Urban conveniences: post-cellphone city spaces

I am one of those achronistic beings who doesn’t wear a watch, and doesn’t own a cell-phone. This perhaps means I have become particularly aware of the urban accessorizing, from which I often try to glean the time or a phone call from, which has undergone huge changes over the last 10-15 years in New Zealand cities.

These civic conveniences (the public telephone, clock, toilet etc.) are signs that we, as citizens, are explicitly considered in public spaces, and where we become dependent on our cities as providers of communal facilitation.   Over recent years it seems that telephone boxes, clocks, and letter boxes have reduced significantly in number – no doubt increasing cell-phone technology and ownership have rendered these once public needs quite literally into the portable appliances of individuality.

For a moment I thought that the streetlight, the public toilet, and the bus shelter might have to go it alone as signifiers that our city cares about its inhabitants, but a little more thinking suggests that, rather than a simple diminishing of artefacts supporting public convenience, new urban accessories are slowly appearing in Wellington streets.

The carpark is very very slowly (despite stubborn resistance) being exchanged for bike parks and bike paths, wind and rain shelters (permanent umbrellas) have appeared on particularly weather-vulnerable street corners, and graffiti walls (an ambivalent concept) have become a near staple for public parks. Thanks to the Civic Sculpture Trust, public sculpture plays an increasingly pleasureable role in the shaping of our city.

Perhaps more interesting are those public facilities provided by local businesses – from ATMs to coffee carts.

Children’s high chairs in restaurants and cafes reflect that children can now be seen and heard, but my favourite must be the dog watering bowl next to the Dibble sculpture at the renewed Moore Wilson’s on College Street.

But often these conveniences can appear to operate in a default mode; elegant but safe.  There’s surely plenty of room for some challenging avant-gardism here.  Take this transparent public toilet from Lausanne, Switzerland, for example …


8 responses to “Urban conveniences: post-cellphone city spaces”

  1. You must the new recycling bins (trial only of course)… And the kiosks that are beginning to spring up around the place – usually coffee-related (but it must only be a matter of time before the pie-carts return…)

    As for timepieces – the electronic parking meters are useful, or the Snapper units on passing buses if you have a quick enough eye…

  2. As for peeing in broad daylight, I think performance anxiety might become an issue. At the very least some greenery might spur some relief in that you are usually within nature (so to speak), when you answer the call of nature in direct daylight…

  3. Strangley enough one article by Joseph Flatley on these transparent toilets is titled: “Transparent public restroom not for those with performance anxiety”
    (http://www.engadget.com/2009/05/26/transparent-public-restroom-not-for-those-with-performance-anxie/). He notes that you need to “press the “voir” button to get a little privacy in this otherwise transparent structure. The walls are constructed with liquid crystal glass that becomes see through under electric tension.”

  4. It takes a person of a particularly stubborn or Luddite persuasion not to take advantage of personal advances in technology – almost Amish in logic. While I can understand a certain reticence over wanting a cell phone, as then you could be at someones beck and call, I see the lack of a mere wristwatch as almost beyond belief. It’s true that most teens today don’t wear a watch either bit that’s because they all have a cell phone wedded to one ear. What’s your excuse?

  5. bibbity bobbity Avatar
    bibbity bobbity

    it is perhaps rather ironic that the most recent gift of a Clock to the city, the “Sir Bob Jones Clock” or perhaps better, as suggested in the paper this week, “Big Bob” – is from a very Luddite character indeed.

    I’m not sure if Bob wears a watch, although notoriously he does drive a car (albiet badly, judging by the number of speeding tickets he famously contests…). But word is that he does not possess a computer either, and bans both mobile phones and their owners from his presence.

    So you’re in good company.

  6. “Don’t count every hour in the day, make every hour in the day count.”

  7. aah the simple life of those Amish folk.

    Actually, my lack of a watch follows my laziness of having mine fixed. I spend most of the day in front of a pc (so no, hardly luddite at all), and have come to enjoy relying on ‘urban conveniences’ when out-of-office. Nothing philosophical in it. I’d like to argue that it makes you more relaxed about time, but it is more the case that you actually become more adept at gauging its passing, fwiw.

  8. i think there was a film about this recently. Presumably a graphic novel / comic strip about people who believe in personal time pieces? Called something like “The Watchmen”

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