospital, in an attempt to relieve their kin of living with the same disturbances they had experienced. Their intentions are good, but these babies turn into children with no sense of what is real and what has been fabricated to conceal reality and the pain it may bring. It was easy to pick out rewired people: They were always fixing their eyes on an invisible sight, licking their lips, inhaling deeply, or touching the most mundane of objects. This was the way Laura lived her life, in a permanent hallucination, combining reality with illusion. An overload of information—some real, some created—was her addiction. Even the seizures didn’t cause her to rethink her future appointment. She strolled down the street with a smile on her face, eyes glazed and red, fitting in with those surrounding her. It was almost rush hour, and the sky had begun to light up with color. Maybe I should add some silver or gold, she thought as she stepped off the curb, heading toward the fireworks of her mind.

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To go along with this story, I created a device a doctor can use to allow a patient to explore the catalog of senses. A white shape for each sense rests on a black box. When a code is punched into the keypad to the right of the box, the corresponding sense is sent to the appropriate tool. A light below the tool illuminates when the tool is ready to be experienced. The first tool, a sphere for the sense of touch, changes texture and form; the patient holds this in his or her hands. The second, a flat stick for taste, changes flavor and is placed on the patient’s tongue. The third tool, a cylinder for sight, acts as a scope. When

placed to the eye, the patient can see images, colors, and movement. The fourth tool, a cone for hearing, allows the patient to hear sounds when held to the ear. The fifth and final tool, a ring for smell, is placed in the nostrils of the patient, allowing him or her to experience an assortment of scents. The machine is black and white, which lets the user focus solely on the senses he or she is exploring without unnecessary aesthetic distractions.

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11


Comics

I use the creation of situational comic strips as a design methodology. All my strips are based on my own observations in New York, along with things New Yorkers have told me in interviews, surveys, and field research. I combine the moments of inconvenience with moments of inspiration or joy. I acknowledge the things in the city that work—the things that make people feel good and remind them why they live here. I reflect on those moments and use them to introduce designed objects into my comics that allow a

character to overcome an obstacle. These designed objects serve as props in a narrative. My narratives are of real-life situations, and the ridiculousness of the designed objects and how they act transforms this reality into something slightly absurd. This absurdity puts a humorous spin on the familiar, allowing us to view the situation with more ease. The comics promote imagination, something I find lacking in most adults’ lives. I also create comics that act as a form of commentary on the current state of the city, touching on subjects

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such as apartment hunting. Through these comics, I encourage readers to think beyond the rational into the realm of the nonrational.


11


Difficult Decisions


Apartment Hunting


Faux Gam


What the Beep?


The NYC Rain Kit


Finding the Sun with Richard Clarkson


Blah Blah Blah


The Social Car


In Flight


Stilt Share


Scent Stache


Park and Ride


The Two Minute Vacation


Pop!


I upload my comics onto a Tumblr site, aroundnyc.tumblr. com, as an easy and quick way to share. This has prompted friends and readers to tell me, “You should make this!” In turn,

I have created some prototypes of readers’ ideas and placed them in the real world. One was the snowboard decal, discussed in chapter 3, “Methodology and Lenses.” This decal was placed on the E

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and C trains, and riders enjoyed standing on the decal and trying to keep their balance even when seats were available. Onlookers enjoyed observing the spectacle.


11


“Drawing turns the creative mind to expose its workings. Drawing discloses the heart of visual thought, coalesces spirit and perception, conjures imagination;” -Edward Hill

When I draw these comics it feels great taking ideas out of my head and allowing them to flow onto the paper. I wanted to allow others a platform in which they could share their ideas in the form of drawings as well and in turn created a website. During my research I found that only $1 in every $100 of government spending is backed by evidence that it is being spent in a useful way. How might we connect New Yorkers with city government to create change that is wanted and needed in the city? Current Web platforms that

attempt to answer this include Neighborland and Change By Us NYC. Both of these sites have gained traction in the number of ideas submitted to improve New York, but they rely on ideas submitted through text. Around NYC allows New Yorkers to upload an idea for New York in the form of a drawing. 49.1% of New Yorkers do not speak english at home, and drawing is a way to connect this population through a universal language. The site allows one to see others ideas, and to upload their own. Readers can vote on the ideas that

