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New York City has picked its latest big public art project. And it doesn't involve setting up a water show in the East River or wrapping up Central Park in brightly colored fabric. It's going to be distributing seven million Metrocards with the word "Optimism" printed on the backs. It's cooler than it sounds:

Composed in clean, bold, sans-serif letters, it floats in a sea of white just beneath the boilerplate fine print... At first glance, the word appears simple and unassuming, a non sequitur easily overlooked amid the blur of travel in the city.

So simple and unassuming, in fact, even the people who came up with the brilliant idea "acknowledge that many subway and bus riders may never see it."

But if that's the case, why bother? Well, for those who do see it, it will no doubt be an inspiring message during these economically tough times:

But as unemployment in the city reaches a 16-year high, as corporations close and deficits mount, optimism has become a scarce commodity, aboveground and below. God knows people want to feel good, they want to feel up, they want to feel positive," said Christopher P. Boylan, who oversaw the project at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. "If I can make a couple of customers smile a day, that's nice."

That would be nice! Then again, it would be really nice—and put smiles on millions of faces—if the MTA focused on, say, preventing another fare increase from taking effect. Or restoring the service that they've cut back on in recent months. Or improving security so that we're not madly groped during rush hour. Not that we harbor doubts the MTA is working on those things, of course. We don't. We're brimming with optimism!

The Days May Be Grim, but Here's a Good Word to Put in Your Pocket [NYT]