Atlantic Cities

Taking Art to the Street, Literally

Taking Art to the Street, Literally

My view of sustainability is a broad one. I work for an environmental organization, so ecosystem health is always in mind. But, as with most ecosystems, the ecology of human communities is complex. Everything affects everything else.

I maintain that one can seldom have a strong, healthy natural environment in cities, towns and neighborhoods without also having a strong, healthy community of people. We make the most of existing resources by, in part, fostering resilient community relationships in existing places. This means that in my opinion whatever we do to strengthen a sense of community – coupled with a sense of place – in an older neighborhood is usually also contributing to ecosystem health.

This is a long-winded introduction to a great video on how neighborhoods in Portland are strengthening community bonds and identity through, among other things, street painting. From a website called City Repair:

Intersection Repair is the citizen-led conversion of an urban street intersection into a public square. Streets are usually the only public space we have in our neighborhoods. But most all of them have been designed with a single purpose in mind:  moving cars around. With an Intersection Repair, that public space is reclaimed for the whole community. The intersection of pathways becomes a place for people to come together. The space becomes a Place – a public square ...

It is the people who live in the neighborhood who decide that they want the public square, what it will look like, how it will function and how it will develop.  One neighborhood may paint a giant mural on the intersection and stop there.  Another may go through many phases:  painting the street, installing a community bulletin board, building a mini-cafe on a corner, reconstructing the intersection with brick and cobblestones, opening businesses to make it a village center… and on and on!

To see what I mean, check this out:

This post originally appeared at the NRDC's Switchboard blog.

Keywords: Public Art

Kaid Benfield is special counsel for urban solutions at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an adjunct professor at the George Washington University School of Law, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and author of several books on cities, smart growth and sprawl. All posts »

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