In 2008, New York City kicked off the first ever Summer Streets, an event designed to get city-dwellers out of their cars and onto the streets. The Department of Transportation closed off routes usually meant for vehicles, stretching from Wall Street all the way up to Central Park, and opened them up to runners, bikers, bladers and walkers. Six years later it’s still going strong as an annual event held on three consecutive Saturdays in August. Back with the same route (Lafayette Street to 4th Avenue to Park Avenue), the 2013 Summer Streets has some very new art to check out.
The star of the celebration is also the most worth your hard-earned weekend hours, despite the long lines. The “Voice Tunnel” was created by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, an electronic artist who lives and works in Montréal. You’ll enter into a world of both darkness and brightness, your eyes will dart everywhere, taking in the speakers on the ground and the lights pointed up to the curved ceiling. Sometimes the sounds will pop out enough that you can hear a sentence, and at others they’ll just fade to a blend of auditory wonder. In the center of the tunnel is a voice-activated intercom where guests can influence the intensity of the lights.
If you don’t feel like waiting, you can watch other people step up between the red velvet ropes and listen in. Exit the tunnel at 40th Street or you can weave your way back to the 33rd Street entrance to get your bike if you rode.
Further up in Manhattan, at 52nd Street and Park Avenue, is a mini-golf course called “The Course of Emotions,” an interactive golf course with holes named after human pain, like worry, frustration and despair. Designed by artist Risa Puno, the small square-shaped course is full of difficult putting opportunities, like rolling the ball up a vertical wall of AstroTurf or navigating through a mouse-worthy maze. You can sign up for a time slot and then go wander the rest of Summer Streets while waiting for your chance at emotional upheaval.
If you luck out with a hot Saturday, which we didn’t, then you’ll want to travel down to the Foley Square rest stop at Duane and Centre Street. CoolStop, designed by Chat Travieso, is a water mister prototype. Connected to a fire hydrant, dozens of blue PVC pipes curve up from the street and spray a fine mist over anyone in its radius. It’s a new school approach to the age old joy of releasing a fire hydrant and letting the water spring forth.
Sprinkled liberally with museums, New York City is also host to countless outdoor sculptures. Artist Bundith Phunsombatlert pays homage to those that are within one mile of the Summer Streets route in a piece titled “Art Within One Mile.” As you travel north and south along the route, look for the placards posted on street light poles. They’ll give you details on all of those long-wondered about installations, like the cube at Astor Place by Tony Rosenthal (which you can move with help of a friend) or the matching cube, but in red, by Isamu Noguchi located at 140 Broadway.
Still want more? There’s an architectural walking tour by CultureNOW, complete with an app in the iTunes store, as well as a theatrical walking tour that starts at 11am each of the final two Saturdays. Reservations required.
Summer Streets run between the hours of 7 am and 1 pm, and there are only two Saturdays left: August 10 and 17.