Key to the City

On Friday, I spend the day in Times Square volunteering for Key to the City.

Basically it is a public art project where a key unlocks 24 sites across the city.  People received a key and info booklet as part of the ceremony done in pairs.  Each key is given for a reason, and up to participants to create that reason.   I received mine from Bob for “being a great volunteer”.  People can explore the fascinating and diverse sites until September and also cut keys for friends and family.

I found out about it through wanting to work with Creative Time (public art facilitation) and the project itself struck me as a stunning mix of art and urbanism.  I love things that get people to rethink urban space and cities.

My job was explaining the project and managing the line.  The line was steady all day, and took about an hour for people to get keys.   I had fun, interesting moments and thoughts in the line

  • I was expecting tourists but pleased to find lots of locals.  People liked the idea of exploring their own cities.  Some people asked if this was about tourism but the sites were certainly not “touristy”
  • I joked and challenged people in the line to do all sites in one day, and interact with the sites (like leave a message in a the post office site).  People like games.
  • The key made it feel like part of a “secret club”.  That people could be cool and show their families.
  • There are 30, 000 keys.  While they aren’t very expensive, funny how things have a value when people think it is exclusive
  • The ceremony is best in pairs, it was fun to play match matcher and get strangers to talk to each other (apparently there were even a couple of romantic dates formed)
  • I talked to many people about Australia.  I met a guy from Melbourne.  People are intrigued by accents and a guy said you aren’t from here, you seem too cheery
  • I enjoyed talking to people about urban planning and exploration.
  • Nothing is better than creating interest than a line.  People are followers.
  • The diverse of people is astounding.  Stand in Times Square and it feels all humanity walks by

There’s definitely a fun, strong, simple concepts in all of this.  I’d like to adapt this model/project for other cities around different themes.  This isn’t the first time it has come up –

  • Ayla’s thesis  was about urban adventure mapping, and her work Normative are exploring ideas around urban games for a project called Red Rover.
  • I’ve done activities like Urban Max in Brisbane that makes a race from exploring cities.
  • APA Scavenger Hunt was great fun
  • Architectural festivals like Doors Open (Toronto) also allow discovery of spaces and buildings
  • Tour de PARK, was an idea of a cycle tour to discover the different PARK(ing) spaces in the city
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2 thoughts on “Key to the City

  1. Tristan says:

    Sounds like fun.

    Do you think there could be any application for your “priority conversaton seats” at bus stops… to encourage people to engage with it?

    • yengen says:

      any particular thought?
      currently the mapping idea was for other people to leave signs for others to find.
      Prehaps there’s some iconic/important bus stops to leave them at for people? Like I wonder what the first stop in Brisbane was??

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