Streets are a part of our community. Whether you choose to walk on the sidewalk, ride in the bike lane or drive down the road, streets move us from point A to point B. Shouldn’t we show them a little love?
Streets Alive! in Berkeley, California is doing just that. An initiative of Earth Island Institute, Streets Alive! works with the local community to revive and improve public spaces. With a team led by Project Director Ariana Katovich, Streets Alive! developed two specific projects to headline this effort.
The Utility Box Project promotes environmental, social, cultural and economic sustainability by installing art on utility boxes. You know, the big ominous boxes that sit on the street corner. We’ve all walked past them, probably trying to ignore them.
“I was walking to work one day and realized how drab the grey utility boxes are,” remarked Katovich. “Aside from being dull, they also serve as blank canvasses for graffiti.” This was the moment that sparked change.
Streets Alive! has an inventory of 45 utility boxes to use as a platform and outlet to visualize creativity. The project matches each local artist with sponsoring com- munity members. The completed piece is an image and message dreamed up by the artist—an image that makes a positive statement. It is inspiring. It is thought provoking. It is seen by hundreds of passersby each day. The otherwise dull utility?box is now a platform for sharing?positive ideas.
“The different people I get to work with each day is the best part of working with Streets Alive!,” said Christina Monzer, Streets Alive! Project Associate. “I love being part of the different unveilings. I really enjoy connecting with the City Councilmembers, talented local artists and community supporters.”
The second project of Streets Alive! sprouted from 350.org’s Day of Climate Action in 2010, when the initiative drafted a garden plan for the city. The goal was to plant native and drought-tolerant plants in neglected plots within the community.
In 2010, staff gathered community members to revive one such plot of land in South Berkeley. Most recently, Streets Alive! planted the median on Oxford Way, an area that was slated to be paved over with concrete. The success of the project grew out of the teamwork between volunteers from Oxford Plaza Apartments and Cal Berkeley. Today, Oxford Way is flourishing with bloom- ing succulents and native coastal scrub.
Looking ahead, Streets Alive! is developing plans and partnerships to revitalize the streets of Oakland, California as well as other communities in the Bay Area.
“We encourage people to start this sort of project in their community and we’re happy to lend support in any way we can,” added Monzer.
The next time you step out your front door, look around. Perhaps your moment of change is just down the block.
This story first appeared in LoaLiving Magazine, vol. 2, winter 2013.
By Megan Alley, LoaTree Contributor.