The Key to Safe Streets: Five Cities Humanizing Street Design
Case Studies 

Please note that these Hall of Shame nominations were written in a moment in time (most over a decade ago) and likely have since changed or even been transformed. If the above entry is now great, or still not so great, go ahead and comment below on how it has evolved or nominate it as a great place.

*Nominee 

New York Public Library

New York City

NY

USA

Contributed by 
Project for Public Spaces
 on 
December 10, 2002
December 14, 2017

The city's first truly public library is almost intimidatingly elegant - but it's a mark of the space's design and management that all are made to feel welcome.

What makes it Great?

Why it doesn't work?

Inside, the Library boasts a gorgeous reading room that would make anyone feel like royalty - indeed, it rivals the ballrooms of European palaces. But out in front, along the street, is where this illustrious institution truly connects with the city around it. A series of well-linked spaces - steps, plazas, little nooks and pathways - provide innumerable places for sitting, meeting, eating and chatting. Overall, these places act as a capacious "front porch" complementing the library's "back yard" - which is, of course, the famed Bryant Park.

Access & Linkages

The subway doesn't open directly into the library, but it's well integrated. A wide bank of shallow steps along Fifth Avenue welcomes people up to the main entrance and a large "front porch" area that spans the width of the building; there's also a well-marked door on 42nd Street. Pathways lead from the front and sides of the building around to the lovely Bryant Park in back, and also provide handicapped access.

Comfort & Image

This sumptuous building seems to equate intellectual riches with luxury, with loads of marble, brass, carved wood inside; stately paths and steps and benches outside. There are also plenty of tables and chairs outside (and one need not purchase food to use them). The lions flanking the main steps have become city icons and are decorated for holidays and special events. Lush landscaped areas adjacent to the sidewalk provide a bit of a buffer and also some welcome greenery in a district where concrete and asphalt dominate.

Uses & Activities

In addition to books and all other forms of information, the library organizes and hosts an array of exhibits. Outside, two large food kiosks draw substantial crowds even in chilly weather. And of course there are the steps, a favorite spot for meeting and for people-watching.

Sociability

Thanks to the food kiosks and generous outdoor spaces, this place seems to draw as many eaters and people-watchers as readers and researchers. Although few people seem to know each other (this is midtown Manhattan, after all), there is a palpable sense of good will and well-being that comes from the welcoming surroundings. Even loners and loiterers seem becalmed.

How Light?

How Quick?

How Cheap?

History & Background

The New York Public Library emerged in 1895 from a historic agreement, when the $2.4 million fortune of Samuel J. Tilden, left to establish a free public library, was merged with the existing, semi-private, yet financially troubled Lenox and Astor libraries. $9 million dollars and 16 years later (to the day), the glorious Beaux-Arts edifice designed by Carre and Hastings, then little-known architects, opened to the public. Sited on the former Croton Reservoir, the Library, which now serves as a research branch for the Humanities and Social Sciences, boasted 75 miles of shelves and a million books.

Related Links & Sources

Photo credits, from top: Christine Fisher via PlanPhilly, Grays Ferry Triangles Project via Facebook, Laura Blanchard via Flickr, Geoff Kees Thompson via This Old City, Nidhi Gulati, Nidhi Gulati

Follow SOSNA/Grays Ferry Triangles

Website: southofsouth.org

Facebook: facebook.com/GraysFerryTriangles

Twitter: @PhillySOSNA

New York Public Library
Benches are integrated into the architecture.
New York Public Library
Seating is built in everywhere - even at the base of the flagpole.
New York Public Library
Wide railings serve as a lunch counter with a view of the street.
New York Public Library
The library's famous lions are a popular meeting spot.
New York Public Library
New York Public Library
One of two kiosks serving food - a real draw.
New York Public Library
New York Public Library

*Please note that these Hall of Shame nominations were written in a moment in time (most over a decade ago) and likely have since changed or even been transformed. If the above entry is now great, or still not so great, go ahead and comment below on how it has evolved or nominate it as a great place.

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The Key to Safe Streets: Five Cities Humanizing Street Design