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Designing a New Taxicab (But Keeping It Safe From Hippies)

so long, crown v.jpgWe have a hateful, incurable cab addiction and we love a good makeover show, so Designing the Taxi, a forum on how to make the NYC taxi prettier, greener, safer, and more accessible—put on jointly by Design Trust for Public Space and Parsons School of Design—was our natural destination yesterday afternoon. (Does anyone else think the Parsons auditorium, with its podlike shape, eight-tiered ceiling, and sherbet-colored lighting, looks like Rice to Riches reborn as a synagogue?)

We have to admit a touch of disappointment with the format of the presentation: We’d expected a room where you could walk around and look at miniature taxicab models in 3D (much like when the Guggenheim presented its plans for a new, Bilbao-esque South Street Seaport location)—but we were greeted instead by a boring old Powerpoint presentation (Apologies in advance for the faintly nauseous hue of the resulting pictures.) But that’s not to say there wasn’t some interesting stuff presented.

With three panels and subsequent Q+A sessions, there was way too much going on here to summarize it all—Kurt Andersen as a nihilistic moderator, a furious wheelchair-bound Greek chorus chastising the more disability-unfriendly designs, some semi-indecipherable paranoia about GPS-enabled cabs allowing the INS to track down illegal cabbies—so we’ll mostly stick to the designs. (Pictures after the jump)

One of our favorite designs was “The Cabsule,” presented by Harris Stevens of CityStreets. It was a tall, narrow vehicle that would allow passengers to stand up and would be super-accessible to demographics like the elderly, mothers with baby strollers, and the disabled.

On the other hand, if we remember correctly, CityStreets also presented what was surely the most hilariously insane idea all afternoon—individually designed headpieces! Behold the cabbie yarmulke! The cabbie fez! For the cabbie who fancies himself a modern-day Holden Caulfield: the cabbie hunting-hat!

Ayse Birsel, of the firm Birsel + Seck, had some good ideas—mainly a baby seat that folded down like a limo armrest—but we couldn’t get a bead on whether she was a crazy hippie (should a large yellow smiley face really indicate a vacant cab?) or a paid corporate shiller (Why DKNY or Calvin Klein uniforms for cabbies? Why a Nike-designed steering column?)

Note to Hybrid Product Design and Development Inc: You should probably refrain from describing your design for a minicab as a “glorified rickshaw.” There’s a reason people shun the pedicab.


The designs previewed in last weekend’s Times from Antenna Design were probably the most likely to be implemented, but maybe lacked the aesthetic oomph that a really inspired design could have. Still, we like the idea of actually being able to see if a cab is vacant in the blinding sunlight, the automatic sliding door, and the digital A/C controls on the partition:

There were some themes: “The taxi is not just a vehicle” was a mantra, as were repeated cries of European envy: “Why can’t the New York taxi be more like [London, Madrid, etc.]?” Paul Goldberger, dean of Parsons, summed up the problem in his opening remarks: “[The current design] is neither beautiful nor lovable nor practical… And it ought to be at least one of these things.” From the looks of things, we can’t really tell where this is going, but at least we’re on our way.

More about the project and the forum here:
Designing a New Taxicab (But Keeping It Yellow) [NY Times]
All ideas are fare at taxi workshop [Newsday]
Project Description [Design Trust for Public Space]

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