Here’s a photo of a run down, overlooked, disconnected block here in Memphis. By the reports I received, a few years ago this place was totally dead. Today you have local entrepreneurs, artists and retailers opening up shop and looking to grow. So what turned this dead block around? Was it huge business subsidies? Was it a large investment by the city? Was it some type of tax breaks?
Nope. As far as I can tell it was a local vision (partially facilitated by the city), some paint and some people that wanted to make things better. You’ll notice in the photos here that the striping is not exactly high quality. This isn’t a Memphis variant on rigid engineering standards. It is Guerrilla Painting, a Tactical Urbanism [link redacted] approach to incremental change.
The people of this neighborhood went out with buckets of paint that they picked up at the local hardware store and painted these crosswalks, bike lanes and parking lanes. In the process they turned this desolate street into a place that has an emerging character. Is it the end-all-be-all. No, of course not. Has it made a difference? Absolutely.
I don’t condone this type of “guerilla painting” (it’s not clear from Chuck’s report to what extent the neighborhood was acting with the City’s blessing..), but I agree with his observation. A little bit of low-cost paint can really go a long way.
Public works departments tend to be minimalists when it comes to paint. Cities don’t want to paint anything unless they can commit to maintaining it for the foreseeable future, which usually means re-painting annually, or at least every few years. So if some striping is perceived as optional, it’s hard for cash-strapped cities to justify the expense. Still, paint is still relatively affordable (compared to other things public works departments do).
Reminds me of my favorite bike comic strip, Yehuda Moon: