Banksy’s Park. image courtesy The Daily Duff
Inspired design is what makes some cities, communities and public spaces great. The inclusion of art and the commitment to accessibility make people feel welcome, encourage engagement and a sense of pride in these spaces. And this in turn leads to a sense of responsibility and ownership by the community at large to keep these spaces great. Sadly I don’t see enough of this. But when I do, whoa, day made.
Things as simple as benches, some greenery and sloping sidewalks at curbs (with drainage close by please!) increase the walkability and enjoyment of a street for a community’s full citizenry.
Image above and below courtesy of Cube Me
Here’s a wonderful example I came across during an internet wander. Fences typically define an in group from an out group. But this one manages to separate space while also bringing folks on both sides of the fence together through the ingenious inclusion (and spacing) of seating. The Playground Fence by Tejo Remy also has become part of the playground space itself, encouraging the climbing and congregating of kids. Designs like these just make me smile: it’s so smartly functional and interesting to behold, art in its own rite.
Here in Toronto, deep in the heart of the Financial District, nestled among modernist sky-scrappers, lives this little pasture of life-sized bronze cow sculptures. ”The Pasture” is a permanent art installation by Joe Fafad that first appeared in 1985. We took our son to visit the cows while we were downtown last weekend and they were a hit. (A bigger hit than the umpteen child-centered activities and parks we visited that same weekend even.) Elements like this – an unexpected bit of whimsy and beauty – cut into your day making it brighter; and it’s always interesting to see how people young and old interact with this sort of art.
But often it’s not official urban planners or comissioned art projects that make a space great. Communities engage all the time with the leadership help of activist members. But I’m more interested in urban artists whose installations stop you in your tracks, bring you in to the story of your neighbourhood and connect strangers, sometimes in the most poignant ways. That’s what Candy Chang is doing with her work, such as the much heralded Before I Die project.
Images via Candy Chang
Candy took an abandoned house in her New Orleans neighbourhood and turned it into an interactive wall for residents to reflect on their aspirations and give these voice in the public realm. With her help, Before I Die walls are popping up all over the place from South Africa to Malaysia, and there’s one in the works for Toronto this summer.
Image above and below via Candy Chang
Candy Chang is an artist after my own heart. She cares a lot about neighbourhoods and her work strives to make public spaces resonate with its inhabitants. Her work is a combination of Street Art, urban planning, social activism and philosophy. She’s also the great mind behind the I Wish This Was ______, a project inspired by vacant storefronts. What a wonderful way to mobilize your neighbours and influence the kinds of businesses and services you want to see around you.
My family and I are lucky to live in a family-oriented neighbourhood that’s just undergone a major transformation that integrated wider sidewalks, meeting space, and bike lanes, while also giving public transit priority on the street. The playgrounds around here are cared for by everyone, enhanced by all kinds of hand-me-down toys, ride-ons and play structures. It’s such a simple but welcoming touch.
What about you? What in your public surroundings inspire you?