Public Space as Performance: 10 Years of Flash Mobbing
What do New York’s Grand Central Station, the UK’s Liverpool Street Station, Belguim’s Central Station Antwerp, Stockholm’s Sergels Torg, New York’s Washington Square Park, Seattle’s Westlake Park, and Los Angeles’ Hollywood and Highland have in common?
They have all played a major part in flash mobs. You have probably seen a YouTube video or two depicting a group of people who suddenly break into song, or dance, or the opposite--stand completely motionless for minutes. Flash mobs are “a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression.” Mobs can be formed for the purpose of amusing an individual - for a birthday or engagement - an entire audience, or for general celebration of an event - or just because. But whatever activity is involved all flash mobs have common settings. Without these public transit nodes or spaces, where would or could flash mobs take place?
According to Seth Dixon, professor of Geography at Rhode Island College, all flash mobs share the importance of place: “An incredibly prominent place with open spaces and many sight lines is a prime location for a flash mob. Beyond these tangible characteristics, if a site has some important cultural significance, those qualities can be meshed with the meanings of the flash mob.” Although these public transit hubs and large promenades were not culturally intended to be spaces for such performances, as flash mobs intentionally rouse the “norm,” perhaps more designers should be considering clear sight lines in Placemaking; perhaps going so far as to intentionally design space for flash mobs.
I attempted to calculate the square footage for seven randomly chosen locations: three being public transit stations and four public promenades or parks. (Unfortunately, I was unable to grab the square footage measurements for two of the transit stations. If you are able to fill in the blanks - please leave the data in the comments below.)
Grand Central Flash Mob
One of the most popular flash mobs was when time stood still for five-minutes in 2008, for 207-participants in New York’s Grand Central Station’s 333,000 square foot Main Concourse.
Liverpool Street Station
T-Mobile created a special Flash Mob advertisement in 2009. After hundreds of people broke out in dance T-Mobile depicted how “Life’s for Sharing” as onlookers stood around calling and sending the video they probably just recorded.
Central Station Antwerp
In 2009, 200-people joined-in singing “Do Re Mi” at Belgium's Central Station Antwerp. It was a promotion to cast someone to play the leading role in the theatrical version of “The Sound of Music.” For four minutes, the dancers belt out a lively performance while onlookers, elderly especially, looked on in amazement and curiosity.
In July 2009, 300-dancers met at Stockholm’s 104,576 ft.2* Sergel Torg to perform a tribute to Michael Jackson. Later, that same day, the dancers take to the streets of Stureplan, performing between cars and buses on a busy night.
Washington Square Park
In 2010, at New York’s 5,368 ft.2* Washington Square Park, 50-dancing couples surrounded an unsuspecting woman who was about to be proposed to by her boyfriend. I doubt that she ever imagined that her YouTube engagement would draw hundreds-of-thousands of views.
In 2011, at Seattle’s 14,485 ft.2* Westlake Park, the largest Glee fan event in the country took place by the Gleeks. Over 1,200-dancers and sing-along enthusiasts, young-and-old, united for this unique event. This is by far the largest flash mob that I have come across. Are you familiar with any that are larger?
Hollywood and Highland
In 2010, at Los Angeles’ 7,373 ft.2* Hollywood and Highland dancers came out to support Yele Haiti’s Earthquake Relief Fund by flash mobbing. The choreography was done to a series of Michael Jackson songs, “Bad,” “They Don’t Really Care About Us,” and “Heal the World.”
Since the first flash mob, in 2003, an amazing 532,000 videos have been upload to YouTube and 131 million results can be found through Google. Now, if after all the flash mob talk, if you are ready to begin planning your own flash mob follow these steps or even better - start designing for one. At what other venues have you seen flash mobs? What is the largest and/or the smallest venue? If you have experienced a flash mob live, please share your experiences in the comments below.
Credits.*Square footage of spaces are approximate and attained using Google Earth. Images and data linked to sources.
Renée van Staveren is the Founder and Executive Director of The Global Grid. She holds a M.S. in Urban and Regional Planning and a B.S. in Sustainable Community Development. Prior to establishing The Global Grid, Renée was an Assistant Planner for A-M-M-A Transit Planning and the Program Director for Planet Green. Renée currently lives in San Francisco, CA; adding to the list of places she ...