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they would like to see brought to life in the city. In this way, those who are not comfortable drawing can still be a part of something bigger than themselves by clicking on the “Make it Real” button. The crowdsourcing of opinion allows ideas that are actually wanted by the people of New York to be created for the people of New York. Once an idea gains traction, partnering organizations such as the Department of Transportation or the Department of Parks and Recreation take the idea on and work to implement it in the city.


11


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225 St

Eastchester 5 Dyre Av

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183 St

231 St

219 St Gun Hill Rd 5

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238 St

Van Cortlandt - 242 St / South Ferry

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Broad Channel S

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Beach 60 St Beach 67 St

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S Beach 90 St

Beach 98 St Beach 105 St

I created an interactive installation on the subway as another way to experience these comics. The subway is a hot spot of frustration that comes up time and time again when I interview people. The subway system in New York is remarkable, connecting 421 stops throughout the city. When we are on the subway, we are detached from the city above, and we fail to remember how truly incredible the system is. I took this response as an opportunity for me to devise a plan to connect the subway ride below the city (the subplot of the city) with the world above (the plot) in the form of an immersive comic experience. This experience occurred between 14th Street and 72nd Street on the C train. I chose this train because it is the one I ride every day, and because it is seen as one of the less desirable trains in the MTA fleet.

For four years in a row (2009 to 2012), it was voted the worst subway train in New 38 York. The C line has the oldest train cars in the city—as well as some of the oldest train cars in service in the country. An article in the New York Times about the C train being overlooked characterizes the line in this way: “And then the C train, that least loved of New York City subway lines, rumbles sadly 39 into the station.” The article even went so far as to compare the wall color of the C train to curdled milk. Also, the C train never travels above ground on its route. This experience was a way to celebrate this train by providing appreciation for the path the C train takes, which cannot be seen below ground, while enhancing the commute for those onboard. Prior to the experience on April 24, 2014, prototypes were made and tested

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100


“There is the telltale wheeze, then an ominous rattle. And then the C train, that least loved of New York City subway lines, rumbles sadly into the station, it’s faded tin-can siding a dreary reminder to passengers of an earlier subterranean era.” -The New York Times

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to determine size, functionality and gauge the environment on the train. The drawing as well as material choices were refined during this time to prepare for the performance. The experience began at 14th Street. Three of my friends and I boarded a car of the train and installed an oversized comic strip between two of the poles. As the train moved, the comic was unwound, revealing illustrations of the buildings on the street directly above. Some of the buildings had speech bubbles coming off of them sharing the personality of the neighborhoods.

The comics constantly rotated out to connect with the setting above until 72nd street. Those on the train who decided to watch the comic enjoyed the experience. A little girl would point to certain buildings and her mother would explain to her what they were. People photographed the buildings and smiled as the comic was unwound. Taking this project forward, it could be interesting to partner with the MTA to create a living comic in the subway tunnels. The buildings above could be shown below as the train passes through the tunnels.

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Looking Forward

A variety of organizations and programs in the City of New York could partner with me in a continuation of this thesis work. The New York City Department of Transportation could be a platform for implementing interventions in public spaces and creating opportunities for significant social interaction. Its plan Sustainable Streets aims to improve the infrastructure of the streets. Collaboration with these efforts could open new avenues of exploration.40 Their

program DOT Art could also be an opportunity to launch my comic subway as a mural or other public art installation. Project for Public Spaces is another organization that works to revitalize urban life for residents. This nonprofit has a goal of creating and sustaining public spaces that build stronger communities using the techniques of William H. Whyte as a jumping off point. Focused on placemaking, PPS is currently exploring the social life that occurs around Citi bike stations, ways to foster vital communities, and the

