Courtesy Grant Stern

Tired of asking the government to tend to sidewalk overgrowth, a group of friends took matters into their own hands

A group of friends in Miami have had enough of overgrown weeds on vacant lots and public property – particularly sidewalks – in their neighborhood, chronically neglected by city maintenance crews. Their solution? Spray paint those babies.

Not that they haven’t been artistic about it, on their stealth midnight missions to draw attention to the weeds with bright colors. But spray paint they have. The weeds, not the sidewalk. And judging from the photos, their work actually looks pretty good.

I suppose we can consider this a branch of "tactical" or "pop-up" urbanism, which I’ve written about in other contexts. Or is it more properly a branch of graffiti? I don’t think that Brad Knoefler, a downtown Miami club owner, is likely to care how it’s characterized. He just got tired of having to do the city’s maintenance work for them.

Writing in a blog hosted by Miami’s New Times, Michael Miller quotes Knoefler as estimating he has "spent $100,000 of his own money over the years cleaning up downtown because the city failed to do so."

Miller describes the process:

Using cans of spray paint, they tag the giant weeds with outrageous day-glo shades of yellow, red, blue and orange. They even use cardboard to make sure they don't paint sidewalks or buildings, just weeds that shouldn't be there in the first place.

Knoefler says that people on the street, especially homeless, mostly like the change.  And, according to Miller, he and his fellow bombers intend to keep at it until the city takes care of business.

yarn bombing in Pioneer Square, Seattle (by: Jim Culp, creative commons license)

The model for weed bombing in Miami has been "yarn bombing," a sort of guerilla street art that uses brightly colored yarn to bring ordinary city objects such as bike racks and utility poles to life. The practice, which reached critical mass and became a bit of a meme this year from Melbourne to Seattle to Stockholm, now even has its own book.

In the Washington City Paper, yarn bomber Beth Baldwin told writer Mimi Kirk that "the hallmark of a successful piece of public art is when it makes a person take in the environment in a new way and adds lightness and humor to his or her day."

But the grassroots nature of yarn bombing may be threatened. According to an article by Malia Wollan in The New York Times, several auto manufacturers have hired Magda Sayeg, the Texas-based "mother of yarn bombing" to wrap their cars in yarn for advertising. And, perhaps just as ominously, Wollan quotes a New Yorker who prefers to be called Olek as saying, "I don’t yarn bomb, I make art ... Not everyone’s work deserves to be seen in public."

My guess is that the Miami crew is not terribly concerned with art: they want change. And, if it takes a little humor and spray paint to help make that happen, they have the tools.

This post originally appeared on the NRDC's Switchboard blog. The above image is courtesy Jim Culp/Creative Commons.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. photo: San Diego's Trolley
    Transportation

    Out of Darkness, Light Rail!

    In an era of austere federal funding for urban public transportation, light rail seemed to make sense. Did the little trains of the 1980s pull their own weight?

  2. Design

    Why Amsterdam’s Canal Houses Have Endured for 300 Years

    A different kind of wealth distribution in 17th-century Amsterdam paved the way for its quintessential home design.

  3. Equity

    What ‘Livability’ Looks Like for Black Women

    Livability indexes can obscure the experiences of non-white people. CityLab analyzed the outcomes just for black women, for a different kind of ranking.

  4. photo: Developer James Rouse visiting Harborplace in Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
    Life

    What Happened to Baltimore’s Harborplace?

    The pioneering festival marketplace was among the most trendsetting urban attractions of the last 40 years. Now it’s looking for a new place in a changed city.

  5. photo: San Francisco skyline
    Equity

    Would Capping Office Space Ease San Francisco’s Housing Crunch?

    Proposition E would put a moratorium on new commercial real estate if affordable housing goals aren’t met. But critics aren’t convinced it would be effective.   

×