Walk the talk

By DAVID EISEN  |  January 17, 2007

If Landman and company are primarily patient consensus builders, they’ll also stomp on toes when necessary. Consider the ruckus they made about plans for 500 Atlantic Avenue. The final design for the International Hotel pulled a public sidewalk in under the building to make it easier for cars doing drop-off, which violated the officially submitted — and more pedestrian friendly — plans. WalkBoston insisted on the public scrutiny required for these kinds of changes in a much-publicized warning shot to the city and project developers. As a result, a compromise was reached and lawsuits were avoided; but now every developer has been put on notice: limousines won’t always get the right of way now that walkers are a force to be reckoned with.

Taking an amble
Architect Keith Moskow takes a different tack on how to improve our urban environment. He invents machines that deal with the realities of city life through a brilliant combination of common sense and whimsy. A parking tower modeled on a Pez dispenser packs cars in a sliding vertical assembly for release as needed onto city streets. It’s designed to fit into slivers of left-over land too small to be used for much of anything else.

A bicycle-storage system inspired by the motorized racks at the drycleaners keeps parking meters and sign-posts free of the two-wheeled trip-hazards that clog curbs on sunny days. Instead, the bikes are lifted up by a mechanized belt and held aloft, while a small pavilion with lockers below allows riders to take off their spandex and change into a suit and tie.

The “Urban Hookah” is a sculptural canopy that sucks up the fumes of sidewalk smokers while giving them protection from the rain and snow. Although its magic mushroom shape puts a happy face on a dangerous habit, it responds to the need for urban denizens to tolerate each others’ bad habits so we can live together in peace.

PEZ, PLEASE: Moskow proposes stacking cars in space-saving Pez-dispenser-like garages.

  Each one of these machines is a kind of anti-iPod, bringing people together through their use and form rather than pulling them apart into an acoustically induced isolation. They acknowledge that cars and bikes and even cigarettes are a fact of urban life that can be woven joyfully into the fabric of the city. Part public art, part public service, part billboard for responsible civic behavior, for now they are nothing but drawings and a vision of what could be.

Moskow is a freelance dreamer whose proposals seem to make too much sense to actually be built. Although he has won awards for his efforts, none of these plans are even being considered for implementation. The problem, of course, is money. His proposals address the needs of very specific constituencies, none of which benefits enough to foot the bill for fabrication and installation. They are unlikely to be profit centers for private business, nor such widely used crowd pleasers that they will win elections for government officials. They have dynamic shapes and bright colors that give them a photogenic quality as the poster children for the delights of city life — but that could backfire if they don’t work as well as expected when installed in real-life settings.

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