Unsanctioned but tolerated

There’s a lot of talk these days about DIY (do it yourself) approaches to urbanism, with everyone from taggers to neighborhood residents taking control of their built environment and bypassing the authorities to do so. This interesting article in The Atlantic Cities talks about crowd sourcing techniques in the urban setting, and how some cities are starting to rewrite their rules to take advantage of this grassroots civic energy (above is one of many tree wells scattered through public right-of-ways in Birmingham which, in the absence of trees or sustained municipal care, have been unofficially adopted/planted/maintained by adjacent merchants or residents).

Channeling the energy and sanctioning it

Graffiti is an ancient method of transforming public space without official sanction; above is the announcement of the next phase of an art project at 20th Street North and First Avenue at the vacant Brown-Marx building  coordinated by Space One Eleven and Operation New Birmingham (see our earlier post). Blank sheets of plywood that would have been prime targets for random graffiti are instead sanctioned for graffiti.

They paved paradise…and then they changed their minds

In San Francisco, that bastion of “people power” with its history of bucking societal norms, it is perhaps no surprise that the city has taken DIY to a new level of seriousness and sanction. Back in 2005 an art project consisted of feeding a city meter, then rolling out some grass into the parking spot to reclaim that little piece of asphalt as green space. Today the city’s “parklet” program allows neighborhoods to petition to officially–and semi-permanently– close down parking spaces and design and install (at their own expense) tiny park spaces (above). Permits are renewed yearly, so if the neighborhood decides it really needs that parking space back, they can do it.  It’s been a fascinating example of how grassroots DIY ideas have broken through the “system” and changed the rules. And in this case, an illustration of the triumph of human needs over those of the automobile–a few spaces at a time.

[Parklet photo courtesy of Wells Campbell via Atlantic Cities)

8 responses to “DIY

  1. this reminds me, anyone up for some late night guerrilla gardening, or pimp you pavement as they say in london?

    contact me if you are interested at

  2. What’s going on with the Brown Marx building right now? I know that space one eleven is opening there, but what about the rest of the building? Bhamwiki doesn’t have any news on it since 2006.

  3. What’s going on in the brown marx building? I know that space one eleven is occupying the bottom floor there, but what about the rest?

    • Ah, whoops, looks like it’s just a mural on the bottom floor there.
      Are all the Heaviest Corner buildings vacant right now?

      • John Hand Building is mixed use with commercial, offices, and luxury condos. Woodward Building has commercial and offices. The other two–Empire and Brown Marx–are vacant. We hope not for long!

    • The mural is just a temporary art piece on the ground floor scaffolding. The building was recently bought by a new owner; no new plans have been announced yet. Thanks.

      • From an inside source, the new owner is looking at the Brown Marx building for condos and is currently in design/budget phase. Not sure of the architect but the engineering is being done locally. No word on whether there will be any 1st floor commercial space (one would hope!).

      • Interesting. Thanks for this information–if I find something else out I’ll let everyone know.

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