In high school I had the opportunity to visit St. John’s, Newfoundland as part of an exchange program. I met some great friends and got to experience the everyday happenings of St. John’s and surrounding rural areas. Over 10 years later, I stil get excited and inspired when I see photos of Jelly Bean Row. Jelly Bean Row is an area of downtown St. John’s where the buildings are all painted bright vibrant colours. While it is likely the most iconic example of bright homes/businesses clustered together on the east coast, it is not the only place where this is common. A few years ago when visiting Halifax, buildings wrapped in bright, cheerful colours were the norm as well.
These places makes me wish we had more colour infused in our buildings and public spaces here on the prairies – where we tend towards earth tones: beiges, browns, with the occasional muted green or brick red. I can appreciate that some people may not feel bold enough to go straight into painting their home a bright shade of turquoise, but there are opportunities to bring more colour into our lives without as large a commitment – back alleys. These spaces are often overlooked but with a little dedication and some cans of paint, they can be remarkably transformed.
In order to avoid graffiti vandalism, many people commission murals on their buildings (commercial, residential, garages, etc.). One of our readers, Alex Colgan, wrote a piece about some of the issues around graffiti last spring and provides some local examples where graffiti has been discouraged through murals, etc. It got me thinking about two back alley, garage murals that I’ve seen around town. In both instances, putting art/murals in the back alley makes them more inviting spaces. Instead of simply the back end of your home, they become interesting places in their own right that people may even want to spend more time in.
I think there is a lot of potential for communities to encourage this type of activity more often as a means to curb vandalism and create interesting shared community space at the same time. Bring in spray artists and those drawn to graffiti to contribute to making alleyways more active, interesting spaces instead of just defacing someone’s property. Even something as simple as painting solid colours in our alleyways would make them more enticing – think of them as jelly bean alleys!
This could even be a step towards the use of alleyways as active community space – they are an under-utilized resource and potential asset that just needs to be tapped. In Montreal, the Ruelle Verte program creates opportunities for residents to turn their alleyways into green pathways to enjoy and move through. Perhaps something as simple as creating more inviting and colourful alley spaces could be the first step towards fostering that same sort of citizen engagement and community investment here at home.
** Colourful Montreal alleyway photo by David Warren
*** Mouse over other images for credit info.