Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Hyattsville traffic signal box public art contest: Vote through March 24th

While traffic signal boxes can function equal well as a backdrop for:

Traffic safety messages ("Traffic safety messages on traffic signal boxes (Florida Department of Transportation)")

Photo courtesy of the Florida Department of Transportation.

Presentation of cultural history (Eugene, Oregon has a project called "History Here" and Calgary too, the Beltline Community Signal Box Wrap Program)

Historic preservation/history related traffic signal box wraps, Calgary

or bulletin boards, formally or informally, most often for protest

most frequently they are used for public art projects.

Notions Capital calls our attention to the current Traffic Box Art Wraps project in Hyattsville, coordinated by the Hyattsville Community Development Corporation.  Voting to select the final designs continues through March 24th.



At 11:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

urban street furniture has, for the longest time, been completely ignored- prior to WW1 if any utility company put up any sort of device in the urban area it had to be designed to some extent to fit in- and to be attractive and not so ugly. Now days we have utility boxes that disfigure and visually pollute historic homes and buildings- and little has been done to alleviate this problem- it has not been on the radar- so to speak. Maybe as young people move into cities again this acceptance and apathetic mentality will gradually go away? Artists used to design most things like this but now we let engineers do this and we wind up with butt ugly solar collectors on rooftops looking like erector sets or power plants. We can do better as a society.

At 12:14 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Interesting point. I am sure there are books dating to that period with those examples. There is a book I have somewhere, _New Civic Art_ by Duany et al that might have a bit of this.

It is a kind of successor to a similar book published in the 1920s.

I haven't ever tracked down that book.

It's worth researching older resources (e.g., in its early days, House & Garden Magazine c. 1900-1910 at least was more like a planning magazine) to see what they have on this dimension.

For example, there is an article about the Boston & Albany Railroad and their aesthetic approach to stations. The article is called "Railroad Beautiful." (But the only reason I learned aobut it is because in a note on their 125th anniversary, the Wall Street Journal listed some of the articles they had published in the past, so I tracked it down, finding other great articles as well, such as on public squares).

It's worth arming ourselves with this kind of information and approach and approaching public space authorities about setting new expectations and standards for this kind of infrastructure.

This type of appurtenance should be another element of what I call transportation infrastructure as civic architecture.

At 3:02 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

very good review essay on new books on Jane Jacobs

At 4:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

being one of the true originators of the Art on Call project in DC I am highly aware of how utility companies regard urban street furniture. Basically zero thought goes into these objects because few of the engineers or people who make these things ever have to live with them. The people who built call boxes starting in the 1840's actually sculpted them and made them admirable pieces of public art - visitors would come to our city and admire the look of these devices. Nowadays the abject utilitarian mentality has so debased any mindset in this manner that utility people will laugh at anyone remotely concerned about such things. It is pathetic how badly this atmosphere has become. The Art of Call project was all about fighting this degraded and decadent attitude prevalent in our suburban car dominated overly practical- but ultimately impractical [ because you cannot live with SHIT] trend set. Some people actually wanted to tear down all of DC's old call boxes- and this galvanized some to fight back.

At 4:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

when you get out of your car and actually walk around or take time to see things in a city these questions become important and not just fluff or window dressing. Being in a speeding car people tend to be dismissive of aesthetic concerns about street furniture and other ornamentation- but this ornamentation has a down to earth purpose. and studies have also been done that conclude that few vandalize real public art- usually vandals attack blank empty spaces in cities.

At 7:24 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Obviously the point about "windshield perspective" vs. walking or even being on a bike (riding at city pace, not racing) is well known.

But we still need to be constantly reminded about what a difference that makes to your perspective, and I hadn't considered all the various ways that it can contribute to the impoverishment of beauty and aesthetic considerations.

2. You can do renderings... I should talk with you about this idea I have, to try to work with property owners where their properties abut bus stops, and somehow build cool brick and/or stone benches (even concrete, there is an amazing concrete art deco bench on a gravesite at Rock Creek Cemetery) into the site (usually there is a grade difference between the yard and sidewalk), as a different kind of public art.

This isn't the bench, I can't seem to find the photo of the one I am thinking about, but you get the idea.

But to insert them into spaces like these:,+Washington,+DC/@38.9421402,-77.0200704,3a,75y,307.91h,81.88t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1sVrGRwC5cpp7Ep2eJ8ZOaUA!2e0!!7i13312!8i6656!4m5!3m4!1s0x89b7c80cdab30cb9:0xf4af0c0c9db835b!8m2!3d38.944627!4d-77.018133!6m1!1e1

This is at New Hampshire Ave. NW, just east of Upshur St. NW.

anyway the idea is to model a return to quality in street furniture and to be more expansive in our thinking about where to put it and why.

At 7:29 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

This bench is more along the lines of what I mean, because the sites I am thinking about, you build it into the grade. -- image 2 (but #3 is good too)

This is the post about the park where the bench is.

At 8:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

back in the late 70's & early 80's the architecture was so disgustingly bland that developers in cahoots with city governments across the USA came up with this silly "one percent" rule that dedicates one percent of the cost of a building to art or some sort of ornamentation, This is absurd and regressive and denotes that art is not worth more than " one percent" - in the Italian Renaissance it was more like 80- 100 percent and they did not have anywhere near our resources , money, financing or technology- now we cannot even crest architectural sculpture or murals integral to a building any more. For some reason all of this is " too expensive" and yet buildings tastefully ornate sell or command much higher square footage rents and are highly regarded. If Adolf Cluss' or Frank Furness' buildings had not been torn down in the 1950's & 60's they'd be the highest priced buildings in DC & Philly. Our society has totally dropped the ball. And now we get these new developers who buildings bland boxes all over again all over the city- total regimentation and relentlessness and zero style at all.

At 9:44 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

well, the intent wasn't that this should be a maximum, but a minimum and that art should be an integral part of the process and project.

... there was a piece somewhere last summer, maybe in East City Art, complaining about a project at NoMA, inadequate art, not local artists participating, etc.

I didn't write a response but still might... the big problem is lack of integrating public art planning into area planning processes.

when I did those articles for the EU project, one was on Helsinki, and I wrote about the Arabianranta district, which is a business-oriented "arts" district, anchored by a university, and then graphic design oriented businesses that desired proximity. (Of course you know that Finland and Scandinavia has an incredible design history and tradition.)

If you want, I'll send you a journal article on it, that one of the authors was kind enough to send to me (I couldn't access the piece otherwise).

... even so, I hadn't learned that as part of the large area planning process for the district, the city planning office committed to having one planner coordinate public art/landscape architecture/streetscape interventions for the district over the course of its build out.

That made a huge difference in terms of the outcome/outcomes. It communicated the need to build planning and implementation into area planning on these dimensions in a concerted way.

Tuula Isohanni was the planner, and I got to meet her at a private conference for the project in Baltimore...

This is a more detailed document on the projects:

anyway, a similar kind of planning integration process is what is needed in NoMA and other districts across the city.

At 9:46 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt my Anacostia work

or what I was talking about in terms of the parks across the city

(although Georgetown's Glow light project, and various sculpture initiatives in Capitol Hill and Foggy Bottom are similar)

imagine this across the facilities along the Anacostia River

or across DC's parks and plazas

(cf. Sioux Falls, South Dakota has done something like this for many years)


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