Greening New York: Streetfilms: Seeing it helps you to believe it.


This is the second submittal of a series to be presented by Streets in cooperation with a number of groups and contributors over the remainder of this month, devoted to reporting on problems and problem-solving by key actors in the city of New York as they steadily increase civic, professional and political support for sustainable transportation innovation. More follows.

The goal behind the Livable Streets Network, of which Streetfilms is but one component, is to harness 21st-century communications technologies, reinforced by a strong sense of simple neighborliness, to create a powerful consensus for change in our cities — and make them into safer, healthier, and fairer places to live, learn, work and play.

But for this to happen the indispensable intermediate step is to find ways to help people change their minds, challenge their old ways of thinking about how they live and get around in their city. So with this in mind the Network is working with a wide variety of tools which you can check out at One of these is the Streetfilms program.

The starting place behind Streetfilms is a firm belief that we live at a time in which there are many different ways of reaching people, one of them being through short films of the kind which you see in the millions posted on YouTube and the like. In order to make our contribution, we work from a solid base of web support and outreach, the Livable Streets Network, to which we have added a small team of young videographers who spend most of their time charting problems and potential solutions in and around our own city — but also leaving time to travel to cities and projects around the world to document and share outstanding experiences and contributions.

If there were only one place, only one brilliant strategic approach that would do the trick of city transformation, this peripatetic working style would not be necessary. But we live in a world of huge varieties and great distances, which means that one day the next good subject for a Streetfilm may be a project or a problem in the Bronx or the Battery, and the next day it may be taking place in Columbia or Brazil, India or France, South Africa or Peoria. And when we spot that opportunity, it is our job to grab our cameras and make our way there to work with all those on the spot who are working hard to make their project succeed. In this way we are able to make our modest contribution of getting the word out — working from bare-bones budgets and always with strong local support to get the job done.

Streetfilms is only one of a number of projects around the world that are trying to make this kind of contribution. And while film is just one of the tools at our disposal in order to help people first open and then perhaps change their minds, it is a tool that we are seeing from our experience really can work. Reports and conferences and books are necessary, but short films made broadly and freely available are part of the winning solution.

And since it does work, for us and for others, we strongly recommend that these efforts of communication and sharing should be broadly supported by individuals , organizations and government agencies across the board. And in many places. In fact, don’t you think you should be doing something like this in your city?

We look forward to the day in which we have many strong “Streetfilms competitors” in many places — because if we are ever to meet the challenges of the necessary overhaul of our transportation systems , it is going to require all of our efforts and more.



Clarence Eckerson, Elizabeth Press and Robin Urban Smith
The Streetfilms Team,
New York, NY, USA


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Your initiative will be helpful in several ways.

  • By making a contribution – large or small – you are sending us a strong signal that what we are doing has value.
  • Your contributions will help us to fund the diversity of our existing programs at the quality level and frequency you are used to.
  • Despite the many volunteers working with us, our programs are still costly to run and require an annual budget of approximately EUR 100,000. An active contributor base helps us equally to turn to the foundations, agencies, and individuals that can make more sizable contributions to help us make-up a budget shortfall.

But there is possibly an even more important reason for you to make your voice heard in this way. World Streets and the New Mobility Agenda are voices of the sustainable cities movement that have an international role and high visibility, including in your country and city. If you can help register strong votes of support for these new approaches in this way (and we are talking about the smallest symbolic contribution that technology permits), this message is going to have even stronger international impact.

Some of you have asked how much to give. My short answer is to each according to their means and commitment to our shared concerns. Or I could suggest using a Streets equivalent:

  • A bottle of Bordeaux (say $20.00 or so)?
  • That next tank of gasoline you save just by thinking about it. (Might that be around $50.00?)
  • Something that signals your active support and desire to get behind this so it sticks.

What is most important at this point is for you to sign on with your concrete expression of interest and concern. That first dollar is where it all starts.

The one dollar (Euro) gift. We all have times in our lives in which money is a scarce commodity. But even if . . . find a dollar to show your support. Stand up and be counted. You will be glad you did and we will put it to work.

Eyes on the Street: : But there is more to this than money. What about pitching in and join our World Eyes on the Street Observatory?. No obligation, no time required (and no pay), but we do want you to at least be looking and thinking about it. More on Eyes at (And not only that, the company is terrific.)

Other forms of support: If you are able to offer technical help or tools, editorial or reporting services, media or communications support, or wish to get involved in the outreach projects, please get in touch. There is a lot of work involved in making this a world level contribution to sustainable development and social justice. Also you may wish to have a look at to have an idea of work in progress and areas in which help is needed.

Fees: Several friends have asked why we do not simply charge for the information and services our various New Mobility programs render. My answer to that is simple. Since we started these collaborative networking projects, starting in 1988, we decided that everything that comes out of this collaborative work should be entirely free. We wish to remain faithful to this principle.

Advertising: Others have made the good suggestion that we should develop additional revenues in support of the sites by bringing in advertising. In a world of ubiquitous advertising, we wish to keep these programs not just free, but free from commercial messages. With your help and support, and that of like-minded individuals, we will remain faithful to these principles and continue to offer quality programs that will help ensure the sustainability of our cities and lives.

Thank you in advance for your contribution and support – we couldn’t do this without you!

Eric Britton
Managing Editor

Greening of New York: Reflections on ad-supported public bikes

Reflections on ad-supported public bikes in NYC

120 years ago the energy-multiplication device we know as the bicycle began its long climb to near-perfection. This simple object may be the best example we have of our ability to become the masters of our material world. It has achieved veneration among physically-fit professionals and, on the other end of the social scale, those who depend upon it for their very survival. In Switzerland, a healthy and wealthy country of six million people, over one million belong to the national cycling organization and it seems like every home has at least two bikes leaning up against the outside wall. It is time for us to catch up with the rest of the world’s love affair with human-powered and human-scale transportation, before it is too late.

The success of the standard model belies its potential to be transformed into a far more useful and ubiquitous aid to our mobility. Now that lithium-ion batteries have arrived, its evolution into the core of our urban transportation systems has begun and needs to be fully engaged immediately. This work, by artists, engineers, designers and others, can be largely self-financed, but the production of strongly durable and well-equipped vehicles will send the cost of some models quite high. It is by spreading out the cost of these vehicles among a great many users, that the cost per ride becomes affordable. Bike-share is our key to the future.

We can begin this design-quest immediately by creating a database of the best attempts to innovate in this field that have been attempted in recent times. We can also issue invitations to those builders, to help us to publicize their efforts and use them as a prod to others to contribute their efforts to this project. The second step is to invite these creative people to visit the former World’s Fair grounds, 1255 acre Flushing Meadows/Corona Park in New York City and bring their machines. We are already operating the boat and bike rental concession there (see, and are working to secure inexpensive passage and freight from sympathetic shippers, to help these creators to show their work off and to connect to other builders and designers from many places.

Cities like New York are the best places to demonstrate the practicality of a major shift to human-scale vehicles in urban spaces. The upcoming bike-share program is the ideal medium through which the needed expansion in cycle utility and introduction of new elements can take place. This will never happen if the City takes the easy path and simply buys into one of the currently offered, turn-key operations. These companies have every reason to abhor the possible complexity to which cycle evolution is leading us. Their business models demand the greatest economy of scale and the simplest maintenance protocol possible.

Thank goodness a time-out has been called in the rush to create bike-share programs, due to JC Decaux’s cri d’agonie over $5,000,000 worth of losses and damage to its Paris fleet over a period of 1 ½ years. While this may be nothing more than a negotiating ploy with Paris, local governments, including NYC’s, are re-evaluating their options. While it has been universally acknowledged that the proliferation of bicycles and easing their availability are needed and wanted changes, and politicians everywhere are eager to accrue some green points by introducing them, this is a time for caution. The temptation for political leaders to seize on a turn-key system is irresistible, especially since the public is only vaguely aware of the exchange of services like bike sharing for some very large, and many more smaller, billboards, which is at the heart of this arrangement .

The leading companies in this field, JC Decaux and Clear Chanel are the world’s largest billboard companies. The industry began their dominance of New York public space in 1974, in the midst of the last devastating financial crises. They cut their teeth here by supplying barely-functional bus shelters with ads for cigarettes targeting their customers of the future, school-kids who used the buses. As in previous hard times they have the resources to completely equip an entire system without any cost to the contracting city, including an agreement to maintain the vehicles and other elements. They are especially welcome now that the hard times have again arrived for a while.

One advantage of being in an advertising-supported industry is that other advertising-supported businesses, commercial media, both print and electronic, are not eager to find fault with your (their own) product.

This free ride is the reason that very few understand that renting our eyeballs is a business, and hiding that fact from us is the job of everybody in the business. What makes “Out-of-Home” media (billboards) different from every other form of advertising is its coercive nature.

Aside from pock-marking our public spaces with ubiquitous corporate graffiti, it forces us to participate in experiences that we cannot avoid and therefore has a key role in breaking down our perception of ourselves as being in control of our own consciousness.

While local and directory advertising can be both useful and appropriate, (small businesses especially need to let their public know that they are there), endless streams of product ads are considered obnoxious by many and useless by everybody. In some cities like Portland and Philadelphia, there are advocacy groups who will not even allow any more ads on the street, fully aware of how unhealthful products have a way of predominating in low-income neighborhoods. In this case, many people who have embraced cycling because of its health benefits are the same people who find fault with endless rows of beer bottles, or even soda cans.

Bikes are a leveler, and all cyclists suffer from broken pavements and non-existent programs to remove dangerous and disrespectful drivers from the road, but bicyclists are still in a minority. The best way to improve conditions dramatically is to bring the 90% of the population that never or hardly ever cycles, back into the picture. The introduction of electric-assist vehicles and new kinds of recumbent tricycles with multi-passenger capacity, (updated 19^th century “Sociables”), and a continuous ongoing celebration of our ingenuity and creativity, including the chance to actually try these devices out in a big park with no cars, could eventually bring a big part of the entire rest of the public along for the ride, and create real political power and with it real change.

We must not allow long-term contracts with immense companies to gain control over our shared-bike facilities, just at the time when we need to reclaim this activity as our own. Their bottom-line generated priorities will demand strict standardization, which will suffocate the development of the new concepts and designs we so badly need. We cannot afford to lose the potential of the next generation of tiny, safe, fun and beautiful machines, to transform, and humanize, the texture of urban life. If you can help to publicize our efforts or put us in touch with the builders and designers who are already a part of this joyous research project please do it. Think about coming to New York City too, to a World’s Fair of Human-Powered and Shared Transportation.

Steve Stollman