New info medallions for the Canyon of Heroes
Ticker tape parades have long been held along the Canyon of Heroes, the section of Broadway from Bowling Green Park to City Hall Park in downtown Manhattan. In 2003, to commemorate the people and events honored with ticker tape parades, the Downtown Alliance of New York City launched the city's version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As of June, 2010, 204 granite markers have been installed in the Broadway sidewalks.
The first marker in the series records the dedication of the Statue of Liberty on October 28, 1886. The next ticker tape parade occurred on April 29, 1889, honoring the centennial of George Washington's inauguration in New York City as the first president of the United States. Since then, honorees have included pioneers of air and space travel, numerous soldiers, sailors and sea captains, heads of state, politicians, firefighters, journalists, and athletes. The mayor of New York City gets to decide whom to honor with a ticker tape parade.
The granite slabs list only a date and a name of a person or group, and sometimes, a title or event. Most people have no clue what is being signified by the words in the granite. The date can even be confusing as it is the date of the parade, not the date of the event.
I stopped several people along Broadway and pointed out the text in the sidewalk. Very few people knew why the words were in the sidewalk. The value of historic remembrance is diminished if viewers are unaware of the context. Great design shouldn't require its intended audience to have to figure something out - great design should communicate its message clearly and effectively. I suspect when the plan was first put into effect, there were announcements and media coverage about the parade honorees. Now, however, there are tens of thousands of visitors, residents, and workers who have no idea what these unusual lines of text signify.
A short-sighted solution
There is an explanatory plaque embedded at the very southern end of Broadway, where the parades begin. However, the viewer can come upon one of the plaques anywhere along the 16-block stretch of Broadway. They are more likely to see a plaque by the WTC Memorial, St. Paul's Chapel, Woolworth Building, or City Hall. In a presentation of the Canyon of Heroes plaques, the explanatory plaque at the beginning of the parade route could appear to be an adequate explanation. But, as so often happens in design, the solution is not critiqued or assessed through the eyes of the target viewer. If it had, the plaque approving committee would realize one explanation at the end of the 16-block route would not be enough to educate the viewer.
A better solution
The Alliance had a great idea and has invested money in its execution. But, it needs to go one step further to make the historical plaques better - clearly communicate what the granite slabs are commemorating. A medallion could be adhered to the granite and serve as the title block for the information on the markers. These should be mounted at the end of the marker away from the street, along the buildings - this would allow the viewer to stop and read them while moving away from both vehicular and pedestrian activity. Medallions would not need to be applied to the slabs that don't have enough room for them (where the text copy takes up most of the space). The viewer will only read one or two of the stickers - they will then be educated. But each slab (where space permits) needs a medallion since viewers may come across the slabs anywhere along Broadway.
Solution option A: vinyl stickers
An immediate solution is to print and apply durable vinyl decals to the granite slabs. The example below is of a decal for the iPhone applied to a busy sidewalk in Times Square.
Solution option B: metal medallions
A metal medallion would be a more permanent solution. The existing granite slabs could be drilled to a depth of about a half inch and metal plaques could then be adhered into that circular depression.
The sticker option could be done almost immediately and the more permanent medallion could be installed in all the new granite slabs and cut into the existing slabs as funding permits. The stickers and metal plaques will enhance downtown Manhattan by providing a better explanation of this unique aspect of American history.
• Problem recognized: 2005
• Sketches: June 2009
• Refinements: Jim Watson and Frank Nichols
• Design revisions: June 2009
• Sample vinyl stickers printed and tested on-site: July 2009
• Essay submitted to the Lower Manhattan Community Board Landmarks Committee: July, 2009 (Response but no action)
• Essay submitted to the Downtown Alliance: November 18, 2009 (No response)
• Essay resubmitted to the Downtown Alliance: April 28, 2010 (No response)
• Essay submitted to the NYC Mayor's Office: May 20, 2010
It is so great that the Downtown Alliance has installed plaques commemorating the honorees of ticker
tape parades along Broadway. However, there is no indication to pedestrians what those plaques are for.
Here is a simple solution: add durable vinyl stickers or metal medallions to the granite slabs.
More info, explanations, and photos: www.jamesrobertwatson.com/tickerplaque.html
Thanks, Jim Watson
• Response from the Mayor's Office: May 24, 2010
• Essay submitted a 3rd time to the Downtown Alliance with the Mayor's Office email: May 24, 2010
• Response from the Downtown Alliance: May 26, 2010
Dear Mr. Watson,
Thank you for your email and interest on our Canyon of Heroes plaques.
We appreciate your input, but at this point we feel that our strips are well known by the public and are depicted
on our collateral. For these reasons, we are not considering altering the design of the Canyon of Hero plaques.
Guillermo E. Stuart, Director of Infrastructure Maintenance, Alliance for Downtown NY
• I doubt the strips are well known by the public and certainly not by thousands of new tourists arriving every year.
• I'm not sure how many residents and tourists read any Alliance collateral materials.
Ticker tape parades: background
Ticker tape parades originated in New York City after a spontaneous celebration held on October 29, 1886, during the dedication of the Statue of Liberty. The term referred to the use of the paper output of ticker tape machines, which were remotely-driven devices used in brokerage firms to provide updated stock market quotes. Today, the paper products are largely waste office paper that have been cut using conventional paper shredders. The city also distributes paper confetti.
Broadway through the Financial District serves as the parade route and is called the Canyon of Heroes. The route from Bowling Green to City Hall Park is lined with tall office buildings, affording a view of the parade for thousands of office workers and the snowstorm-like jettison of shredded paper products onto the parade.
Soon after that first parade, city officials realized the value of such events and began to hold them on triumphal occasions, such as the return of Theodore Roosevelt from his African safari and Charles Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic flight. The largest parade was given for World War II and Korean War General Douglas MacArthur in 1951. In the 1960s, following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the parades became increasingly rare. They are generally reserved now for space exploration triumphs, military honors, and sports championships. While typical sports championship parades have been showered with some 50 tons of confetti and shredded paper, the V-J Day parades on August 14 and August 15, 1945 - marking the end of World War II - were covered with 5,438 tons of paper, based on estimates by the New York City Department of Sanitation. Two of the most recent parades were on Friday, November 6, 2009, honoring the New York Yankees win of the World Series and Febuary 5, 2008, honoring the New York Giants, in honor of their upset victory in Super Bowl 42 over the previously undefeated New England Patriots. (info from Wikipedia)
Above: The newest granite strip (at 233 Broadway in front of the Woolworth building) commemorates the New York Yankees' 27th World Series championship and was installed on June 15, 2010. Below: an image from 2013. This may be evidence of an effort to better educate the public and promote the Canyon of Heroes.