Guerilla City Planning: Taking It To The Streets

Monday, May 4th, 2009

It’s been a while since I’ve really worked on any news stories, despite my having a journalism degree, so I’m happy to bring you the first in a few years. And it’s a really fascinating subject, read on.

Jean Tremont spies her target spitefully while readying her stencil. The coast is clear, as it should be at three in the morning on a Tuesday. Getting caught could mean jail time, so she has to work fast, but the work has to be good or else there is no point.

Finally, the set up is complete. Jean lifts the can of industrial white paint, shakes and sprays. This paint is specially formulated to dry quickly, but there’s no telling how soon someone will drive by. Hopefully she’ll be long gone and the paint long dry. After about fifteen minutes scrunching hunched over inhaling fumes and listening to the whish of the paint escaping the can, she stands with a smile on her face. The black clothes that once helped Jean hide in the night are now as striped as the road she just painted but as she pulls off her stencil, she no longer cares about getting caught.

Her work is done. “Keep Clear” is now prominently written on the road with attention-getting striped lines to drive through the point. There is already a sign asking drivers to keep the intersection clear, but few people see or acknowledge it. This intersection has been the cause of multiple accidents and traffic jams for people in the sleepy cul-de-sac. Residents on the street are constantly sitting and waiting behind their stop sign to enter the busy street dividing their otherwise quiet neighborhood. The city has so far refused to take action to make the streets safer.

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“Sometimes I feel like a superhero,” Jean giggles, “but really, I’m just a concerned citizen trying to make my home a little nicer.”

This hasn’t been Jean’s only act of what she calls “Urban City Planning.” Inspired by gorilla gardeners, who beautify empty lots with green flora of all varieties, Jean decided she too could improve her home. The only problem, “everything here is gardened to a tee,” she says, “but our streets are still a disaster. The city just sort of built through everything without giving any consideration to how it would affect the existing roads.”

So far Jean has installed three stop signs, one yield sign and numerous new road paintings. The venture would be expensive, but Jean is creative -and she has the advantage of working for a construction company. She is able to get mostly empty cans of street paint from her work for free. And the stop signs? Jean found a steady source of stolen signs for sale on Craigslist. “I guess a lot of people steal them and then, years later, don’t want them any more. I offered to buy them for $25 a pop and I’ve gotten quite a stock now,” Jean laughs, “I could keep going for a while, but I think our streets are starting to clear up now, so I don’t have much left to do.”

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Resident Carl Winthrop estimates that accidents have gone down over 50% since the new street signs and markings have been added. “You used to see an accident once every week at least, now I haven’t even seen one for a few weeks,” he said. What Carl didn’t know is that the roadwork isn’t legal and hasn’t even been viewed by the City Planning Commission. “It’s nice to see the city finally take action around here,” he remarks.

The City Planning Commission was unsurprisingly unhappy to hear about urban city planning. “It’s reckless and dangerous,” says Veronica Danse of the commission, “both for the person doing the acts and the people who drive on the streets afterwards.” Veronica fails to see any merit to the concept and adds that the city, “is always on top of making dangerous roadways safe.”

A week later, the “Keep Clear” painting still stands. It seems someone drove through the paint while it was drying thanks to a tiny smear, but overall, the work looks official. “I always fantasize what the city will do when they find out. Will they freak out and try to hunt me down? Will they realize it’s a good idea and just leave it? Or maybe they’ll just finally deal with the traffic problem and create their own solutions. Whatever happens, I’m just glad it’s easier to drive here now,” Jean says, folding up and packing away her handmade road stencils.

Surprise, this entire story is a fib. But tell me it doesn’t sound like the next step in this urban/guerrilla thing that’s been going on lately? Really, I’d love it if this started up, the streets by my house are a disaster zone. This is an exercise in attempting to motivate others to do my dirty work.

I really do have a degree in Journalism, I just hate interviewing people and I happen to prefer fiction and history over current events. Being as how this is fiction, I’d like to thank the people I have borrowed the photos from, Spiky Face and msspider66.