Ped-Friendly Urban Umbrellas for NYC Sidewalks

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Walking through parts of New York can feel like walking through a tunnel. The city’s ubiquitous sidewalk sheds — typically blue scaffolding holding up green plywood to protect pedestrians from construction overhead — corral people into cramped, dark spaces wherever development or building repairs are underway. There are about 6,000 of these sheds throughout the city.

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Now the city hopes to start phasing them out. The NYC Buildings Department and the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects announced the winner today of their competition to redesign the sidewalk shed: “Urban Umbrella,” by 28-year-old design student Young-Hwan Choi.

Choi’s design has a number of advantages over current sidewalk sheds, which have been the standard since the 1950s. It leaves much more of the sidewalk free for pedestrians and eliminates the cross-bracing that prevents people from getting on or off the sidewalk anywhere but at intersections. The design also figures to be, quite simply, more pleasant. It lets in significantly more light and air to the sidewalk.

Businesses will be encouraged but not mandated to use the “Urban Umbrella.” Since Choi’s sidewalk shed has lower maintenance costs than the current model and hides less of the building, the city expects that those incentives will eventually lead to widespread adoption of the design.

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