Sidewalk art

Sidewalks are just there. We don’t even see them unless we trip on a tree branch.We spend billions of dollars on building and repairing sidewalks every year across the country, but we don’t value them. But, in St. Paul, and in more and more cities, they’re trying to make us see them so we will value them more. With public poetry. Now that’s an ImagineGov.

In partnership with Saint Paul Public Works, Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk is an ongoing project that has been bringing art to the city since 2008. It re-imagines the city’s annual sidewalk maintenance program as a public entity for city poetry. The city spends about $1 million to repair 10 miles of sidewalk every year, but this program has installed over 700 poems from over 46 people. So as of 2014, 17% of city land is within a 2-minute walk of a sidewalk poem.



St. Paul holds an annual contest where they choose up to five poets to win $100 prizes and the permanent honor of being published in a city sidewalk. Here’s a recent winner:

The Sweater

My mom knitted it out of water,
We washed it in a fire for me,
And whenever I wear it I boil.

By Alma Palahniuk
youth entrant

Inspired by the incredible participation and public beautification of the St. Paul project, other cities are bringing art to their sidewalks. Toledo, Ohio has launched their sidewalk poetry program, seeking poems that speak about Toledo’s history and community. St. Cloud, Minnesota’s contest is ongoing, seeking submissions until May 16, 2016. And the program is on its way to Cambridge, Massachusetts now.

St. Paul looked at $1 million in sidewalk repair funding that people didn’t notice except when it was broken and imagined a world in which people noticed, and valued, well-maintained and repaired sidewalks. And they did it with poetry, that engaged their citizens in making art to publish there. It’s a revolutionary way to ImagineGov.

Do you want to bring it to your town? How else can we rethink well-run public systems and structures so we can see them better?

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