Marrying public safety with public art, the program provides cities with up to $25,000 in funding to transform unsightly and/or unsafe streetscapes with community-involved design projects. As noted in a press release, the initiative, which began in earnest last summer when the first round of 16 grantees was announced, is “designed not just to create vibrant new public spaces but also to build city capacity for working with artists and community groups on projects involving transportation infrastructure.”
Among the first 16 cities to be awarded grants, three—Kansas City, Missouri; Saginaw, Michigan; and Norfolk, Virginia—all wrapped up their respective street-beautifying, safety-boosting, public space-activating projects this past fall. Between those three cities alone, 200,000 square feet of combined streetscape was revitalized with the collective participation of nearly 1,000 residents and 37 artists who came together during the design and installation processes; during a global pandemic, to boot.
Per Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Kansas City project, which centered on a “problematic” intersection along busy Westport Road in the Midtown neighborhood, has helped to reduce traffic speeds by 45 percent while reducing pedestrian crossing distances by roughly half. That particular project, spread across roughly 4,500 square feet, was co-led by the city’s public works department in partnership with Street Smarts Design + Build and Midtown KC Now.
Throughout this year, the remaining first-round grantees will continue to work on their respective projects. They include Chattanooga, Tennessee; Durham, North Carolina; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Columbus, Indiana; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Cincinnati, Ohio; Reno, Nevada; Trenton, New Jersey; Troy, New York; Dubuque, Iowa; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Richmond, Virginia, and Calexico, California.
The just-announced second round, open to all American cities no matter their size or geographic locale, is now open for applications through April 30. The winners will be announced in the fall of this year. All grant-awarded projects are expected to be complete by the fall of 2022.
“Adapting our cities post-pandemic isn’t just a question of engineering or epidemiology, but of imagination. By bringing light, color, and creativity to blacktop, asphalt art projects can bring people together after so much time apart and breathe new life into our cities and our streets,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, principal for transportation at Bloomberg Associates, the consulting arm of Bloomberg Philanthropies, and former commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation, in a statement. “From open streets to outdoor dining, this past year has made the importance of the public realm clearer than ever, and this program will help cities coast to coast make their streetscapes as vibrant as the communities that come together to create them.”
The first phase of Asphalt Art grant funding was launched to coincide with the release of the Asphalt Art Guide, a free-to-download publication that brings together individual case studies and best practices from a range of global cities that have harnessed design to improve their own streetscapes. To date, the guide has been accessed more than 4,500 times by city agencies and other entities in all 50 U.S. states and in 83 countries. The Asphalt Art Guide was produced by the Bloomberg Associates Transportation and Cultural Assets Management teams in collaboration with urban planning and architecture firm Street Plans Collaborative and public art consultant Renee Piechocki.