Monday, April 16, 2012

Op-Ed: How Design Drives Urban Change

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Design Trust logo (in taxi yellow)


The Taxi of Tomorrow Is Great, But New York Needs More Design Thinking 


In today's New York Observer, Design Trust executive director Susan Chin and Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum board chair Paul Herzan champion the power of design to drive urban change. Full text is below. 


The considerable buzz around the unveiling of the Taxi of Tomorrow prototype at the 2012 New York International Auto Show reflects not only the ownership that the people of New York City feel for "their car," but also demonstrates a passionate concern many New Yorkers have for the design of their city and public space.  What makes the Taxi of Tomorrow so significant for New York as its first purpose-built cab is the many improvements for passenger and driver, achieved through an unlikely partnership between the taxi community and the design community-made possible by the Design Trust for Public Space and Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum joining forces with NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission and Nissan.


The daunting halo of complexity ("it will never happen") of the Taxi of Tomorrow project demonstrates the power of design in our city to drive change.


Image courtesy Nissan.  

Design Trust redefined taxis as "moveable public space." The Nissan NV200 hits the streets late 2013. 


Not-for-profit design organizations recognized the need for discussion of vital public space, and the DesignTrust organized the exhibit that got the conversation started. Cooper-Hewitt leveraged its role as a national design resource by connecting the brain trust of the design community with New York City regulators to begin the collaboration and to discuss the opportunity. Design thinking is the glue that brings many stakeholders together to solve complex problems and capture the city's collective imagination. This creativity and drive to make change is fostered in an enlightened administration, like Mayor Bloomberg's, empowering its staff to innovate and charging its public servants to take ownership of projects that have long been considered intractable.


Over seven years ago, we began efforts to make taxis safer, more comfortable, efficient, accessible and environmentally sustainable. Our collaborative approach combined design studies, research, convening of stakeholders-fleet and medallion owners, drivers, planners, designers and city officials, including the Taxi and Limousine Commission, world-renowned design practitioners such as Smart Design and Pentagram, to brainstorm and develop ideas for improving and redesigning the taxi and the system.  In 2007 for the Taxi's Centennial, the Design Trust exhibited eight prototypes at the New York International Auto Show which confirmed strong global interest in the yellow cab brand that drove the TLC to design an innovative RFP process. This ultimately resulted in a long term strategic partnership between TLC and Nissan.


As our city officials identify sectors for future economic development, we believe growth in the design sector, which has increased by over 75 percent in the past decade, demonstrates its tremendous potential in contributing to New York's competitive advantage globally.  According to the Center for an Urban Future's report Growth by Design (June 2011), no other city in the country has the concentration of design jobs-architecture, fashion design, graphic design, interior design, furniture design, industrial design, more than 40,000.


Successful cities thrive on attracting smart people who have the desire to work in collaborative teams across many disciplines to improve the quality of public life, as demonstrated by a five-borough population approaching 8.3 million.  An increasingly vibrant public realm-parks, plazas, street life, cafes, waterfront access-and a higher quality of life also attract the next generation of talent to urban centers.  The city's PlaNYC, an ambitious blueprint to reduce carbon emissions by 2030, addresses energy and climate change by re-designing and re-engineering building's energy usage and polluting vehicles.


With the rapidly growing demand of consumer markets overseas, the importance of strengthening and supporting design industries to meet these exigent demands and to maintain New York's preeminence as a center of innovative design are essential. Policies that could help improve New York City designers' capacity might include: promoting New York design similar to San Francisco-SFMade-or the London Design Festival; assisting New York based designers export their services and reach new markets; encouraging partnerships between designers and businesses; developing collaborations between designers and academic institutions; and establishing innovation zones and incubators.


Other cities around the globe are now considering the Taxi of Tomorrow as their new taxi using the adage, "if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere."  While this is a celebration of the unique design New York has created, it ignores an important ingredient: what makes the Taxi of Tomorrow such a success is that it was designed for New York and New York alone.

Learn how the Design Trust jumpstarted New York City's first purpose-built taxi in The New York TimesMetropolis Magazine, or our 2012 taxi brochure
About the Design Trust


The Design Trust for Public Space is an independent nonprofit organization that advances the quality of life in New York City by bringing visionary thinking to how cities work. Since 1995, the Design Trust has improved public space in New York City by forging critical alliances between city agencies, community groups and architecture, design, and planning experts. Learn more!  

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