Friday, June 12, 2009

Lessons from Times Square

If progressive urban leaders want to transform their cities from smoggy, car-choked clichés to green exemplars of Copenhagen Chic, they've got to co-opt the powers that be with razor-sharp, targetted PR.

This is my capsule summary of an insightful news analysis, by landscape designer Kristin Faurest of Artemisia Design, of what Budapest can learn from New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg's stunning coup in turning Times Square into a pedestrian mall. Download the full text of the original English-language article here.

Appropriately enough, the article takes a laser-beam focus on Bloomberg's sales job, an aspect conspicuously missing from Budapest City Hall's recent attempt to green the capital's thoroughfares. Here, the plan was packaged in a slapdash manner after word about the idea was leaked to the press. Proponents pitched it as an experiment with "artificial traffic jams," and the public greeted it with predictable scorn.

By contrast, the project in Times Square was preceded by months of meticulous planning and lobbying. When the plan went public, a coordinated sales effort focused on winning over key stakeholders, including retailers and motorists. Significantly, the PR campaign was given the upbeat name of "Green Light." As Faurest writes:
Green Light’s information campaign was characterized by transparency, openness, well-supported arguments, realistic timelines and detailed practical information for taxis, delivery trucks, and theatergoers. It was heavily planned, controlled and targeted. Central to the information campaign was a list of benefits the changes would provide:
  • Traffic lights with up to 66% more green time
  • Significant travel time improvements on Sixth and Seventh Avenues
  • Safer and simpler crossings for pedestrians
  • Faster bus speeds for 70,000 daily riders
Although Budapest City Hall's most recent attempt at greening the city's main arteries went down in a monsoon of rotten fruit, the idea of a quieter, safer more humane transport system still beckons. Those of us who want to bring it to fruition can learn valuable lessons from the miracle at Times Square.

The article appears in Hungarian in two online publications, the architecture and new-urbanist blog epiteszforum.hu and the general daily news site index.hu.

6 comments:

Bikeurious said...

This is hard-hitting analysis! I'm sure if you had hated Ms. Faurest's article, you would have ripped it apart!

anna said...

Yeah, heard about the Times Square too. It's hard to judge from afar though, but it seems pretty well-organized. Not much braveness need, just inspiration and willpower.

emily said...

Hi! I came across your blog while searching for cycling info in and around budapest. i'm from canada and starting a bicycle trip, arriving in your city soon. i have more of a question than a comment, but didn't see a contact email anywhere. I was wondering if there is a good route to ride from the airport to the city centre? if you have a suggestion, please email me at e_lehnen at yahoo.com. thanks!

Bikeurious said...

Emily, the answer to your question depends on the following: Have you totally lost your mind??? If you cycle from the airport, you'll get killed by a truck, if you're lucky. If you're unlucky, you'll get mistaken for a two-wheeled prostitute and get women-trafficked to Amsterdam by a bunch of swarthy-skinned guys in Kispest. For your own sake and sanity -- take a cab! There's plenty of riding to be done once you're in the city center!

workbike said...

Interesting and useful stuff. People here are getting wise to this and starting to be more savvy in campaigning, but unfortunately the response so far from the vested interests has been faer-mongering, which works rather well in a recession.

r4i kaart said...

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