Friday, November 7, 2014

Murals: Resurgence and Placemaking in Commercial Districts

Beautiful. Inspiring. Informative. Vibrant.  These are just a few words that describe outdoor murals and streetscape art which are now seeing resurgence in popularity and importance.

Advertisement murals were the original streetscape murals.  Starting in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s they advertised and promoted brands from horse saddles to biscuits and typically painted on brick.  Frank Jump, a NYC based photographer, chronicles these ad murals (

Photo credit Sarah Goodyear via
Taking the lead of Chicago’s muralists, whose work received national publicity at the end of the 1960’s, cities across US saw the potential of powerful public imagery as murals were an important devise for perhaps even novice painters to express themselves and have a voice in their community. 

Here at the Commercial District Advisor we are on board with encouraging BIDs, business corridors, and communities to add murals, whether for advertisement or public art, to their streetscapes in order to add soul, personality, and life to their areas.  A study of Philadelphia commercial corridors (Econsult, 2006) found the Mural Arts Program (MAP) had demonstrated and positive effects on retail sales along the corridors where they were placed. The murals addressed and rectified visible signs of physical degradation and also decrease the perception of crime, both critical factors in commercial revitalization.

The good news is that we are seeing a growing trend of variable forms of murals and streetscape artwork, including:
Image by Commercial District Advisor
The research further supports the impact of murals on local conditions. Murals help to avoid “dead zones” of nothingness on the walls, this in turn reminds pedestrians where they are and gives them a safe and inviting feeling (, 2008). Also, evidence points out that graffiti murals are a cost effective way to keep surfaces free from vandalism and create visual cues to residents that the place they call home is desirable (Verel, 2013). 

Seeing suggestions turned into action...

Image from, Michael Craig-Martin, Art Production Fund
In some communities, murals are a wonderful way to beautify the physical environment, keep surfaces graffiti free, which in turn decreases the perception of crime. A few years ago, our firm, together with LISC MetroEdge, completed a retail strategy analysis for La Casa de Don Pedro.  Since then, our mural recommendation has driven a host of initiatives on the street, and this week La Casa is celebrating “The Gates Project”, which resulted in vibrant advertising murals on storefront gates.

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