Cities are always looking for unique ways to beautify and add value to the community. Calgary’s latest Painted Utility Box program not only does that but it also serves as a canvas to share the stories that define each Centre City community. The basis of the program is to decorate signal boxes in and around the downtown core, taking them from the plain, graffiti tagged grey boxes of the past and transforming them into a canvas that will share local art and history.
The program was introduced in the summer of 2010 as a collaborative effort between The City’s Roads Arts & Culture departments. The concept goes beyond beautification as it was also established to reduce incidents of vandalism within Calgary. This theory has proven to be true in other large cities such as San Francisco that have implemented similar programs and have since experienced a reduction in vandalism rates; proving that individuals are less likely to tag boxes that have other artist’s work. Aware of the success of similar programs, Calgary couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take part. Not only does The City provide artists with the materials to paint the boxes, it takes it one step further by coating each finished product with an anti-graffiti clear coat, the coat is specially formulated to protect the artwork and also simplifies the process of cleaning off the boxes.
What we love about the program is that it reflects the unique character of each community. Currently, the boxes showcase the painted artwork of local artists but come springtime passerby’s will begin to notice historical influences as the vinyl wrap pilot project emerges. The vinyl wrap project is the latest addition to the signal box program and is a neat concept, as it will depict what the intersection looked like in its early days. One proposed idea is to take pedestrians back to 1919 and transform the scene of the streetcar that crashed through the Crook’s drug store off of 17th Ave onto a signal box. Imagine what a spectacle that will be!
Graham Gerylo, project manager for Centre City Planning & Implementation is enthusiastic about the introduction of the vinyl wrap as he believes it will showcase how Centre City has evolved over the years. Building on the streetcar example, Gerylo says that the boxes will “improve the pedestrian experience by adding an element of surprise and the storytelling experience.”
No matter the individuality of each signal box, pedestrians will always know where they are thanks to the inclusion of the wayfinding heading on each box. These headings will indicate the community that the box is located in such as East Village. The wayfinding program is a new City initiative to help Calgarian’s locate points of interest and attractions in Centre City.
Have we sparked your interest? Although Centre City won’t experience the vinyl wrap effect until early spring, as it requires optimal conditions to install, there are many other exquisite signal boxes to check out in the meantime. Chinatown, East Village and Stampede Park are home to some!
We look forward to seeing more painted artwork as well as the introduction of the vinyl wrap project pop up around Calgary during the next few months. Share with us your favorite painted utility box!