I’ve been thinking a lot about delight in connection to transit lately as a major component of my thesis (although I haven’t phrased it quite that way). It’s clear that in order for any transit system to expand its user base beyond ethical transit riders and riders with little economic choice – in other words, to the car-owning majority –transit use shouldn’t be a chore to add on to both the beginning and end of a work day. It should be seen as a net benefit to one’s routine.
This article from cnn, published just today, mentions a dramatic rise in public transit use since 2008 and attributes that rise not solely to the price of gas, but also to a generational shift of people starting to use transit during an economically tough time and then sticking with it afterwards because of how much more pleasant it was than fighting traffic in their cars.
And what about the space around the transit? Unless a train or bus stops literally outside your front door, getting to transit is probably going to take some shoe action through outdoor, public space, whether that is a street, an alley way, a plaza, or a park and ride lot. Transit space, especially with increasing generational use of transit, is becoming or may already be the dominant physical public realm of our day. Destination promenades and waterfronts are used by city residents only from time to time; cities rarely any longer proudly display central parks as the latest and greatest social showcase as they did in the late 1800s and early 1900s (although parks, of course, serve many excellent social functions); the marketplace exists in grocery stores and shopping strips, but in an age of dwindling physical retail is becoming more of a weekend destination, as in farmers markets, than a daily public focal place. How can we take advantage of this very necessary transit public space to delight people and make transit a good part of the day? How can creative use of space in these areas inform and connect people to the artistic, environmental, and social dimensions of the city they live or work in?
My thesis answers this question by exploring interactive art installations, particularly in the form of lighting and data display, along pathways and nodes near stations, but there are many great possibilities out there – apps activated by GPS proximity to stations and lines, kiosks and pop-up shops by stations that can meet most of your daily needs and wants, displays of nature-referencing green infrastructure technologies, etc.