Updated: Aug 6, 2022
I've been increasingly convinced of the potential role of practices used by public artists for community engagement as a key tool in the re-imagining of our public spaces to prioritise acvtivity and movement.
This got me thinking about a couple of my favourite pieces of art that have inspired me and active urbanism and what they mean to me now.
If your one of those people who find themselves frustrated at the pubic subsidary for on street parking and would love to build a local parklet, then SkipWaste by Oliver Bishop-Young shows that all you need this summer is a skip licence. In 2008 he turned empty skips into swimming pools, skate ramps, table tennis tables and benches to rest.
Among other things Bishop wanted to highlight the waste of space but my lesson from this piece is the importance of not being constrained by a 'lack of space' for local facilities. This work reimagines what can be created to encourage activity even in a restricted space.
For me, this work questions our cultural prioritisation of 'world class' facilities. A drive that generally results in fewer, larger facilities located away from where people live, at the expense of local, accessible -- and yes maybe idiosyncratic -- places to play.
Another of my favourites ‘Mens Sana in Corpore Sano,’ saw Nicolas Lelievre and Florian Brillet work with ad company JC Deveuax in La Defense, Paris, in 2015, to reimagine sign posts as directions to play.
"Whether or not we engage in the exercises, their presence suggests an unexpected use of space, an invitation to open our eyes," says Lelievre.
This notion of an 'invitation to play' is the key lesson for active urbanism. It is unfortunate, but if we removed every 'No Ball Games' or 'Keep off the grass' sign from our environments, people would no longer spontaneously play. We no longer see our public spaces as places for people's play and movement.
It is exactly this sentiment, that influenced me when I worked with Street Space in Valence Park to replace No Ball Games signs with this positive signage.
For more on the use of the mixture of art, sport and urbanism check out this blog on sculpture and sport.