Nasty Newsrack Photo Contest Finalists

The Municipal Art Society will be announcing the winner of its Nasty Newsrack Photo Competition tomorrow. 

MAS launched the "OUTRAGE!!! Nasty Newsrack Photo Competition" to highlight the rampant legal violations of newsracks in New York City, and received more than 200 submissions. MAS is currently is exploring new newsrack policies and designs that have been successful in other cities, such as Houston, Dallas and San Diego. Unlike New York, these cities limit the number of newsracks at any given corner, have strict criteria regulating their design, and allow only steel boxes; plastic boxes are prohibited.

Check out some of the finalists and wonder to yourself: Is New York a first-world city, or what?

SW corner of Grand and W. Broadway

SW corner of 3rd Ave. and 35th St.

SE corner of 79th St. and 1st Ave.

NW corner of Lafayette and Canal

And my personal favorite: SW corner of 1st Ave. and 51st St.

  • rhubarbpie

    The drive to clean up and restrict newsracks (and the parallel drive to have identical or near-identical newsstands), especially through legal restrictions, always strikes me as part of a bizarre desire to impose order on something where order is just not necessary. Another attempt at suburbanization or making us a little Switzerland (though we are far from that, I admit).

    If you go to other cities (and even a few places in New York, like on Madison just north of 42nd Street), like San Francisco, the newsracks all look the same, are bland and make me wonder who is doing the deciding about which publications can get space. While the plastic racks are none too pretty (though I think the Voice racks are ok), they are hardly the most disturbing feature on the streets.

    I like walking outside and, if I’ve run out of things to read, grabbing a Voice or an amNewYork or another publication easily. And a wide variety of publications easily available in a free society is vital.

    It’d be nice if MAS and others were thinking of ways of expanding ways for publications and others to get their voices heard. The new bus shelters, while nominally better looking, continue the practice of leaving no place for posters (other than those paid for by well-off companies). I’d love a design that acknowledges that the bus shelter is a perfectly appropriate place for people in my neighborhood to advertise meetings, sales and causes.

  • Steve

    I agree with you on the big picture Rhu, but these self-service newsboxes are a bad design as illustrated by the post. People stick nasty stuff inside when a garbage can isn’t handy, the outsides can’t easily be cleaned and they soil you when you brush up against them (easy to do on a crowded sidewalk). Also, though not shown in the post, they are often chained to parking signs which provide the few suitable illegal bike parking spaces. Plus if one of these boxes-on-a-pedestal falls over, the papers tumble and and may be strewn far and wide by the wind.

    I am in favor of a standardized design and placement criteria that eliminates or minimizes these problems. Design them so each one can be covered in its own original artwork, that will distinguish them from each other and make the interesting. At present, they are distinguished from each other by suffering from unique forms of decrepitude or presenting unique and unexpected hazards.

  • Ace

    Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.

  • Dave H.


    Placement of newsracks on public streets has never been a constitutionally protected right.

  • mkultra

    ace – clearly that is open to interpretation, as are all tenets of the constitution & amendments.

  • Ed

    Exactly. There is no specification in the Constitution that allows private print media corporations to leave abandoned, unfixed vending machines on city sidewalks. Certainly time, place and manner restrictions should apply here.

  • rhubarbpie

    But clearly the prejudice should be toward fewer restrictions. New York City actually has a long history on this, including allowing largely unfettered the selling of books and magazines, etc. on the streets.

    And the kind of restrictions it seems like people are talking about will necessarily mean that someone — perhaps the government or some quasi-government group (like a business improvement district) will be making up the rules about who can put up their publication’s box and who cannot.

    In addition, the courts have consistently ruled that there is a difference between commercial speech and political and press freedom. The “private print media corporations” — like the companies that publish the Voice and amNewYork, etc. — that Ed refers to are typically engaging in protected speech, and should be granted wide leeway in how they choose to distribute their publications.

    That does not mean they can put their boxes in the middle of the crosswalk (as a few do) or in the middle of the sidewalk (which I have never seen), but it does mean that we should avoid restricting distribution as much as possible, even if there is a legal way do this.

    I’d urge the folks who want to impose strict restrictions to be careful what you wish for. These kinds of restrictions seem likely to backfire and affect your own desires to distribute information and publications.

    I do understand the desire–and based on these photos–the need for some improvement. And since the law definitely recognizes allows harsher rules for commercial-only publications (like those advertising real estate with no editorial content), perhaps that is a route for the MAS. (though I also think this is a low priority).

    In general, though, the tendency is to go overboard on these kinds of rules. Maybe this kind of public shaming is enough.

    At least for me, this is about 1,245th, to be generous, in the list of public improvement projects the MAS and others should be taking on in our burg.

  • Rhub, aren’t you ever trying to cross the street and frustrated by a barricade of these that makes you go twenty feet out of your way (only to miss the light or face a car outside of the crosswalk)? I don’t care if The Onion can be classified as journalism by some stretch, this is no longer a useful means of disseminating information. Ready advertising and dirt cheap printing has thrown off the self-regulation that used to work with “news” racks; It is now essentially sidewalk spam.

  • Zach

    I’m inclined to agree, there’s this weird desire that everything be “neat and tidy” that threatens to make stuff boring. While really egregrious newsboxes are a problem, have you ever walked around Grand Central? The BID-mandated newsboxes there don’t have any of the city’s interesting non-mainstream publications, and are empty half the time. I walked six blocks and found nothing to read.

