Yellowbrick Street Team officially launched on July 23rd with our first event, Cover Downtown in Wichita Pride. This project initially sought to carry on the momentum behind the Wichita flag and other iconic symbols to beautify one of the most ubiquitous (and ugly) pieces of the urban fabric - manhole covers. As we continued planning, we added grime-writing, a type of reverse graffiti imposed onto dirty sidewalks with a power-washer and stencils.
A small but mighty team convened in the morning and set out spraying temporary, chalk-based paint around downtown Wichita. You can find much of our work around City Hall, the ICT Pop-Up Urban Park, Wichita Metro Area Chamber of Commerce, and Old Town Square.
We also spread out to Delano and the Douglas Design District to impose Wichita-centric images on sidewalks through a technique known as "grime-writing" or "reverse graffiti" in which stencils are powerwashed to remove dirt and reveal phrases or imagery.
While this project was mostly a fun way to spread our love for Wichita, it also touches on a very important urban design principle related to walkability. Noted planner and urban designer Jeff Speck has determined four key factors making cities desirable for walking in his General Theory of Walkability:
The General Theory of Walkability explains how, to be favored, a walk has to satisfy four main conditions: it must be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting. Each of these qualities is essential an none alone is sufficient. Useful means that most aspects of daily life are located close at hand and organized in a way that walking serves them well. Safe means that the street has been designed to give pedestrians a fighting chance against being hit by automobiles; they must not only be safe but feel safe, which is even tougher to satisfy. Comfortable means that buildings and landscape shape urban streets into ‘outdoor living rooms,’ in contrast to wide-open spaces, which usually fail to attract pedestrians. Interesting means that sidewalks are lined by unique buildings with friendly faces and that signs of humanity abound.
While the first three are largely beyond the scope of our abilities, each and every citizen has the capacity to make their environment more interesting. We did it by providing a pleasant surprise - something to catch the eye and swell hearts with civic pride.
We will explore expanding the project and perhaps working with the city to use manhole covers as canvases for permanent street art. In the meantime, we want to hear from Wichitans about how we can help make your neighborhood more beautiful and interesting - contact us!
Stencils were created on plywood using the laser cutter at MakeICT, with artwork provided by LaRissa Lawrie. A special thanks to Logan Pajunen for setting up and running the grime-writing rig, Melad Stephan for allowing us to paint on the sidewalk in front of Oeno and Sabor, and the good folks at Lucinda's for the same.