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Enlivening dead city spaces with street art

Kaid Benfield

Posted September 13, 2013 in Living Sustainably

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  Marilyn overlooks a busy DC intersection (photo by: Shreyas Ravishankar, creative commons)

I pretty much love street art, when it’s not too gritty or too pretentious.  Art is a terrific way to bring a bit of life to blank walls and otherwise dead spaces, as well as to add flavor to nicer places.  Public art is not perfect as a solution to neighborhood design issues – urbanist purists will tell you about a dozen reasons why – but it helps, sometimes a lot.

I can’t imagine Woodley Park in DC without the now-iconic mural of Marilyn Monroe overlooking the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and Calvert Street.

  Santa Monica, CA (photo c2013 FK Benfield)

Street art can also evoke earlier times, as with this mural of dancers along what would otherwise be a blank wall in Santa Monica . . .

  mural in Oakland's Fruitvale district (photo by Rich Lem, creative commons)

Or it can present history more explicitly, as with the mural of North American indigenous society in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland.

  Elmhurst Park, Boston, MA (photo c2012 FK Benfield)

In Boston, a sign made by kids in the Codman Square district’s Elmhurst Park demonstrates the community’s interest in reducing crime.

                 outdoor exhibit presented by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington (photo c2010 FK Benfield)

And sometimes a colorful sculpture can bring a bit of humor and playfulness to a downtown office district in DC, where the office workers are always Very Serious About Very Important Things.  (The building in the background housed NRDC’s Washington office when I took the photo.)

  selection from memolition's "best examples of street art in 2012" (courtesy of memolition)

If perhaps you’re feeling a bit too serious or mentally confined, check out “The best examples of street art in 2012 (48 Pictures)” (sample just above), curated by the web site memolition.  Some are pretty amazing.

Thanks to Meera Collier-Mitchell for pointing me to memolition’s collection.

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Kaid Benfield writes about community, development, and the environment on Switchboard and in other national media.  For more posts, see his blog's home page.  Please also visit NRDC’s Sustainable Communities Video Channels.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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