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City Superheroes From the Minds of Babes

The Homeless Detective, ADHD Girl and other urban problem-solvers invented by New York City students.


Let’s face it, when you need a superhero, Spidey never seems to be around.

But what if you could conjure up your own superheroes, with powers customized to your neighborhood?

That’s the fantasy embodied by Guardians of the City, a public art project dreamed up by two MFA students at New York’s Parsons the New School for Design.

Lea Faminiano, 24, and Liz Belfer, 27, came up with the idea for their thesis project. The two have been conducting workshops for New York school kids, asking them what needs protecting in their neighborhoods and encouraging them to draw superheroes that have the power to get the job done. Then they blow up the drawings and tape them in public places in need of a comic book kick.

The kids, from elementary school through high school, have responded with some ingenious solutions to their city’s challenges.

The "Homeless Detective” has the ability to tell real homeless people from fake homeless people so you won’t “give money to liars.” The "Stareosaur" is a yellow dinosaur covered with eyes who rides the subway and allows you to stare at other riders “without feeling like a creeper.” A tough guy named "Mr. Macho" takes people’s cigarettes away and smokes them “to keep them healthy. He is macho so he doesn’t die from tar.” And "ADHD Girl" fights crime with ADHD powers and can deflect multiple bullets simultaneously. The creation, by a girl who has ADHD herself, was posted in the midst of Times Square’s chaotic distractions.

Faminiano and Belfer say that all ages of kids love creating the Guardians – and adults do as well. "We wanted to create a platform that’s interesting enough for people to really want to do it," says Belfer. "And when they start, it’s amazing. There’s the indescribable sound of silence in the room when people are drawing." In a city that can make people feel powerless and insignificant, this is a way of taking back a little control.

The two artists, who describe themselves as best friends, want to expand their project, both in size and scope. They're inspired by the work of other street artists, such as TED Prize winner JR, who has covered entire neighborhoods with images of the faces of those who live in them. They are soon going to be launching a Kickstarter campaign so they can get better materials and do more workshops, and they hope to partner with property owners to get dedicated space where Guardians can keep more permanent watch. “We want to go worldwide with this,” Faminiano says.

"We want them to be larger than life," adds Belfer. "We want them to be enormous. We want you to turn the corner and see a Guardian there."

All photos courtesy of Flickr user collective.peace.

About the Author

  • Sarah Goodyear
    Sarah Goodyear is a Brooklyn-based contributing writer to CityLab. She's written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog.