There exists the popular belief that making sure human habitats are made or kept beautiful, useful and/or inspiring is purely a municipal and state affair. Certainly, public money and management is crucial for pursuing the goal of improving quality of life for all citizens, and much good has come from it. However, despite all the good intentions, tedious bureaucracy, mismanagement and plain lack of imagination can create unattractive gentrified wastelands — and that’s without even taking all-too-common malign neglect into account.
Here’s where urban interventions come in. Fueled by the people’s love for their communities and a desire to create beauty out of the seemingly mundane, these grassroots projects have managed to use untapped wells of communal spirit and convert ugly or abandoned streets and neighborhoods into an outlet for the creative juice of life to spring out.
We have gathered together some spots from our network’s cities in Europe that are perfect examples of urban interventions carried out by artists, citizens and citizen groups. The best part? None of our selections need be restrained by the limits of their respective cities – in fact, we hope they will be used and re-used as successful templates, helping to inspire eager and creative citizens around the world.
500+ Berlin trees have grown faces
Spotter Josephine is a Steglitz-Zehlendorf local, a neighborhood with about 62.000 trees; it’s a number that has been on the decline as of late, leaving many stumps behind. Harald Kortmann, another Steglitz-Zehlendorf resident, got fed up by the trees not being replaced and started decorating the remains the stumps left behind with eyes, glasses, noses and mouths, inspiring other artists to follow his lead and sparking interest in this topic of local politics.
There are now more than 500 tree stumps with faces in the area!
This Rotterdam street has become a chewing gum art gallery
A few years ago, artist Ben Wilson made the rounds by having the idea to paint chewing gum stuck on the pavement. Now he’s known as Chewing Gum Man.
Erica Sonneveld, a Rotterdam local, was inspired by Wilson’s mini works and initiated Nieuwe Binnenweg Kleurt (colours) –a 1.5 kilometers of chewing gum street srt between the Eendrachtsplein and ‘sGravendijkwal.
The two-week project was joined by teachers, graphic students and artists who used acrylic paint to decorate the chewing gum in front of numbes 1 – 65A and 6 – 182 on Nieuwe Binnenweg street.
Sadly, the art on the gum gets worn out by people stepping on it much quicker than the rest of the gum, that may remain stuck on the sidewalk indefinitely: “Most chewing gum is made from polymers which are synthetic plastics that do not biodegrade. Hopefully this fun project makes you, next time you toss your gum, aim for a trash can instead of the sidewalks”, suggests our Spotter Anne-Marie.
You can find another chewing gum art project done by the original Chewing Gum Man, Ben Wilson himself, in London’s Muswell Hill and spotted by our local Kamla.
In Dublin, utility boxes have turned into shared communal canvases
According to their website, “Dublin Canvas is an idea, a community art project intended to bring flashes of colour and creativity to everyday objects in the City. Less grey, more play. The project takes previously unused public space and transforms it into canvases to help brighten up the city, making Dublin a more beautiful place to live, work and visit.”
“Dublin Canvas allows any artist to apply to be able to be given a grey traffic light control box”, writes local Jean, “which he or she can use as a public canvas to showcase his or her artwork.”
Here is a map of the position of the boxes – those in red are completed artworks.
A tribute to the secret lives of the elderly in Lisbon’s Mouraria
“The photographs on these walls are a tribute to the elderly people who live here. They walk this beco daily and their spirit makes this corner of Mouraria special.”
This is the inscription next to a number of the photographs artist Camilla Watson, friend of Spotter Alexandre, has decorated the walls of this Lisbon street with.
“I wanted to honor the elder ones living nearby – my neighbors”, she says. The buildings she chose to use as her ‘gallery’ looked as if they haden’t been touched in 100 years, and Camilla immediately saw a connection between them and their inhabitants.
“All of the images on the wall here, the people in them, they’ve chosen the ones they’d like on the walls… […] they love it. They feel proud to be on the walls, and many more of them want to be on the walls. The tourists love it… I guess because the expression in the photos is between the subjects and me, so they get to be a step closer to the community.”
Find the full interview the quotes above were taken from here.
Budapest’s fire hydrants now quench thirst as well as fire
The Rehydrant project (Ivócsap Projekt) was developed by a bunch of young engineers who had a simple but wonderful idea: to make drinking fountains out of fire hydrants! So they created a small device which does just that. It’s kind of a genius idea to make Budapest a little more comfortable and friendly during summer, when the heat strikes”, our Spoter Julianna starts her article out with.
This is one of those useful, brilliant ideas that has no apparent downsides: the fire brigade can still use the hydrants in case of fire and Budapest locals and tourists don’t need to buy wasteful plastic bottles to quench their thirst. OK, scratch that: you might have something to lose from this if you’re a water bottling company, but for everyone else, it’s win-win.
Turin’s controversial free balcony concerts
Every Sunday at 17:00, there’s a “concertino dal balconcino”, a “little concert on the little balcony” of this apartment building in Turin that attracts neighbours and locals alike with its free spirit and lust for life.
At least, it used to attract them. Unfortunately, this little weekly happening has come under fire because of complaints raised by the neighbours about the noise, with even a legal case having been made against the ‘balconcino’ performers. It is true, the concert had become much more popular over the years since its beginnings in 2011, drawing more people and therefore creating more noise, but in the organisers’ defense, the concerts had always taken place during daytime and would rarely, if ever, last more than a single hour. The whole case has turned into a controversy about the fair use of public space and the right to peace and quiet.
Our Spotter Dario decided that it was too difficult to tell if concerts would reliably be there Sunday after Sunday, so he has taken his article down from the Turin city blog, at least for the time being. Still, things are far from over yet: various happenings and different concerts are being organised in support of the right ‘to sing and play music for one hour each week’, and the artists don’t seem ready to give up the fight.
You can read The Guardian’s piece on Concertino Del Balconcino for a more detailed overview of the story and visit the Concertino’s Facebook page for concert announcements, support protests and developments on the legal case.