Public Perception

New York provides countless examples of sites fueled by a complicated relationship between public and private space. As the archetypal urban city, New York’s urbanism is defined by interaction in the public realm – with the defining feature of its lifestyle being a facilitated mobility within this constructed public sphere via sidewalks, streets, and public transportation.

However, within this mobile infrastructure, publicness is not an actuality, though it is often perceived to be so. Oftentimes, spaces that have come to be understood as public – in a political, social, and cultural sense – are in fact privately owned and maintained. These ambiguous spaces thereby offer different sets of laws and regulations, codes of conduct, and restrictions on mobility.


No space better exemplifies this misrepresentation of the public sphere than Central Park. Central Park is not owned by the state of New York or the municipality like most National Parks, but is maintained by the Central Park Conservancy, a nonprofit organization funded by private donors. Though described as “supported by the public” what the organization really means is that its support comes from corporations or individuals whose donations act as cultural and political currency and allow them a say in the park’s function, accessibility, and future.


The interaction my team and I have created hints at the false perception of public space park-goers have when walking through Central Park. A private space functions very differently from a public one, a difference in functionality that is reflected in our project's design parameters. Some examples of these parameters include those that enhance or aid in surveillance and those that help to restrict movement and accessibility throughout the space.

Based on these ideas, the interaction uses a common signal for a violation in the public/private domain: police lights. A box installed on a pathway running through the park contained sensors that would trigger lights to go off whenever someone walked past it. With this interjection of private, authoritative design parameters into a perceived public space, a new space with new meaning was created using preexisting, culturally ingrained sensory information (police lights) in a preexisting environment whose “publicness” is often taken at face value.


Arduino –  collaboration – design strategies – interactive design – physical computing – proximity sensing – public space – sensors + actuators


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All content © Copyright Jane McDonough, 2016.