City Champion: Willy Wong

By NYCxDESIGN

By Anja Laubscher

Willy Wong is a creative director and designer in New York. Wong previously stewarded the global brand image for the City of New York as chief creative officer at NYC & Company and was the former president of AIGA/NY.

We spoke with Wong about living in New York City and the contribution of design to the quality of life in the City.

 

Anja Laubscher: What is your favorite public space in New York City and why?

Willy Wong: Times Square! It’s perhaps the most obvious or least expected answer, but I’m always in awe when I’m there. Folks who work in our biggest companies share the sidewalks and pedestrian plazas with crowds from just about everywhere. It’s New York’s most iconic public space and every time I venture through Times Square I encounter something new.

AL: Give us an example of how design has improved the quality of life in New York City?

WW: I often go jogging in East River Park and if I have time, I’ll run all the way around lower Manhattan and up towards Hudson River Park. I love the juxtaposition of harbor sounds and river swells to one side, with traffic zipping through FDR and West Side Highway on the other. The ecological points of interest, the ball fields, fitness stations, piers, paths, views, encounters—they all break the monotony of running and of daily city life. It’s incredible that we can run, bike, or stroll the mixed terrain, between contemporary features and historic relics, go from hard edges to soft, all while looking out at Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Jersey.

I recall times when much of the waterfront was disconnected, inaccessible, and dangerous. Parts are still under construction, some areas in disrepair and in need of attention, but I’m grateful for the transformation. It’s a work in progress, but I think the design intent and efforts thus far showcase real improvement to our quality of life.

All people should be able to navigate the city with much less friction and more delight, especially those with needs that have been historically underserved.

AL: As a designer, what would you would like to see in New York City in 2030 and why?

WW: I recently attended a workshop on the senses and accessibility at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum and it’s continued to resonate with me ever since. In 2030, I hope to see drastic improvements to infrastructure and services that support our aging population and people who have temporary or permanent disabilities of all kinds. All people should be able to navigate the city with much less friction and more delight, especially those with needs that have been historically underserved. Active design efforts should reflect a full spectrum of consideration for all points along our daily journey in public and private domains.

 

Evening in New York City’s Times Square. Photo: Willy Wong