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Smart Bus Stops Done Dirt Cheap

8 Oct

Check out the latest Hack Your City project! Smart Bus Stops Done Dirt Cheap!

San Francisco’s Bus stops are already kinda smart, they have those cool Next Bus arrival signs, and some detailed maps of bus routes. Those help answer a few questions people have when they are stuck at the stop. Smart Stops is a project to help bus stops answer all kinds of local questions though. Think of it like Siri for the block.

You’ll be able to ask your favorite neighborhood smart bus stop all kinds of things. Just text in a question and your bus stop will send you a answer. How do I take the bus to Golden Gate Park? You’ll get SMS directions you can carry with you on your trip. Who’s got the best burritos in this hood? Where’s the local health clinic? We’ll ask around and find out for you. Smart stops will also collect stories from the neighborhood to share if you ask nicely.

This project came about because of the always awesome GAFFTA and their upcoming Urban Prototyping Festival. Hack Your City was invited to submit a project. We are honored to have Smart Stops included in the selection of urban interventions for the festival. All of the projects chosen have a mix of open source technology, public art, and had to be easily built by others in any city.

We chose to make Smart Stops a text message app so that it would be more accessible to people who are riding the bus. I’m not really feeling making a smart phone app, it just doesn’t seem as important. The spirit of this festival is create open source art that any one can clone and easily reproduce in their own city. By creating a SMS service, our Smart Stops art project can easily be built in any city in the world. There are parts of the globe where text messaging is used way more than the internet. Smart Stops is ready for these places already, no digital divide, no expensive hardware, just any easy code base to upgrade your bus stops.

We’ve got a talented crew of Hack Your City hooligans making this happen. We got people coding the backend, the questions, and the SMS service. You can check our work in progress code at

We’ve also got urban hackers hand building our signs from reclaimed materials. We’re hand painting them with classic hand styles. The’re gonna be fly.

DIY Libraries

9 Aug


DIY Libraries

Awesome! Urban Hacker John Locke from NYC has been fabricating and installing DIY Payphone Lending Libraries around Morningside Heights. I’m really feeling them because they turn this unused, deprecated, relic of the city into something equally antiquated, yet fresh. The little libraries are getting a lot of love lately from the press, yet this interview in World Literature Today is the coolest review.

I’m excited about this project because it’s part of something bigger that John and his crew are trying to do, The Department of Urban Betterment, which is like Hack Your City NYC. What up DUB, lets link!

DIY Libraries are important because they install a little shelf of pride in a neighborhood, by showing that neighbors are chill enough to ‘give one, take one’. They are also easy enough to build that you can replicate them anywhere in the world and since people have been building bookshelves since forever, they’ve gotten crazy stylish too. Building a DIY library in your neighborhood, inspired by the local architecture can produce infinite, unique designs that can be thrown up in a day.


Poetic Civility.

A crew of Urban Hackers in in Puerto Alegre, Brazil have been putting in DIY Libraries at a few of their Bus Stops. They started as one DIY project that got lots of respect, so the city and some nonprofits sponsored them to be built in other neighborhoods. A great trend that a lot of these DIY Urban Design projects have had lately is posting easy to follow instructions so that other like minded neighbors around the world can replicate these good ideas.

In the video below, this crew in Brazil has stepped up the design of the DIY libraries by encouraging local artists to help build and decorate the shelfs.


Colombia, always on point, has a bunch of small libraries in there public parks. The local gov took an easy, cheap idea and ran with it. They have over a hundred of them throughout the country.

More DIY Libraries

World Literature Today 10 micro libraries.

GOOD Mag on DIY Urban Design

20 Apr

GOOD Magazine posted a great photo essay on DIY Urban Design. My favorite is the SignChair in the picture above.

Poster Pocket Plants

30 Jan

Poster Pocket Plants


Poster Pocket Plants are an idea by two artists from Toronto. They cut into the thick layers of illegal advertising posters, peel it back, fold it over, staple it, and fill it with soil and plants. Easy enough and you end up with a cheap, DIY green wall. Its a protest against advertisers, its slightly illegal, and a little hippie all in one. An A+ Urban Hack. One of them waxes a little deeper on his blog.

I appreciate that they have posted the ‘plans‘ online for easy replication. Looks easy enough, just use a razorblade to slash a top and side open, fold, fill, and photo. I bet you could get super arty with it. In addition to plant choices, how you cut them can make a statement too.

