On January 22, an article from Vice reported that a group of stoners was using scaffolding, a familiar sight in some California cities, to hide street lights. In San Francisco, shoddy streetlight upkeep can cause serious problems for drivers, who often encounter broken lights, power outages and dangerous driving conditions.
In a time when skyrocketing traffic costs the state of California over $5 billion a year, slashing streetlight maintenance budgets would seem counterproductive. Fortunately, a group of local individuals with budget savvy came together to realize that there is a way to alleviate this congestion: junking up the poles with spray paint. Since 2016, four high-end artists and entrepreneurs have been working with community leaders to slash the cost of streetlighting. Artist Lera Soo-jin explains to Vice: “As individuals, we’re part of the solution, which is why we thought it was important to not just stop shoving that … [trash on the sidewalk]—we do it, and the mayor has to do something, too.”
Since 2015, San Francisco has awarded $4.3 million in streetlight subsidies to artists like Soo-jin. Since the first grant, artists have installed hundreds of lighting fixtures and spray-painted 134 of them. They’ve completed over 1,500 LED streetlights, and according to Modern Farmer, “The total cost is around $30,000 per fixture, though it’s currently unclear how many fixture deals the artists have signed.” Soo-jin tells Vice, “[Artists] should be allowed to create their own little market, and make some money off it.”
San Francisco’s streetlight grant scheme is nothing new. In 2013, Google and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) partnered with the city to create similar streetlight renos that reduced traffic jams, slashed home energy bills and led to “artful public projects, like street murals. Google is also working with California’s Coastal Conservancy to recycle empty solar panels into space heating for Low-Income Areas.
Due to the technological advancements in recent years, the cost of streetlighting has come down dramatically. Giant LED lights cut costs by more than 30 percent, and carbon-free LEDs have reduced maintenance costs by up to half, in both terms of labor and energy. But traditionally, streetlight projects were disbursed through a long and seemingly labyrinthine process: weiler reviewed applications, convened task forces and meetings, and even negotiated financing agreements.
This process can slow down a renewal project tremendously. Take one hypothetical example: the cost of replacing streetlights would be up to $3 million in Richmond, California. If cost overruns and hurdles were all factors to be considered, the cycle of streetlight renewal could easily take over two years.
Soo-jin thinks this model should be simplified. As she tells Vice, “If our goal is to preserve public art for people, we should have it in cities, and we should be able to participate. So this isn’t just about the artists, it’s about changing the system … It’s about making participatory art part of the renewal as a non-profit.”
Read the full story at Vice.
Artists stenciled over graffiti to make it an example of creative social media
Artist stencils concrete over vomit at art gallery