An Urban Intervention in Union Square

New York - despite being a city bursting at the seems with people of all different sorts - is one of the easiest environments in which one can stay drawn into themselves. It's a city that presents numerous stimuli throughout the day, and yet we are content to walk through with our hands stuffed in our pockets, our ears jammed with headphones, and eyes fixed in one set direction at any given time.

Inspired by this, my group (consisting of Xingyu Gu and Nabil Mir, in addition to myself as Project Manager) set out to come up with an urban intervention idea centered around learning something about a stranger. During our brainstorms, we came up with an idea involving writing short stories the length of a post it note, and asking people to take guesses on where we were from. Our final project took form as a combination of these two ideas.

Take a look at the final result!

The intervention from a totally unbiased point of view:

We carried out our "intervention" on Friday, January 30th. It was a chilly day and it had snowed earlier in the morning. We set up in Union Square Park, across from the dog park, because it had the highest concentration of stationary people (as opposed to people merely walking through in transit; a result of the dog park, most probably) in the area. However, we only observed two people interacting with it over the span of almost an hour despite the area receiving constant traffic in addition to a fair number of people merely sitting in benches.

After people sat down on the benches directly next to our project on either side, we figured that was the biggest detraction to potential participants. While it got numerous glances, nobody was willing to actually interact with it. As a result, we moved the project to the window of a building under construction on the corner of 14th St and Broadway (prime foot traffic spot).

Here we got more interaction from people, mainly approaching it in groups. If we stayed out longer, we're sure we could have gotten more responses. Because of the cold and approaching rush hour, though, we called it a day after about two solid hours.

While we didn't get an overwhelming number of responses, we did get ones of substance. There was the requisite "mom's vagina" answer that was to be expected, but it was counterbalanced by someone's note about moving from Illinois and seeing this project as a sign that it was the right move, and other similar responses. So despite a low turnout, chilled bodies, and our fair share of feeling creepy while taking photos of strangers, we felt overall that we managed to accomplish an urban intervention of sorts, even if on a small scale.

And now for something completely different:

The view from up here is far superior from the ground and on this side of the park. The bark down there routinely gets slammed with dog piss throughout the day whereas I play host only to the occasional pigeon here and there. Even their excrement rushes to the trunk leaving me pristine and clean pretty much all season long.

This morning, a trio of fresh faced students began setting up a flimsy piece of cardboard. The wind - ever the uncooperative natural element - kept blowing it off kilter. Luckily for them, a trip to Staples seemed to solve the problem. Though by skimping and buying the cheapest tape available, they still struggled to keep it in place.

But they finally retreated to behind the dog park where the tried their damned best to be as discreet as possible (why one of them decided a lime green frog hat was the best garment to wear for that sort of assignment is beyond me, though). Minute after minute passed - each time, they would strain to see if the person walking by would notice their sign, their bodies tense with anticipation.

When the first two participants came, they were veritably giddy. As one whipped out her camcorder, the other scrambled to the other side of the dog park - all in pursuit of the "perfect shot" no doubt (no shortage of those types with the film school students all up in here these days). But after that, it was a bit of a dead zone. A chic, be-heeled millennial claimed a bench to the right of the sign - pulling out a book while deftly gripping her coffee. The trio shook their heads at her indifference to the project next to her. When the group of high school students claimed the bench on the other side, that's when the profanities started flowing from the creators, still hiding away behind the dog park. Convinced that no one would want to approach and interact with the sign while it was sandwiched between such exemplary displays of apathy, the trio untaped the sign and carried it out of the park and across the street, careful not to lose any post-it stories to the wind.

On 14th Street, they choose the window of a building under construction, directly outside the subway entrance on Broadway. They took their post on the edge of the sidewalk, assuming their best lost tourist looks to blend in. The tactic worked, lucky for them. The people trickled by. The appreciation flowed from the creators in the form of grand exclamations of love. Even when a seemingly deranged woman began shouting and crying into her cell phone directly in front of the sign and it seemed like all potential participants were scared off forever - when she turned around and noticed the sign, she smiled while writing her story. And the trio rushed to grab a photo of her through the throngs of people bursting from the subway entrance.

As baubles of snot formed on the tips of their noses, they decided to call it a day. They untaped the sign and tossed it in the garbage, but not before carefully peeling off each post-it and stowing the little stories away in the caverns of their backpack.


Sriya Sarkar