23 October 2007

To Where, From Whom

Compass Rose Stencil TemplateFolks reading my most recent post about the New York City’s implementation of the compass rose by subway exits may have thought the Department of Transportation took its inspiration from my blog. Not so.

I came up with the idea in conversation with out-of-towner Micah Anderson over dinner with the folks from Eggplant Active Media back on March 4, 2006 and later posted it to this blog.

Graffiti roses showed up near downtown exits three weeks later, though I was never sure if my post inspired this. After kottke.org picked up my link, I received this email:

hey man,
i am NOMAD, I have been doing the compass rose graffiti, someone just showed me your post on it,
great minds think alike....

However, while this was all in March 2006, last week’s New York Times article on the DoT’s 2007 implementation of the compass, cites the new transportation commissioner who says she got the idea from “an Upper East Side man who was among about 20 New Yorkers quoted in The New York Times in January 2006 in an article about practical ways to improve the city.”

But wait, there’s more!

After my post about the official NYC rose was picked up by a couple of blogs, I received an email from Mary Ciuffitelli who says she proposed the idea publicly back in 1992:

Hey John,

I like your website and design, but I have some news for you.

In 1992, I received an award from The Municipal Art Society for this compass rose idea. MAS ran a big competition called Design New York. There were seven winners out of 1500 entries, followed by an exhibit, an awards ceremony, a lot of press (including the New York Times), NBC TV News interviews, etc. I have my original sketch, award letter, ceremony program, tape of the TV interview, all the documents.

Fifteen years ago, there was talk of the city implementing the idea. In the meantime, friends and I talked about going guerrilla and just spray-painting compasses all over the subway system. I wish we had. I was working at a design studio back then, and there was plenty of enthusiasm. We designed a stencil for our plan based on the floor compass in the subway at Grand Central Station. If I keep digging through my stuff, I’ll find that drawing as well.

There were some pretty great ideas that came out of that contest. (Including a submission very close to mine.) Time to look back before setting down the history. This NY Times article boils down my idea to one sentence, but my submission included slightly more elaborate suggestions to reflect neighborhood character and landmarks.

Designing a Better New York, September 24, 1992 http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0CE7DA1F3BF937A1575AC0A964958260
Since it looks like the idea is on the brink of becoming a permanent part of New York City design, I would like to set the record straight. Maybe you’d like to help me.

Yours in brilliant ideas,

In the meantime, the folks at the Eyebeam OpenLab and Graffitti Research Lab generously let me use their laser cutter to produce a couple of stencils. I have 20 compass roses and 20 North arrows. Want to help put this up?

Send your postal address and PayPal me $2.00 for first class postage and I’ll send you one.