108

design of streets. I would like to continue building and launch the Around NYC web platform and find the organizations that can partner with the site in order to bring ideas to life. Although the path I will take beyond the graduate program is as yet unknown, my intent will remain the same: to improve the well-being of the residents of New York City by providing access to relief from stress and enhancing engagement with others. 41


“Culture is born out of human interaction; it therefore cannot exist without people around to enjoy, evaluate, remix, and participate in it. So why do our cultural centers so often turn inward, away from the street, onto an internal space that is only nominally for gathering, and is mainly used for passing through?� -Project for Public Spaces

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Image Index Images not represented in this list are the author’s own Page 8

Illustration by Golden Cosmos for The New York Times article, “The Hand That Feeds Us”, April 20, 2013

Page 9

Infographic from The New York Times article, “Net Migration: A Bigger Apple”, November 11, 2011

Page 10

(Top) Pedestrians, source unknown

Page 10

(Bottom) Still from the 1979 film, Manhattan, by Woody Allen

Page 12-13

Photograph by Moey Hoque

Page 14

Street Map of Lower Manhattan, 1944

Page 15

(Top) Still from the 1979 Documentary, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, by William H. Whyte

Page 15

(Bottom) Image of WIlliam H. Whyte

Page 16

Tom’s Restaurant, used as “Monk’s” on Seinfeld

Page 18

(Top) Diagram illustrating social ties

Page 18

(Bottom) Painting of Sigmund Freud by Daniel Shaffer

Page 19

(Top) Ball Pit created by Soul Pancake

Page 19

(Bottom) “Swingers” chair by Cho Nuelhae

Page 20

Don’t Forget To Play illustration by Marc Johns

Page 21

Basketball Court installations by Harmen de Hoop

Page 22

Piano Stairs installation by The Fun Theory

Page 24

Anti-Stress for Free station

Page 25

(Top) Photograph by Dave Beckerman

Page 25

(Bottom) Getty Images. Cave paintings in Laxcaux, France

Page 26

The Yellow Kid by R.F. Outcault. From the New York Journal, January 9, 1898

Page 27

(Top) Photograph by John Guttman

Page 27

(Bottom) From the book Draw Comics! Here’s How by George Leonard Carlson

Page 28

Portrait of Rube Goldberg

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Page 29

Assorted Rube Golderberg Weekly Invention strips

Page 30

Dominic Wilcox with one of his inventions

Page 31

Assorted Dominic Wilcox sketches

Page 32

Self portrait of Steven M. Johnson

Page 33

Assorted Steven M. Johnson Sketches

Page 34

Portrait of Nathan Pyle

Page 35

Illustrations by Nathan Pyle from the seried, NYC Tips and Etiquette

Page 36

(Top) Bob Mankoff in his office at The New Yorker

Page 36

(Bottom) “On The Internet Nobody Knows You’re a Dog”, from The New Yorker, July 5, 1993w\

Page 37

The No Pants Subway Ride

Page 38-39

Photograph by Jayson Cassidy

Page 40-41

Pedestrians at intersection, source unknown

Page 41

NYC Subway, source unknown

Page 50

Still from YouTube video, “Snowboard Simulator”

Page 57

(Top) From Life Magazine, March 3, 1941

Page 57

(Middle) Women and children socializing outside wooden house. Pie Town, New Mexico. June 1940. Photograph by Russell Lee

Page 57

(Bottom) Beatles Fangirls, 1964

Page 63

Gridlock resulting from vehicles and pedestrians “blocking the box” at the intersection of 1st Avenue and 57th Street in New York City.

Page 98

Schematic New York City Subway map by Alargule

Page 99

Photograph by Kait Robinson

Page 108

Ruby Walks by Sharon De la Cruz. Presented with THE POINT Community Development Corporation. Hunts Point Avenue Bridge, Bronx. Fall 2013 – Fall 2014.

