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Creating DESIGNFORWARD Public Spaces

“Holding a mirror to the city’s ruined landscape, the archaeological garden taught how time devours all, yet, as a sanctuary for the imagination, it was also a remedy for future ruin.”
—Kathleen Christian, art historian

Cities are remembered for their ability to connect with its residents and visitors. And these impressions are made through public spaces that engage and encourage social interaction, rather than indifferent observation. Public art enhances a community when done well. A DESIGNFORWARD approach considers art and city in a holistic capacity, inviting collaboration from local artists and creating a multi-use destination that eloquently speaks to those who encounter the space.

Perhaps the most known space that widened the conversation for interactive public spaces was the High Line in New York’s Chelsea neighbourhood. Opened in 2009, the converted train tracks, elevated over the city streets, now welcome upwards of 4.4 million visitors a year, spawning a demand for cultural tourism. While initially designed with good intentions, some say the installation is a victim of its own success by causing rapid gentrification along its walkway and changing the economic landscape for the dozens of independent galleries that have called the area home for decades.

Long before “cultural tourism” was a thing, ancient Romans were turning their already-crumbling ruins into gathering places, using the blight as a muse. Gary, Indiana is finding inspiration from the Romans and turning abandoned churches into gardens, an often-cheaper alternative to demolition. The Ruin Garden is changing how we see decay, turning it into an object of beauty to be enjoyed. Detroit’s theatre-turned-parking-lot latches onto this idea as well.

Cities across the globe have introduced art to its streets and plazas, speaking to the demands of cultural tourism and offering a unique experience to citizens and visitors.

Melbourne has cultivated its public art scene for years. Their laneways are coated in graffiti and lined with tiny, and sometimes hidden, bars and cafes. While the street art can be stepped into year-round, the city also holds an annual, one-night festival called White Night, where the streets come alive with performance, art, installations, and music from 7pm until 7am.

The Favela Painting Foundation, founded by Dutch artists Dre Urhahn and Jeroen Koolhaas, coloured decrepit homes in some of Rio’s poorest neighbourhoods to brighten communities and create a catalyst to improve housing. Local youth were trained to paint 34 homes in brilliant geometric pastels.

Most recently, Banksy, who made a name for himself communicating controversial messages through street art, opened the Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem – an interactive installation making a strong political statement.

Like several other international cities, Vancouver celebrates the local street art community with a yearly Mural Festival, happening this year from August 7 to 12. Last year saw forty pieces pop up around the city, which will increase to 60 new, original pieces this year.

Public art is more than erecting a sculpture in a plaza. The aim of public art is to change how we see a city and act as a venue to exchange ideas. It’s a space reserved for the greater good of a community, a place where people pause in thought or awe.

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