Public Art: Making downtown a joyful, active, and social place

May 15-19, 2017 marked Art Week @StrongTowns and, while those days have come and gone,  public art catalyzes Main Street’s unique vitality throughout the year.

Old Town Winchester, host of the upcoming Virginia Main Street Downtown Intersections, creates an outdoor gallery experience through the Artscape program. An annual, juried art competition, Artscape  reproduces selected artwork on banners that hang throughout the downtown.  During the summer, young families are drawn to the downtown for a splash pad installation, which illuminates in the evening.

Public art can serve to make your downtown very memorable, motivating visitors to share their experience with others or surely to return. @StrongTowns author Marielle Brown emphasizes playful art to help visitors fall in love with your downtown:

We should look for opportunities to incorporate climbing, sitting, playing and general whimsy through public art, when appropriate. It may involve grappling with questions of liability and insurance at the municipal level, but the payoff will be more joyful, active and social places.

Whether you are planning a public art project, or not, you will find gale-force ideas to bring to your next Main Street committee brainstorm.

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Old Town Winchester Splash Pad and Public Restrooms

Dog Park Powers Public Art

If you want to lure residents downtown, you’ve got to have basic amenities, like access to groceries and green spaces. Those green spaces are important, because as, one luxury apartment developer in Roanoke discovered, if folks move downtown, they’ll bring their pets with them. With at least one dog in every new condo of this particular building, the few downtown green spaces were suddenly at a premium.

Doggie clean up stands and trash cans quickly emerged. Read about living downtown with dogs in this Roanoke Times article from a couple of years ago. While picking up doggie doo in decomposable city-provided Mutt Mitts and throwing it away is one solution, an urban dog park in Cambridge is promoting a more sustainable approach. 

Park Spark, a digester that turns the debris into methane gas, was unveiled this week. The digester fuels a lamppost, shown here at fastcompany.com. Soon they hope to try the same project with other ammentities such as a popcorn stand. It’s an art project, it’s an environmental statement, and it will make for a much cleaner dogpark.

It’s yet another example of how, with a little creativity–and maybe even a sense of play–we can rethink our approaches to widely shared challenges.