John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
A citizen’s guide to wacky schemes, from impromptu hot tubs to “birthday parties.”
Winter’s long over but its corrosive effect on roads—coupled with drenching warm-month rains—survives. Municipalities across the U.S. are still struggling to deal with persistent, pernicious potholes. In places like Washington, D.C., and Seattle, work crews have turned out in swarms for ”potholepaloozas,” blitz events to fill as many voids as possible in a short time. In other cases, locals are assisting cities with fix-ups, reporting potholes via phones and apps and, in a musical twist in New Orleans, by banging pots and pans to try to shame the government into action.
But what of the pothole on your block that sits there un-remedied, growing larger and belching more gravel as each car passes by? A citizen aggrieved by government inertia can be deviously clever in luring official attention. Here are the more unique tactics people have used to get their pothole noticed.
Turn it into a Jacuzzi
Daniel Trussel was annoyed with an 8-foot-deep, watery pothole in Jackson, Mississippi. So one warm day this week he ripped off his shirt, climbed into the cavity, and posed for Instagram as if he was chilling out in a hot tub—hashtag, #jacksonlife. The stunt garnered nearly 900 likes and a fun story on WJTV in which Trussel joked, “it’s going to require a lot of federal funding for this to ever be fixed.”
Pros: Mud baths can be good for the skin.
Cons: Motor oil, stray dog poop, and possibly leeches
Effectiveness: Surprisingly good. “Supposedly they are now getting a crew to head that way tomorrow!” he told CityLab on Thursday. (A subsequent news report backs him up.)
Paint penises around it
The pseudonymous English construction worker Wanksy has a trick as simple as it is crass. As we’ve previously reported, he paints large male genitalia around potholes thinking, The government has to pay attention to them now.
Pros: Probably brings laughter to the otherwise dreary mornings of Wanksy’s fellow commuters.
Cons: Makes the neighborhood look even uglier. Aside from having moon craters in the street, it now resembles a toilet stall in a Greyhound station’s bathroom.
Effectiveness: Good. “A bit of art and they are filled in 48 hours,” Wansky writes on Facebook. “[W]ho needs canvas with roads like these.”
Plant a garden
Elaine Santore created perhaps the world’s tiniest community gardens in 2015 when she stuffed potholes in Schenectady with soil and flowers. “I like to be creative, was a designer for a time, and this was a creative outlet to draw attention to the situation,” she told the Times-Union.
Pros: Honeybees need all the help they can get.
Cons: The thought of tire-flattened rabbits that may come out for a nibble.
Effectiveness: Good. In just a few days of posting her photos on Facebook, all 10 of her flowerbeds were transformed into plain, boring blacktop.
Filling them yourself
The shadowy Portland Anarchist Road Care made headlines this winter fixing a few of their city’s potholes with a shovel, tamping tool, and cold asphalt. “We aren’t asking permission, because these are our streets,” a group member told CityLab. “They belong to the people of Portland, and the people of Portland will fix them.”
Pros: Might inspire a “Portlandia” skit that’s finally good again.
Cons: Could make people worry that a pro-Trump/antifa riot is about to go down.
Effectiveness: Unknown. The potholes get filled, but it’s not clear if the amateur patches will withstand the ravages of next winter.
Throw a birthday party
Mississippi’s Eddie Prosser responded to a venerable hole last year by staging a festive party, tagging the cavity with a balloon and a card proclaiming, "Happy birthday, pothole. I have been here over a year!" Across the pond, villagers in U.K.’s Nottingham held a similar celebration for some holes this spring with a little cake and candles.
Pros: In the case of the cheeky-but-polite English example, at least, reaffirming that some stereotypes exist because they’re true. One news site dubbed it the “most British protest in history.”
Cons: Makes kids whose friends forgot their birthdays even sadder.
Effectiveness: Mixed. Weeks after holding the party, Nottingham’s potholes were causing trouble, so citizens held a follow-up intervention involving toy trucks and Bob the Builder. The local government later pledged a ton of money to fill 19,000 holes, but who knows if the birthday bash had any influence.
As for the Mississippi pothole, once it made the news cycle, workers came out and promptly filled it…with dirt. “We were like, ‘Woo! Way to go!’” one woman told WPXI. “Then on the way home from church, we were like, You’re kidding, right? It’s just dirt.”