If you want something done right, do it yourself. If you can’t do it yourself, make it art.

FRAGILE - Handle with Care planter by Sean Martindale

A few months ago I wrote about SeeClickFix, an online web tool that allows citizens to report problems in their neighborhoods to their city governments and track the issue until it is fixed. And while I think there is something to be said for holding a city accountable for maintaining its public space, the fact of the matter is… sometimes it just doesn’t happen as quickly as you might like.

In most cities, this is a shame. But in some, it has turned out some serious public fun. I’ve recently come across two funky projects that been band-aiding broken infrastructure  by turning it into public art–a type of artsy DIY city repair.

Outside the Planter Boxes is a project initiated by Sean Martindale in Toronto to breath fun new life into broken and neglected tree planter boxes lining Toronto’s busy streets.

As Martindale describes it on the project’s website:

We all have stakes in our shared environments, and this public project directly engages with Toronto’s urban fabric. One of the primary intents of the Outside the Planter Boxes project is to encourage more direct participation and interest in our shared public spaces – to demonstrate that the public can play a more consciously active role in how our city is shaped. Hopefully you will find the project reveals possibilities for alternatives and perhaps more biodiversity, creative gestures, and better city infrastructure.

Here are a few examples of those creative gestures. See Outside the Planter Boxes’ website for more:

Beer Box Origami Flowers by Karen Abel

Airport planter by Martin Reis.

Grass Spills by Sean Martindale

Another entitled Projet Nid de Poule (Project Pothole) was started in Paris in 2009 by Juliana Santacruz Herrera, whose work is sort of like road repair meets yarn bombing,  plugging potholes with elaborate knit fill-ins.

See more of Herrera’s fun, cartoon-like pot-hole repair projects on her Flickr page.

Projects like this make me think about the idea of civic responsibility. Who should ultimately be responsible for the cities spaces? Should we ourselves be taking ownership over the spaces we use every day and be responsible for making and keeping them great? As a beliver in pubic/installation art, and claiming space, I want to say yes. But how much of this responsibility should lie on the citizen? How much can we demand from public officials? Is it their respnsibility to make and maintain great spaces… or the responsibility of those who use them?

These are questions to which I don’t know the answer. But I do know that yarn can only solve so much. It can’t, for instance, fix the broken crosswalk button on the corner of Clarke and Adanac that I reported to SeeClickFix back in April – which I’m happy to report, has been repaired.


About Christine McLaren

I am a journalist, and a curious urbanite. Find out more about who I am, what I write, and why I own so many miniture top hats at www.christinemclaren.com
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