Jun 8, 2009

Rapid prototyping in NY's Times Square

Eleanor Randolph in the New York Times calls attention to an example of prototyping a change before investing in permanent large-scale changes. Mayor Bloomberg evidently thought about tourists' tired feet when he closed Times Square to traffic and made a pedestrian area out of it. Then, instead of hiring architects, contractors, and spending millions to lay out seating, trash receptacles, and so on, he had the city buy hundreds of gaudy $10 plastic lawn chairs and parked them on the site. The only things missing are pink flamingos, lawn sprinklers, and wading pools. The neon signs and "video" screens covering the walls of buildings seem to say we're more interested in sensory stimulation than peace and quiet.

Tourists and locals have demonstrated their agreement that the idea will improve New York City by filling the chairs constantly and expressing their appreciation for the amenity. People with laptops dot the scene, and at least one business meeting was held in the new park.

Now it's clear that there's customer pull for a park in the busiest part of the city. It's still an open question whether vehicle traffic will be worsened more than the benefit of the park is worth, but plans are already going ahead for resurfacing the area and bringing in permanent seating and concrete planters.

Not too different from mocking up a new cell with cardboard and surplus stuff before purchasing or moving machines and disrupting production. Experience and observation can determine optimum flow of people (and vehicles now diverted from their usual routes). Just like simulating flow in a full-size cell mockup can allow teams to adjust reality to assumptions. No long meetings, proposals, and computer models can substitute for a simple and quick prototype of a new system.

For more on the park, go to "The best seats in Times Square." and take a look at the scene, with more comments, on Flickr.

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