They have an old gallery online with lots of their work at

DIY Urbanism in Detroit

14 Sep

“Cities have always went down. It’s people who bring them back.” – Larry D’Mongo

Palladium Boots sent Johnny Knoxville (?) to Detroit to see whats up with the DIY scene out there. We’ve all seen the photoessays by them “dutch assholes” focused on the massive empty buildings, so it’s really cool to finally see the human reaction to the abandonment. This video series does a great job of showing off the creativity people employ when provided all the infrastructure. Watch the whole three part series over at

DIY Crosswalks

18 Aug

DIY Crosswalks painted during the Argentina gameSome days your city is slipping on their responsibilities and you gotta grab crew and do it yourself. An ‘Urban Repair Squad” in São Paulo did just that by painting their own crosswalks on several dangerous intersections. Problem is São Paulo is home to 11 million people, it’s impossible to find a time when the streets are quiet enough to do some guerrilla urban design. So when would all of this mega city be preoccupied indoors? Futebol! Worldcup!

During the different Brazil games, these activists skipped the matches and instead made their city a better place.

Poppin Bottles

Crosswalks are one of the cheapest ways to improve safety in the city. All you need to do is slap some paint down and cars can tell that this painted piece of property is parceled for pedestrians. The more visible and distinct the crosswalk, the more noticeable it will be for drivers, and the safer your grandma will feel crossing the street.

Other folks have taken DIY crosswalks even further. Banksy was the first I remember, using the zebra stripes to get revenge on someone. Old Banksy

While other groups have used crosswalks to raise awareness of their importance in the public realm.

More crosswalk art can be found at Web Urbanist.  I found out about this all from Good.

DIY Bike Lanes

4 Jun

(This post was originally written last year)

Is your city taking away bike lanes? Are they too slow installing them where you, the riders, know they need to be?  Paint them yourselves.

“Do-it-yourself bike lanes are illegal, perhaps dangerous, potentially damaging to the cause of legitimate bike advocates everywhere and really, really effective.” – Dan Koeppel

Like the best architecture, DIY bike lanes are an in your face statement. They demand to be dealt with, to be used, to be talked about on boring blogs. Like the best of art, they incite. DIY bike lanes are political vandalism, protest signs in the trench war between cars and people.

“This morning I rode the bootlegged Bedford Ave bike lane while listening to pirated music and wearing knock off Converse shoes.” @jenniferdaniel (via @noneck

The beat behind the Bedford Bike Lane Battle is that Bloomberg bowed to bellyaching believers and blew off the belabored bikers from Brooklyn driving them ballistic till they brandished buckets and brought the bike lanes back.  Apparently Bloomberg okayed the removal of some bike lanes that lead directly to the Williamsberg bridge. He gave this asinine order to secure some support from a certain powerful local Hasidic Jewish community. Local politics are impossible to generalize, yet the funnest headline had been that the group wanted the bike lanes removed due to beautiful girls on bikes tempting the faithful. The Williamsberg hipsters immediately painted back the bike lanes. The battle continues, yet the painting of your own bike lanes is what interests us the most. Stay tuned for a ‘how to’ post.

Another example, here is San Francisco during the morning rush hour.


They get busy down in LA as well.

Urban Swings

3 Jun

(This post was originally written last year.)

Reading about Akay’s Urban Swings a decade ago was the first time I saw the connection between graffiti and urban design. He took concrete drills and went wild on the city just like any kid with a can of spray paint. His act of installing swings was just like regular graffiti in that it had vandalism, aggression, destruction, and creation all in one. Yet when he was done with his ‘violence’ he left something that benefited the people in the city, he left it better than when he found it. I never went to Sweden to check them out, yet I’m sure they made people stop and have a little fun. It was also probably a blast for him. I bet even the city workers who took it down were a little hesitant, kind of like taking a child’s toys away for some inane adult reason.

“Everytime something is done on the street there is a level of interaction involved. Maybe its not the interaction we hoped for or expected, but every project is an invitation to respond. Even if the response is someone taking down what has been offered up.” – Akay

That’s the same experience with architecture, especially urban design. Once the artist or architect is finished with their design and it gets built, they give up control. It’s up to the people who run across it to give it meaning. Sometimes it is not the meaning that the designer had in mind. Sometimes it grows to be completely inappropriate for the space and people that have to deal with it. Waiting for market forces or political will to change the design to a more fitting use could take forever. That’s the whole reasoning for DIY urban design. A few folks who notice the inappropriateness can go and make small edits to mitigate or fix the problem. Just like how a graffiti wall will slowly be covered up by better and better art, revisionist urban design can edit spaces and places, slowly making them more enjoyable, livable, and useful.

You can read more about Akay’s 65 swings in Stockholm and his other projects on Wooster.

Here are folks swinging in San Francisco.

Also in London.

(06/03/2010) And a brand new one from Paris.