Culture / Transportation

Pilot project pits music vs. train noise

Rose Itzcovitz

The Boogie Down Booth below the Freeman Street overhead stop in November, before it was removed.

Planners hope to bring back the Boogie Down Booth

Under the elevated 2/5 train station off the Freeman Street stop in Soundview last summer, people could sit and wait for the Bx19 bus while hearing Bronx-based music that covered up the loud train noises clattering above them.  But that all ended this fall.

A square-shaped bench surrounding one of the pillars holding up the train platform, the “Boogie Down Booth” was bright blue with a golden backboard, which people could choose to lean on or read: on it were written the names of the musical artists whose songs could be heard playing from the overhead canopy.

The booth, designed both to recognize the Bronx’s musical heritage and to give people a place to sit while waiting for the bus, was an experiment that has ended, for now, but will be continued in the future.  Some locals came to the area days before the booth was torn down and expressed their appreciation for it; the booth’s creators expect that its return this spring will be welcomed.

The experiment began as Under the Elevated, a project devised by the Design Trust for Public Space, an organization that teams with community groups to improve the city’s public spaces. The Design Trust partnered with the city’s Dept. of Transportation and the Women’s Housing and Economic Development, a nonprofit designed to aid underprivileged communities, to test a creative solution to complaints from the community about the overly noisy, darkly lit, seat-less bus stop.

The team decided that there was no way to block the loud noise coming from the tracks, but that they could try drown it out with music.  But not just any music.

“We know that the Bronx has this rich music heritage,” Alix Fellman, WHEDco’s social enterprise coordinator, said.

And that’s how the “Boogie Down Booth” went from being just a bench that people could sit on to a multicultural experience.  The 19 songs that played on a loop through directional speakers 24 hours a day, all came from locally-based musicians who had previously performed for WHEDco’s music division, the Bronx Music Heritage Center.

The eclectic range of music genres included Latin jazz, hip hop, Cuban conga, mariachi, hungu hungu, Puerto Rican plena, Mandingo traditional, paranda and mambo jazz.

After the noise issue was addressed, the designers confronted the lighting and seating problems by constructing a four-sided bench, with LED lights and speakers under its overhead canopy.

Jacqueline Flaquer, who lives down the block from the noisy 2/5 train, said her 6-year-old son would run ahead of her just to sit and listen to the music before they’d walk by the booth.

“We love music,” she said.

Another resident, Gerald Jackson, waits at the Freeman Street stop several times per week.

“It came in handy when we were waiting for the bus,” he said.  “You could sit down, relax, and listen to music.”

The booth was torn down because WHEDco and Design Trust had an arrangement with the Department of Transportation: the team was allowed to build the booth, but could keep it up for only four months.

“The piece was meant to be temporary and act as a test for longer-term solutions,” said Chat Travieso, Design Trust’s design fellow who led the project.

But WHEDco is already planning the booth’s comeback, except this time it will be one stop up, on 174th Street and Southern Boulevard.

“The hope is that the new installation will be up by spring 2015,” Travieso said in an email.

WHEDco’s Alix Fellman expects that commuters waiting at 174th Street will appreciate the booth just as much as the people on Freeman Street did.  She said the booth is a good representation of how WHEDco tries to empower the poor in the community.

“Just because people don’t have great resources,” she said, “it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a great place to live.”

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