Making public space with ‘asphalt art’
As cities reopen around the US, many are creating outdoor gathering spaces for dining and other activities. Indoor spaces are more risky than outdoor spaces, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
In mixed-use districts and downtowns, often street space is being temporarily converted to multipurpose gathering space. A fun way to do this is to use “asphalt art”—a booklet released last fall by the Bloomberg Philanthropies and Street Plans Collaborative is a great guide to this activity. The authors define asphalt art as a new category of public art on roadways, pedestrian spaces, a vertical pedestrian infrastructure.
The Asphalt Art Guide features 26 case studies around the world of transformative, art-driven street design projects and also provides step-by-step guidance for creating asphalt art.
Many of these projects resulted in improvements in public safety in addition to beautification of the public realm. “The Cool Water, Hot Island mural in Times Square, by Molly Dilworth, led to a decrease in pedestrian injuries,” says Street Plans Collaborative. “After the mural was installed in 2010, injuries went down by 35 percent, despite the fact that pedestrians started frequenting the space more often.”
With paint and planters, communities can transform former intersections into plazas, or abandoned underpasses into an active urban spaces. Here are some of the case studies in the book:
- The Corbett Porch Mural in Tucson, Arizona, narrowed a street and improved public safety. Drivers were more likely to stop at the stop bar (to 34 percent compliance from 27 percent) and come to a full stop (to 82 percent compliance from 69 percent).
- An underpass in Boston, Massachusetts, was transformed into an active urban park— Underground at Ink Block—reconnecting neighborhoods previously divided by uninviting and unsafe road infrastructure.
- An intersection mural called Walks of Life in West Palm Beach, Florida, was made possible by interdepartmental and public-private collaboration. City planners, engineers, and economic development staff, private consultants, and a local arts school all formed part of the team.
- The Bankside Business Improvement District in London, England, used an installation to show how a low-cost intervention—a painted crosswalk—could foster a strong creative identity in an emerging design district, encourage pedestrian activity, and improve people’s perception of the street.
- An eight-point intersection in Bogata, Columbia, is transformed with the Barrio Ingles Mural. The “Programa Plazoletas” program links communities and local businesses in a participatory process to transform underutilized streets into community hubs.
- The Rue Vendome Mural transformed a short block in North Miami Beach, Florida, into a plaza for a 3-month pilot. Although the temporary period is over, the space continues to be used by the city for ongoing events on the weekends as they plan a permanent reconstruction of the space into a plaza.
The Asphalt Art Guide breaks down the complex process of creating art in public spaces so that cities can empower citizens.