John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Retro arcade fans can while away the hours outdoors evading ghosts and gobbling pellets.
Seattleites who are kicked outdoors by the parents/significant other for playing too much Xbox can still get some sweet video-game action, thanks to a new street maze that sucks people into the ghost-infested universe of “Pac-Man.”
The city painted the horizontal mural as part of its Pavement to Parks initiative, which the city says uses “short-term strategies to deliver new public spaces that will serve as front yards, playgrounds, social spaces, and active zones.” Several asphalt deserts throughout the city have been given new life with a splash of art and public furniture. As my curmudgeonly colleague Feargus Sullivan has observed, such efforts to render urban spaces playable are an increasingly popular, low-cost way to activate wasted spaces (or, depending on your perspective, provide “cutesy distractions from real urban problems”). But it’s hard not to argue that this Capitol Hill intersection has been markedly improved with some paint and ‘80s whimsy. Here it is before the transformation:
And here it is after Seattle’s Department of Transportation blocked off the side street to create the retro-themed mini-park:
The mural includes all four “Pac-Man” ghouls—Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and that idiot Clyde—as well as the voracious protagonist and lines of yummy pellets. (It’s hard to see in the photo, but there are also tables bearing “Ms. Pac-Man” designs.) Pedestrians can actually navigate the labyrinth without hitting a ghost, though exiting through a side door will not, sadly, transport them to the opposite side of the level.
The Pac-Man theme was picked by locals last year, beating several other contenders. The ones that didn’t make it are posted on the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog, including a tangled transit map, a grass-and-water lagoon, and the neighborhood’s name looking like it was drawn by someone on LSD.
The iconic Pac-Man guy frequently pops up as an urban decoration. Other public clues to the game’s enduring legacy include Invader’s iconic wall tiles, Shock-1’s disturbingly anthropomorphic X-ray mural, and this fun street-art installation in New Bedford, Massachusetts: