Monday, March 17, 2008

a few months in the life of an urban experiment

we don't live in what most people consider quintessential san francisco. when i pause to consider this distinction, it occurs to me that "quintessential" = money. the colorful antique buildings kept bright and shiny, the sweeping views of the bay, the sidewalks swept clean and garbage-free--those sorts of costly accoutrements are not part of our reality. as sidewalks are the only piece of urbanscape to which we have access, we set our focus on beautifying the concrete path in front of our home.

being that our neighborhood is also bereft of greenery, we combined the sidewalk need and the greenery need and called it an experiment.

phase one: the sad planter
a cracked, free-standing planter that leaned against our apartment was a good gathering spot for garbage: cigarette butts, cans, wadded-up mcdonalds sacks, you name it. since no one was claiming this wooden vessel, one day we dragged it to rest in front of our apartment door.

david cleaned it out, added fresh soil and some plants, and voila: we had greenery! the addition of the planter marked the first step in a long-term experiment: how to claim a space typically taken over by garbage in order to show that someone lives here, someone cares, and someone wants to share the beauty of things that grow.

phase two: adding plants

i picked up some small-ish planter baskets at a garage sale, and david went to work planting plants. we set them on the sidewalk, next to the planter.

phase three: adding color
i wanted to make a statement, so david bought the color of my choosing--the blue of provence--and i found myself painting away on a bright sunny day.

----the thing about experiments----
we went into this knowing that things wouldn't go as planned, that people may alter our work, or simply not like it. we are claiming and re-imagining public space in a spot where homeless people drop off their extra things, neighbors hang out near their cars drinking beers, and people park their mini-vans to unload used furniture and housewares ("this is my first time leaving something here. i heard this is where you leave stuff, because it's always gone." david told this particular person that it's gone because WE throw it away.)

the results
plants were stolen. at first, it was the smallest planter, which didn't surprise us, and frankly, i was happy the perp didn't smash it on the sidewalk. i relished the thought that someone was enjoying the beauty of the flowers in their own home, and i was okay with that scene.

the plants were moved. in an odd turn of events, someone moved the remaining two planters to each end of the planter. rather than move them back, we left them in their new spots, figuring that this is a public display, and we were okay with public action.

the second largest planter was stolen off of the bricks upon which it was perched, and soon after, someone tagged the planter. the combination of the theft and the tagging set us both back a bit. it was the first time we felt that a concerted, negative action was inflicted upon us. it was hard to not take it personally.

today, about a week and a half after the tagging, i painted over the offending marks. we'll see what happens next.

to view a pictorial representation of our progress, check out david's flickr set on the topic.


Ivan Chew said...

Yay! Glad to see the official story out in this blog. Will wait patiently for the "tipping point". Coincidentally I'm reading Gandhi's autobiography right now, titled "My Experiments with Truth". Your urban experiment kinda resonates with ideas in the book. :)

sarah said...

you inspired me to get it all down, ivan. thanks for the push!

mmm... resonating with gandhi? high compliment! the story will continue...

jewlee said...

I am impressed with the thought put into your experiment...I can't wait to see what happens with your little spot. I don't know if I would have thought to do something like that....and I really like that you did!