    I agree with rhubarb on the poster issue, too. While I hate “Houses Bought Cash” signs and their ilk as much as the next guy, I like tag sales, apartments, neighborhood events and such to be on the street. I’m surprised that Streetsblog’s position runs the other way, truth be told — newspapers are more vital than clean sidewalks.

  • rhubarbpie

    Actually, no, this really hasn’t been a problem for me. But if it is for other people, I see the solution in expanding sidewalk space, not by restricting the distribution of a free press.

    And The Onion is exactly what the founders were thinking of when they protected speech — it’s a satirical weekly that regularly pummels the government. It’s the epitome of what the First Amendment was written to protect.

  • Damian

    Again, as far as sidewalk space, we’re fighting over the scraps left over from car use and storage. Leave the racks where they are. They’re ugly and chaotic, but so is New York. I’m all for pedestrian improvements, but at the expense of cars and their drivers, NOT at the expense of the press.

  • Damian

    By the way, there are ALREADY regulations about the placement and maintenance of newspaper boxes. Enforce those, weed out the blatantly abandoned ones, and move on.

    Frankly, I’m more put out by these huge, overly lit new billboards masquerading as bus shelters.

  • P

    Can’t say newspaper boxes bother me.

    An extra few feet of sidewalk and they’d be easy to walk around.

  • Eric

    I’m not sure how mandating the upkeep of a newspaper box restricts free speech. If the Village Voice or anyone else wants to distribute their papers, why shouldn’t they be responsible for keeping the boxes reasonably attractive and not an impediment to pedestrian traffic. I mean, you wouldn’t think it’s ok just to toss the papers out on the sidewalk and let them blow around in the name of free speech, would you? And does the Learning Annex’s catalog get 1st Amendment protection. Let’s also keep in mind that the sidewalks are public space, and the news boxes are disseminating information from private, for-profit companies. And don’t get me wrong, I am ardently pro-free speech and a member of the ACLU.

    As for the bus shelters, the advertising deisplayed thereon generates revenue for the MTA, which, God knows, can use the money. I’d also like to see the development of community-oriented kiosks for the display of public information, but a lot of street poles get cluttered up with flyers from commercial enterprises that have no interest in the cleanliness of our streets.

  • sjt

    Newsboxes are, for the most part, out of control–blocking busy corners, chained to bike racks and other street furniture, sometimes empty, often dirty and littered. The positive impact on quality of pedestrian environment would be great with DOT enforcement of existing regulations.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I agree with Rhubarbpie, Zach and P. The news boxes are hardly ever in my way. The BID newsboxes smack of totalitarianism. If the boxes get in people’s way, then the thing to do is enforce the existing laws and work to get the sidewalks widened. Anything else is a waste of time and energy, and a violation of the First Amendment.

    What we’re doing here is fighting over the scraps – it’s the same issue as bikes on the sidewalk (going slowly, for short distances), sidewalk cafés, street vendors, etc. I’ve been a member of Transportation Alternatives for thirteen years, and this was the only issue I disagreed with them about enough to write a letter.

  • john

    just to let all of you know that my name is john and i work for the nycdot. my job is to help keep the nyc streets clean by regulating these newsracks, ive been doing this now for about 4 years. when i first got this job and this program started it was definitely alot worse! and i see now things are alot better, it will never be perfect but definitely alot just to let everyone here know we are doing the best we can to make the city look nice. remember one thing too, they move so its almost impossible for them to stay in one exact spot,especially with the weather and people moving them away from there businesses. this is what it is and please bare with us, there are thousands of newsracks in all 5 boros and we are doing the best we can, thank you.

  • Since this has been bumped up to “hot topics” I guess I’ll belatedly respond:

    “And The Onion is exactly what the founders were thinking of when they protected speech — it’s a satirical weekly that regularly pummels the government. It’s the epitome of what the First Amendment was written to protect.”

    I’m not sure that The Onion deserves a pedestal as high as the one you’ve invoked the founding fathers to build, but, I’m not trying to censor it or anything else. They’ve certainly had some good ones over the years! (My favorite was an abortion “lover” article that was taken literally by some irony deprived anti-abortionist elsewhere on the internet. Meta-hilarity ensued.) Anyway.

    Like a lot of people I started reading The Onion online, when they were only publishing a print edition at some midwestern college. I was glad when they first moved to New York. I picked up the edition a few times, would read a few eye-rollers, and junk it. I was not being liberated from governmental tyranny of thought. I was generating trash. This also seemed to be a low point for the magazine, creatively; they were running lots of recycled stories, and the scant new material was not very funny. So you pick up something that is half advertising and half not very good content, which is the only thing in this huge lashed together blob of plastic blocking the crosswalk that might possibly interest you, and it doesn’t leave you with a good feeling about the street press “industry” (or whatever it is).

    Particularly as I think of The Onion as primarily an internet publication (and I’m sure that is where they reach the vast majority of their readers) the idea of reining in their belated advertising-supported tabloid-format old-media insult of a distribution mechanism does not seem that threatening to our democracy. Their redundant print publication is literally trash, and the people who can’t find are not going to appreciate its occasional satirical “pommeling” of the government anyway. (Plus you miss out on their excellent video section, which is better than any written work they’ve done.) It’s a bit late in the game for paper-bound rhetoric about a free press.

    But I accept that the street press business in general will continue for a while yet—I only hope to see it well regulated and I’m glad that John is on the case!


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