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6 Brilliant Ways To Redesign Traffic Medians

Waterfalls, aquariums, and gardens: designers imagine new uses for the medians so common in car-filled cities.

6 Brilliant Ways To Redesign Traffic Medians
[Image: courtesy The Fisher Brothers/Beyond The Park Avenue Centerline Contest]

Medians are largely wasted space. They sit in the middle of many avenues across the world, giving pedestrians a tiny island of safety in the middle of wide lanes of traffic at each end. Could we transform the long stretches of space in between into something more useful? That’s what Beyond the Centerline is trying to find out in Midtown Manhattan.

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The private urban design competition is looking for ideas to transform the traffic medians of Park Avenue–one of the most famous streets in the world, home of New York’s luxury apartments and Fortune 500 companies. The contest asked designers to propose ideas to develop the medians between 46th and 57th streets into a tourist destination like to the High Line, the popular elevated park the west side of Manhattan. The finalists were announced last week–and while few are truly plausible, many of them are wild ideas for wasted urban space.

[Image: courtesy The Fisher Brothers/Beyond The Park Avenue Centerline Contest]
The Fisher Brothers–the real estate firm that is funding the contest in the hope of getting some traction and actually develop it– picked 17 projects from the 150 submissions it received. Some of them look nice and doable, like an organic-looking elevated walkway that connects to a central event space (and what seems like a Ferris wheel?). One proposal includes mixed commercial, pedestrian, and green spaces that weave above and below ground. Another submission, which is perhaps the coolest conventional entry, features glass cubes elevated on central trunks, shading some of the traffic below and containing art installations.

[Image: courtesy The Fisher Brothers/Beyond The Park Avenue Centerline Contest]
Then there are the crazy ideas. Like an artificial mountain that looks like a cross-section of the Alps that’s been teleported to Midtown, complete with spectacular waterfalls. Another otherworldly entry is an above-ground aquarium. Imagine sharks moving up and down Park Avenue–and then imagine the ones that don’t work at Fortune 500 companies swimming in the middle, separated from the businesspeople and tourists by glass walls.

[Image: courtesy The Fisher Brothers/Beyond The Park Avenue Centerline Contest]
Perhaps the most reasonable of the wild design submissions proposes a thin, artificial river that can be used to kayak down the avenue. Located below street level, the waterway would be surrounded by installations where people can walk, rest, or have picnics.

The finalists, which you can see here, will be displayed for public voting until March 9th at Park Avenue Plaza. The public vote winner will get a $5,000 prize while the one selected by a jury will get a $25,000 and the possibility–depending on city approval, a budget, and many other thorny issues–of becoming a future landmark akin to the High Line.

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About the author

Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce and a contributing writer at Fast Company.

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