Friday, January 23, 2015

Utility Boxes Get an Artistic Upgrade

Scott Landfried is LOA's newest staff person, blog contributor, and graduate student in planning at Hunter College. 

You know those clunky gray metal boxes at intersections. They are a bit omnipresent around cities but easily looked past. These unwelcoming boxes of variable sizes and rectangular shapes sit at most intersections, along our streets, next to buildings, and in commercial corridors.  Wouldn't it be nice to see what a little creativity and initiative can do to turn bland into beautiful?  Many cities are doing just that.

Calgary, Canada (Image
& Artist: Sam Hester)
In a recent article I saw, Minneapolis is taking the initiative to put the paintbrush and power in the hands of its citizens.  The article weighs the pros and cons of paint versus vinyl wrapping and points out the reportedly difficult approval process.

Calgary, Canada
Streetscape artwork and improvement are valuable as node or landmarks, something that attracts and draws, something that becomes connected with the character of the district itself.  I can imagine two people arranging plans to meet to eat and shop saying something like, "Let's meet at the A to Z box" or "Meet me at the bright box on 16th." "Let's meet at that gray bland box on 9th," said no one, ever.

Toronto, Canada (Image: Kayla Rocca)
Check out our Pinterest account for other great utility boxes. While looking for good examples, I was reminded of my many years living in Austin.  I remembered seeing utility boxes painted (possibly unauthorized) while driving or biking the streets and enjoyed the brightness and creativity they offered.

Artist: Kristine Heycants
Image: City of Minneapolis
Here are some interesting points regarding utility box programs:
  • initiated in many cities as graffiti abatement programs,
  • boxes are typically painted by professional artists selected through application process,
  • not just any box can be painted but typically only utility boxes owned by the city,
  • typically painting of boxes can cost anywhere from $800-1800 and is covered by the city or community groups.

Other links and readings:
Calgary Utility Box Public Art Program
Boston's Paintbox Program
Glendale, CAs "Beyond the Box" Program
Rochester, NY - Painted Utility Boxes
Google image search: "painted utility boxes"

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