Last Tuesday, Nov 24 the City Council of Ames, Iowa passed an ordinance that would allow residents of neighborhoods to paint street intersections. The Neighborhood Street Art Ordinance will allow residents to create public places where they hadn’t existed before. The public space is a universal cornerstone of self-governance, and it is very common for modern cities to completely lack it. The concept was pioneered in Portland, Oregon by the nonprofit City Repair, which freely consults people who want to undertake a project.
The process began in the Summer of 2008, when a flier was given to residents door-to-door around an intersection to garner support for the idea. Everyone was fully enthusiastic about the idea, and on July 1, 2009, the first meeting was held with city government officials. Portland’s ordinance was more or less copied and worked into a bill. For the most part, everyone with the city government was enthusiastic about the idea, given the positive results that were seen in Portland and elsewhere.
Efforts will begin in the Spring of 2009, when residents around the intersection will have a meeting, design the project and gather resources together, have the design approved by the city, and apply the art under a block party permit. As the art will regularly wear, the residents will retouch it occasionally, providing the opportunity for ongoing neighborly gathering. The first project will be seen by the city as a test for the idea to spread further around the city.
The following is part of the letter sent to city council representatives:
The impact that this project may have on people in the area and around Ames cannot be underestimated. While government has done its part in laying out and maintaining them for their practical purposes, our public spaces are essential to the human interaction around which we form meaningful communities. When communities have developed organically, they did around central common spaces, from which the arrangement of public and private spaces radiated outwards. As everyone was invested in public spaces, they embodied their mutual respect in a democratic accountability that was implicit. In resting all accountability of our common needs on government, the form of our communities, our streets and the arrangement of our public and private spaces, have been built only around their most practical function. While we employ a government to represent us, it cannot embody the meaning we hold in our lives. We need to do our part with our government in making our public spaces more than practical conduits. Given that communities are gridlocked, and planned in a top-down fashion, reaching a balance will take a great deal of creativity. In our context, a city repair is perhaps the best way that we can transform our public spaces into places.