Friday, March 30, 2012

The Small Things - Art in the Public Space

I've spent the past month in California for work, and had the luck of spending some time in downtown Long Beach. With a population of 462,000 people, it's the 35th largest city in the country, and right next to Los Angeles, which has millions more. However, it's per capita income is only $19,000 - higher than St. Louis' $16,000, but in an obviously more expensive area. It's a medium sized, poor city overall, but that doesn't keep it from doing things right downtown. I'm planning to discuss what they're doing right to make downtown a livable, visitable location not only for tourists, but to make it enticing for locals, too.

One thing that immediately stood out is the art in the public arena. This isn't highbrow art, or statues without a purpose; no, they're functional art in the form of bike racks.

While many of them were used, I decided to photograph unused bike racks to show how just how cool  they are! I love the idea. While bike racks are a great addition to any urban area, few take the time to install anything other than the most basic. I saw at least a dozen different varieties, including quite a few that really spoke to Long Beach - rolling waves, for one, stood out  - but I never found an empty set! 

This is a low-cost investment in the public space. The city took something they were going to do anyway - install bike racks - and spent a little more money to make it something really great. This kind of activity is a major aesthetic selling point for cities, and I think more should look at it as a simple way to make their cities more unique, more interesting, and just better.

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