What science communication could take away from a poem in New York

One need never leave the confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes—I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life.

From ‘Meditations in an Emergency’ by Frank O’Hara


The above quotation can be found, written in bronze letters, integrated in a fence that runs along a promenade in New York. Sean Cole, poet and radio producer, discovered this whilst out one evening with a friend. Being a huge Frank O’Hara fan, he decided track down the architects, designers and artists behind this installation.

You can hear about his discoveries on the 99% Invisible Podcast ‘Some Other Sign that People Do Not Totally Regret Life’. However, I was particularly struck by something that the landscape architect involved in project, M. Paul Friedberg, said about a major design principle of his.

I think information should be layered in our environment…. It should be layered in the environment. Not didactically. It should be an integral part… [So] that, if you are interested, you extract it.

A wall, it’s a structural entity, how do you express that? It has force; it has power. That’s a very important part of it. So [this dictates] the way you design the wall. But the wall is also a billboard…. What kind of information do you express on a billboard? It can be decorative, it can be colour, right? It can be anything.

[It’s] the idea that you’re looking at a fence and you walk away with a thought as well.

To me, this highlights two important points. Firstly, good design is essential in communicating information… in any media. In science communication the potential of design and visual communication is frequently overlooked, but through working more closely with designers this could easily be overcome.

Secondly, it would be wonderful if scientific information, something so integral to our lives and culture, could be incorporated into our everyday lives like Frank O’Hara’s poem was in New York. It’s lovely to think that something as simple as leaning against a wall could allow people to walk away with a small nugget of scientific information… if they wished.

One thought on “What science communication could take away from a poem in New York

  1. What an interesting post! Whilst I don’t necessarily agree with the first quote, the content is obviously not the point; incorporating a message into structural design is a wonderful and probably underused idea. It reminds me of the poetry or quotes the tube announcers sometimes come out with – when getting off a train it can be a pleasant surprise to leave with a thought provoking anecdote as well as whatever you boarded with 🙂

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