New York City announced its long-awaited bike share program today, and it’s going to be huge. How huge? Well, they’re talking about 10,000 bikes at 600 stations. Launch date is set for the summer of 2012.

Next summer, New York will have bike share stations for real.

The city awarded the contract to Alta Bike Share, which is behind some of the largest systems in the world, including London’s, Montréal’s, and Washington’s. “The wheels are officially in motion for New York City’s bike share,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s transportation commissioner, at at the kickoff event, which took place in a pedestrian plaza next to the Flatiron Building.

A crowd including former Talking Heads frontman and bike fan David Byrne milled around the temporary bike station set up for the event, admiring the bikes, which bore the logos of other Alta systems, among them Melbourne and Boston. Some lucky folks got test rides.

David Byrne made a stylish appearance at the kickoff event.

In New York, where street space is scarce and often contested, siting the stations is going to be a special challenge, as Alta president Alison Cohen acknowledged in her remarks. So the city — perhaps mindful of past conflicts over bike lanes — is looking to actively engage the community in making decisions about exactly where the stations will go. “We’ll be doing an outreach process for the community to plan the system with us,” said Sadik-Khan.

That process will include meetings with business leaders and community members, as well as a website where people can suggest sites for stations and explain their reasoning. Within a couple of hours of the site going live, there were already dozens of suggestions. And they provide an insight into just what kind of an effect this system might have on the way New Yorkers see their city.

“Make this mini-park a destination…” wrote a user named @dens, when suggesting a small park near Cooper Union in the East Village. Robin Lester Kenton suggested a spot in Fort Greene, Brooklyn: “This great block has lots going for it — vintage shop RePop and delicious brick oven pizza Il Porto. Need a station here to help connect people from Fort Greene and Clinton Hill.”

The way people are talking about what stations could do, even before a single one is built, hints at one of the greatest things about bike share systems: it enables a city’s residents, to gain a new understand the way neighborhoods connect and also what draws people to places to begin with. It can change the way you see a city. For tourists, it can provide a route for exploration of destinations they never would have considered otherwise, along with a sweet feeling of belonging.

From a Placemaking perspective, a bike share station is a powerful attraction, especially if it’s added to a location (like the Fort Greene one mentioned by Robin) that already has some good things going for it. And, as I discovered while riding the system in Washington, D.C., this spring, bike share can bridge the gap between neighborhood hubs much more effortlessly than walking or a subway. You move from one node of activity to another quickly, but never stop being aware of the city around you.

Many more details about the proposed bike share program can be found at the city’s bike share site. They’ve also set up a Facebook page. We can’t wait to see how this develops.