Beautifying a city can seem like a taxing process, and for many American urban areas, it is. With constant space and traffic congestion concerns, cities are constantly faced with the question of how to best invest money. As a result, sometimes embellishing a city gets put on hold, as it can be expensive and considered not as “necessary” as something like providing more public transit or affordable housing options. However, several artists and companies have found creative, cost-effective ways to make their cities more inviting. Transforming simple city structures into works of art can make people feel a sense of pride in their metropolitan areas.
Two initiatives that have recently taken place use light to improve the look of their urban structures. In Birmingham, Alabama, for example, there is an underpass that was created in 1931. This passageway, while practical for pedestrians and cyclists to get from one side of the city to another, was not used much because it was considered unsafe at night due to the lack of lighting.
By installing LED lights, Artist Bill FitzGibbons adapted the dark underpass into a work of art and gave it a safer feel. The project, titled LightRails, was supported by REV Birmingham, an organization whose goal is to animate Birmingham, a city that is trying to improve its urban environment. FitzGibbons says that LightRails is the first project of its kind in Birmingham, and states that “Birmingham is going through an incredible revitalization and these light pieces are considered catalytic projects for this re-urbanization.” The lights used in this Art Deco project are a good energy option for the environment, and can be manipulated to portray millions of different colors and designs.
While Birmingham’s 18th street railroad underpass didn’t have lights before FitzGibbon’s project, the streets of São Paulo, Brazil did. However, the lights were too mundane for one of the main energy providers, AES Eletropaulo. Working with Dim & Canzian, a Brazilian ad agency, AES Eletropaulo in São Paulo, Brazil to transform everyday streetlights into inspiring messages. The initiative “Mensagens Que Brilham”, or “Messages That Shine,” projects messages sent in from residents through a special lens onto sidewalks. AES Eletropaulo chooses the best messages sent in from São Paulo residents and people write about their experiences on streets of São Paulo – anything from learning how to ride a bike to experiencing a first kiss. The goal is to project what residents have experienced and ways they have been inspired, but also serves as a reminder that energy is powering that inspiration through light. The initiative plans to project these messages in 5 cities in Brazil.
While different, both projects use light to create a safe space, promote a message, and turn a dull structure into an experience. These projects do not require much added expense nor do they require the tearing down of existing structures to create something better; the designers work with the materials provided to them. So often, citizens feel that to re-vitalize a city takes billions of dollars and years of investment. While this is certainly true in some regards, these examples show a different kind of revitalization. One that recycles old uninviting structures into a rainbow-lit pathway or uses something as basic as a streetlight to make those who pass by smile and think.
Photo: Bill FitzGibbons