"spontaneous interventions" taking hold nationwide

The adaptive reuse project at 1415 Mallinckrodt in St. Louis is the work of the Rebuild Foundation, a nonprofit that redevelops affordable space to compensate for communities lacking in resources. The organization has projects in Omaha, Neb., Detroit, St. Louis, and Chicago. The 1415 space is slated to become a public pottery studio that also houses artists in residence. View the progress here.

If you see an installation and think it’s in an odd place for something that looks like artwork, you’re probably right. Art In Odd Places (AIOP) is responsible for a slew of visual and performance art strung throughout New York City, both incognito and in the form of an annual, weeklong festival that puts a parameter of a few blocks on the installations. The group says its goal is to remind city dwellers that the public realm is as much a stage as it is a platform for social interaction.

Ad-hoc installation artists BroLab in October placed modular benches at several bus stops between the Bushwick neighborhood and Long Island City in New York City for one fairly simple reason: to give commuters a place to sit while waiting for the bus in areas where the amenity was lacking. Watch the team assemble (and disassemble) the portable benches.

Team Better Block collaborates with cities and developers to avoid the potential brain- and time drain that often comes from larger-scale initiatives, working to make high-impact changes in a short time frame. Investing in short-term improvements, they say, should help to attract long-term investments sans the headache.


Fresh Moves emerged as a way to fight food deserts in Chicago—something known to plague low-income communities in the city with limited access to fresh produce. Yet high land costs pushed organizers to a mobile market; using a bus donated by the city’s transit department and refurbished with the help of Architecture for Humanity, they now serve areas on the city’s South Side.

If you live in a major U.S. city (or in one of a few dozen abroad), it’s likely you’ve come across a worn-out bike painted white and fixed to a street sign or lamppost. These memorials to bicyclists killed or hit on the street are aptly named Ghost Bikes and began dotting the urban landscape in St. Louis in 2003. Since then, the count has grown north of 500 bikes dispersed among 180 locations worldwide in the hopes of making streets safer for cyclists. The organization’s website includes a map of current bikes as well as a primer on how to make your own.

Before artist Candy Chang rolled out the “Before I Die” installation, she prodded New Orleans residents to rethink their recovering city by using vinyl stickers and permanent markers to tag blighted structures with what they hoped the spaces could become. “I Wish This Was” let locals add in the institutions that comprise thriving communities: grocery stores, community gardens, places to hang out, restaurants, and other cultural institutions.

Forget the trauma-inducing games you may have played with your neighborhood friends as a kid and check out Imagination Playground, an architect-designed product suite that includes movable playthings with which children can enjoy unstructured free play. All you need is a 225-square-foot space, 75 blue foam boxes, some foam noodles and play balls, adult supervision, and a user’s manual.

Linden Living Alley melds the utopian concept of shared streets with the namelessness of urban alleyways, resulting in a functional space for the residential, industrial, and office spaces it services. Architects narrowed the roadway and widened the landscaped sidewalks, tabling both to the same level to unify the space, and added planters, benches, and curbstones made from recycled granite.

The Real Estates project pinpoints thousands of publicly owned, abandoned lots in U.S. cities via geospatial analysis and devises a landscape proposal for each that syncs with the needs of local infrastructure. The sponsoring organization, Local Code, explains the complexities in this video.

QR_HOBO_CODES gets its name from markers left by urban homeless to notify brethren of potential danger or goodwill. But the product’s target audience is more likely to be split between urban wanderers armed with smart technology and locals who can download, print, and spray paint the various codes on the ground, warning against or giving a nod to spots that classify as, among other things: “good to kids,” “mean to children,” “great dumpster,” “habla español,” “owner has a gun,” and “talk religion get food.”

There’s no such thing as a free lunch—even if you’re given soup and soil in exchange for your time, as is the case with Soil Kitchen. The organizers’ goal, however, is to use the Philadelphia space as an entry point for discussing the value of natural sources, soil contamination, composting, and urban agriculture.

The Uni Project takes a street-level approach to reading in the city, literally, by using a pop-up space to turn any area into a mini library back-dropped by the urban landscape. The Uni has three parts—the physical structure (mix-and-match cubes), a collection of books (new and gently used, they don’t circulate), and a small permanent staff to facilitate (volunteer librarians plus permanent workers who handle logistics). The project started in New York City and recently sent a second portable library to Almaty, Kazakhstan.

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