Good morning. It’s Friday. Today we’ll look at a new take on a staple of summer in the city, the attachment that turns an open fire hydrant into an oasis. We’ll also get details on Mayor Eric Adams’s plan to permit more housing in Midtown Manhattan.
How could you cut down on the water sprayed by fire hydrants that children splash around in without cutting down on the splashiness?
That was the challenge for Tim Gordon, whose job title could easily be urban inventor, although his actual title at the small design and marketing agency he works for is chief creative officer.
He and an industrial designer named Colin Kelly came up with four prototypes called Splash Spots that have eye appeal. They look like outsized clown noses without the clowns, or perhaps surveillance cameras without the cameras. Their splash appeal will be tested at a demonstration on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Chelsea Triangle, on Ninth Avenue around 14th Street.
“They make for a fun, innovative urban moment,” said Jeffrey LeFrancois, the executive director of the Meatpacking District Management Association, the business improvement district for that neighborhood.
How much water would their devices save?
Kelly said that an open hydrant spews “an insane amount of water” — the Fire Department Foundation put it at 1,000 gallons of water a minute, as much in an hour as a family of four uses in a year, it said. The Fire Department worries about low water pressure when hydrants are open, a potentially serious problem when a call comes in and fire trucks go out.
Sprinkler caps, which firehouses can make available on request, cut the flow to 25 to 30 gallons a minute, by Kelly’s calculations.
Splash Spots send out about half that, and unlike the Fire Department’s sprinkler caps, they can be turned on and off, saving even more when a sprinkler is not needed. “I was out for a run over the July 4 weekend, and I passed a street with a hydrant with a spray cap,” Gordon said. “It was open and spraying, but no one was there.”
How much water do hydrants with sprinkler caps use citywide?
The Fire Department said it did not have statistics immediately available, nor could it say how many hydrants are opened with caps. A department spokesman said that individual fire companies decide how many hydrants can be opened “based on their knowledge of their response areas” and that “when done the proper way,” hydrants with sprinkler caps do not interfere with normal firefighting needs.
Where do sprinkler caps come from?
Anyone who is 18 or older can go to the firehouse serving their neighborhood and borrow one, the Fire Department said. The firehouse will schedule a time to turn the hydrant off, install the sprinkler cap and turn the hydrant on again, as well as a time to reverse the steps and remove the cap.
Why did Gordon and Kelly decide to make a better sprinkler cap?
Gordon said his team at the firm Zulu Alpha Kilo NY “wanted to take on a project that in some small way tried to do something fun for the city.”
“We explored a lot of things,” he said, adding that the other possibility with the most promise “never would have worked, but I thought was really beautiful.”
It involved making “colorful and rat-proof garbage bags which you could put on the street in those giant piles, which I know now Mayor Adams is not into.” He said he was told that the Sanitation Department would not have picked them up.
Besides, he said, “an artist from Italy had done something similar.”
That left fire hydrants. In Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where he lives and the hydrants are opened for community gatherings like block parties, “we were amazed at how wonderful and rudimentary” the Fire Department’s hydrant caps were.
Kelly, who started the industrial design firm Group Project, saw the hydrant-cap project as a chance to think about a “ubiquitous, somewhat boring object on the street.” They built their own hydrant in Group Project’s studio in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and he and Gordon said they had also worked informally with the Fire Department there.
The four prototypes have names like “sunshine” and “jump rope.” An early design that did not make it to the prototype stage was called “the whale.”
“It shot water up like a whale spout,” Gordon said. “You realized very quickly the water fell right down on the hydrant, not on the kids. You had to play within four inches of the hydrant to get in the water. As a functional environment for 7- to 11-year-olds, it made no sense.”
Expect thunderstorms and showers with high temperatures in the mid-80s. At night, temps drop to the mid-60s.
In effect until Sept. 4 (Labor Day).
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Converting parts of Midtown Manhattan to permit housing
Developers and advocates for building more housing commended the city for taking steps to dealing with its housing crisis after Mayor Eric Adams announced plans to rezone areas south of Times Square.
One of the two plans he announced would allow office buildings to be turned into residential ones, which could create 20,000 new homes by the city’s estimates. The other would rezone manufacturing areas between 23rd Street and 40th Street to make way for more housing. Both plans require City Council approval. A vote is expected next year.
My colleague Mihir Zaveri writes that even if the two plans spur conversions and new development, they fall far short of the need. Estimates put the current shortage in the hundreds of thousands of homes.
Office conversions remain a potential solution, in part because they feel so intuitive: Many office buildings, particularly older ones, are losing tenants as hybrid work remains popular, while the intense demand for the limited supply of housing is pushing rents up ever higher. The median asking rent on new leases in Manhattan now is about $4,400, according to the brokerage Douglas Elliman.
But office-to-residential conversions have not taken place in meaningful numbers because of regulations and restrictions governing what kinds of buildings can be converted and a lack of funding. Adams’s plans do not provide any funding for conversions, which can sometimes require extensive renovations, and it is not clear how many building owners or developers will move forward without financial incentives like tax breaks or subsidies.
It was a wintry day, and I was sitting on a park bench in Manhattan when I saw a man in a security guard’s uniform walking toward me decisively.
To my utter surprise, he came up very close to me and leaned down toward me.
I gasped, and he leaped backward.