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Posts Tagged ‘street art’

Urban crowd-sourcing, bucket-listing in New Orleans

In Thoughts on April 10, 2011 at 10:08 am

This might be the best plan for blighted neighborhoods I’ve heard yet, mainly because it can be implemented by anyone, it can happen fairly instantly, it engages the community, and it avoids any zoning / reinvestment / ownership issues.

Step 1. Take an abandoned building in a prominent location, one that gets a lot of foot traffic.

Step 2. Cover it in chalkboards or chalkboard paint.

Step 3. Pose a question or fill-in-the-blank, like the one above.

Step 4. Leave chalk.

This is precisely what artist and designer Candy Chang did in New Orleans.

Before:

After:

Once the wall has been filled, she washes the board with water and starts all over again.

Even though they disappear, as all street art does, Chang is collecting the responses for a book she wants to put together, a catalog of New Orleans dreams, written on its buildings and abandoned homes.

Rats: a cultural catalog

In Excerpts, Thoughts on March 10, 2011 at 7:47 am

Most nights, coming home from a nearby bar, cafe, or friend’s house, my wife and I turn into the alley above Evergreen Avenue to circle around to our street. And most nights, we see at least one rat. Scurrying behind the dumpsters, foraging in the plentiful scrap-gardens we’ve planted for it in the corners of our city.

What’s ironic about the routine sightings is the sign at the mouth of the alley:

It’s maybe not so ironic. I don’t think  any city could ever truly eliminate its rat population—something Robert Sullivan agrees with me on. “Rats will always get through,” he writes in Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants. Fascinating and horrifying is his conversation with Larry Adams, a rodent-control expert, which I snagged from BLDGBLOG.

“People don’t realize the subterranean conditions out there,” [Adams] likes to say. “People don’t realize the levels. People don’t realize the we got things down there from the Revolution. A lot of people don’t realize that there’s just layers of settlers here, that things just get bricked off, covered up and all. They’re not accessible to people, but they are to rats. And they have rats down there that have maybe never seen the surface. If they did, then they’d run people out. Like in the movies. You see, we only see the tail end of it. And we only see the weak rats, the ones that get forced out to look for food.”

In a piece for The New York Times Magazine, Sullivan writes of his experiences on the ground, trapping rats for study. Trapping rats to see how effective the various rodent-control programs were going. Trapping them because after 9/11, people had become more paranoid about things like biological terrorism and the idea that bacteria and plagues in rats might be used against us.

“Rat-control programs are like diets in that cities are always trying a new one. In the city, rats and men live in conflict, one side scurrying from the other or destroying the other’s habitat, an unending and brutish war. Rat stories are war stories, and they are told in conversation and on the news, in dispatches from the front that is all around us, though mostly underneath.”

And then there’s Banksy, who has strewn our cities with even more rats, if rats of a more fantastic nature. Regardless of the true reason behind Banksy’s current fascination with the rodent form, in the blog Erratic Phenomena, the author notes an interesting comparison:

“I can’t help considering how many characteristics these nocturnal residents of the underworld share with another night prowler–the graffiti artist. Both rats and graf writers are tough, clever, unloved, and impossible-to-eliminate denizens of the abandoned, trash-littered no-man’s-lands between our everyday reality and the mechanisms that make its clean, well-lit surfaces possible.”

A final note: it’s been reported that the many sightings of coyotes in Chicago are the result of a strategic effort to release these plains predators into the city’s downtown and neighborhoods to help control the rat population. But some believe this is only the tale spun to help calm the fear surrounding the animals, and that in fact, coyotes have simply moved in from the prairies to scrounge from our scraps just like the rats. It reminds me of the story of the giant tiger, prowling Manhattan, in Chronic City.