Page 109

Citi Bike station, source unknown

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Endnotes

1. Roberts, Sam. “Happy to Call the City Home, More Now Move In Than Out”

2. “America’s Most Diverse Neighborhoods And Metros.” Forbes Magazine.

3. Hall, Katy. “State Stress Levels: The Most-Stressed U.S. States And Cities”

4. “MacArthur SES & Health Network | Research”

5. “The Ecology of Stress.” NYMag.com.

6. Reported in the 2012 Stress in America Survey commissioned by the American Psychological Association.

7. “New Yorkers have longest commute times in the U.S.: report.” NY Daily News.

8. Tim Stonor posts research and findings on his blog timstonor.wordpress.com

9. William H. Whyte published his findings from this project in the book, “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces” in 1980 and created a documentary of the same name in 1988. 10. Oldenburg, Ray. The great good place: cafés, coffee shops, community centers, beauty parlors, general stores, bars, hangouts, and how they get you through the day. 11. Dr. Lisa Berkman, senior author of the study, refers to social interaction as being engaged with and participating in our society.

12. “Psychotherapy in NYC.” Psychotherapy in NYC Thoughts on Therapy.

13. Harris, Gardiner. “Talk Doesn’t Pay, So Psychiatry Turns Instead to Drug Therapy.”

14. As reported by The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

Issue 6.

15. “The Strength of Weak Ties.” American Journal of Sociology. Volume 78,

16. “How Do You Make Friends With Strangers?” “SoulPancake.

17. “Swingers.” Cho Neulhae.

1900.

18. “The American Boy”, by Theodore Roosevelt. Published in St. Nicholas, May

19. “According to Penny Donnefele, a clinical psychologist in Manhattan

20. Interview with Dutch Street Artist Harmen de Hoop. Redbullusa.com

21. “Concept.” StreetPong.

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22. “The Fun Theory.” Piano Staircase.

23. “The Fun Theory: Musical Stairs Inspire Healthy Behavior.” The Fun Theory

24. “Our Health at Risk: 2011.” American Psychological Association.

25. From Handy Man Wilson, an interview with Frank Wilson by Jeff Miller for USCF Magazine, 1999. 26. “’Anti-Stress Station’ Lets People De-Stress By Popping Bubble Wrap.” DesignTAXI. 27. Madrigal, Alexis. “The Absurd Beauty of Creating Musical Turnstiles in NYC’s Subway.” 28. Than, Ker. “World’s Oldest Cave Art Found-Made by Neanderthals?.” National Geographic.

29. Wolk, Douglas. “The History of Caricature.” The New York Times.

30. “Editor Bob Mankoff on the evolution of New Yorker cartoons - The Boston Globe.” BostonGlobe.com.

31. “Humor.” PBS.

32. “The ideas behind a prank QA with CharlieTodd.” TED Blog.

33. Results from studying pedestrian friendliness, amenities, and block length.

34. “Mission Statement, Measurements, and Performance Indicators Report covering Fiscal Year 2012.” Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

35. “Thi3d Place; Deliteful Moments.” Third Place.

News.

36. “New Yorkers have longest commute times in the U.S.: report.” NY Daily

37. “David Eagleman and Mysteries of the Brain.” The New Yorker.

38. “C is for Crummy: Train Comes in Last Fourth Year in Row.” Metropolis WSJ.

39. The New York Times. “For the C Train’s Rickety and Rackety Cars, Retirement Will Have to Wait.” The New York Times.

40. “Sustainable Streets.” NYC DOT.

41. “What if we built our Public Spaces Streets & Transit Markets Waterfronts Public Buildings Campuses Downtowns Squares Parks through Placemaking?.” Project for Public Spaces.

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Drawing Out Relief and Engagement in The Urban Environment Designed and written by Samantha Moore in 2014 Edited by Kathy Kaiser

This publication is set in Montserrat typeface, by Julieta Ulanovsky, and Ubuntu typeface by Dalton Maag


Around: Drawing Out Relief and Engagement in the Urban Enviroment  

School of Visual Arts MFA in Products of Design Thesis

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