The Role of Local Government

The role of local government is a simple one: to provide the foundations necessary for its citizens to live their lives, simple as that. The government lays the foundations of power, water, transportation, the economy, public safety, and many more aspects of life needed to sustain the city and its population. This is done through zoning, utility departments, police & fire departments, and economic policies. If the government does it right, you may never know it’s there, save election cycles.

The city council and mayor provide the necessary representation needed to address these needs, it is up to the city manager to execute upon the desires of the public. The manager then hands off the goals to the many different departments to carry out the solutions. Each department works within their own constraints to address these needs, maybe with a new power line or a community center.’

Priorities are made through the city’s budget, which is determined through a joint effort between the council, mayor and manager. A city is always in constant flux, and so a budget must be updated annually and adjusted to address the needs then and now of its people.

How the city is structured also influences how it accomplishes its goal. There are many forms of municipal government out there: council-manger, mayor-council, commission, and town meetings. In a council-manager government the council and city manager hold the highest power, the mayor mostly there to represent the city at large but holds no veto power. In a mayor-council government the mayor functions closer to that of a governor or president and carries out the day to day work needed to keep the people of the city happy and holds veto power. A commission government is a little different, the department heads are directly elected by the public to commission the operation of their specific fields. Finally in a town meeting everybody from the city gets together to discuss how the city will be ran and functions as a pure democracy.

Each city is unique in its own regard, but each government serves the same function, no matter how it’s structured: to provide the foundation necessary to gives the people the lives they are entitled to live.


Day 14

Word Count: 370

Cost per Post: $11.13

Make Art Not Marks

As I expressed in my previous essay titled A Wall, A Canvas, I am a huge fan of street art of all sorts, and I am an even bigger fan and supporter of the street art scene in Austin, Texas. But I am also a civil servant employed by the city held responsible for providing a safe, healthy, and happy environment for the city’s residents. As listed in my projects page, one ongoing project of mine is Make Art not Marks, a city wide effort to use murals as a means to battle graffiti on the a two front approach: by occupying the wall with another piece permitted to be there, and by beautifying the city through showcasing local artists. My role as a member of the Make Art Not Marks team is to research and develop programs that can fulfill those two goals.

Murals have been a tried and true proven method of curbing graffiti in highly trafficked parts of the city, especially when they are installed by locally respected artists. Interviews with city officials, nonprofits, artists collectives, and artists have supported this claim. Cities like Philadelphia have pioneered the city wide mural art program through the part city department / part nonprofit Philadelphia Mural Arts program. Philadelphia Mural Arts has been so influential that cities across the country have consulted with them to develop their own mural programs.

I have found through numerous interviews that in order to have an effective mural arts program with the goal of stopping graffiti you must employee local artists who have credibility within the scene. Philadelphia Mural Arts employees around 30% of its staff and art contracts with former graffiti artists. Building a healthy relationship with the local graffiti art scene is important for keeping the community happy. This is especially true in neighborhoods that are undergoing gentrification. Employing local artists who have been a part of the community for  a long while to work in areas being gentrified shows that despite the economic changes of the neighborhood that the culture and memories of the past are still there.

Finally, murals just make the streets look better. They give the walls, streets, and neighborhoods a distinct personality. With no two murals ever the same passersby will always be able to know where they are and the stories of the neighborhood. It is my goal in Make Art Not Marks to contribute to this neighborhood beautification and identity programs.

When I tell people that I’m working on this project I always say that I am not anti-graffiti but pro-art. Ever since I moved to Austin I fell in love with the street art scene. The HOPE Outdoor Gallery, an enormous series of walls built on the side of a hill that anybody can spray on, is a personal favorite spot of mine in Austin. I make an effort to visit the gallery as much as possible to discover new artists and check in on the works of my favorite Austin artists. I firmly believe that having a City of Austin backed program that works directly with the Austin street art scene is necessary for a city that is full of so many talented artists. It is my mission to bring this program to life, and I have the research to back this mission up.


Day 8

Word Count: 550

Cost per Post: $19.49

Art & Utilities

Working in public utilities has really made my appreciate what cities are: they are a massive habitat for thousands of people to come together and live their lives. Cities bring out the best aspects of humanity: collaboration, innovation, industries revolutionizing the world, creativity and so on. Any aspect of human nature can be amplified by the city in which they live.

Working for the city has made me appreciate the concrete jungle even more than I used to. My job is to deliver the resources you need to make a living right to your door, and if I do it right nobody notices. It’s only if the power fails or a water main busts before you bring attention to my job. As they taught us from day one: we’re public servants, it is our duty to serve you, but that doesn’t mean we have to make an eyesore to get it to you.

My main job is in transmission line engineering, you know those big giant steel poles or lattice towers that are as tall as a five to fifteen story tall building. And maybe it’s just my professions version of the frequency illusion, but I notice transmission lines and even distribution line (the smaller, usually wooden pools) everywhere I go. They’re ugly to look at and utilitarian looking at best, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

One of the best aspects of living within the city are the creative people cities attract. If you live in a significantly large enough city you will find a nice community of artists, especially street artists and muralists. Few cities are beginning to realize that they can unite their artists with their engineers making the city streets into an drive through art exhibit instead of being littered with utility poles and boxes. If the city were the human body, the city departments would be the organs and the artists would be the soul.

The Moon City Creative District in Springfield, MO was the first district I discovered that made an effort to make something more out of their distribution poles. I personally spoke with the lead artist, Linda Passeri, and the lead organizer, Phyllis Ferguson, of their now famous Paint-a-Poll Stroll. And I got some great notes.

Moon City is known to be the creative district within the city of Springfield. It houses dozens of art studios which give the city its unique personality. According to Linda and Phyllis, the two were tired of looking at the wooden poles right outside of their houses, so they decided to do something about it. Without permission from the local utility company, the two took matter into their own hands and decorated two poles. When they were finished, what used to be a wooden splinter became a canvas. They took photos and prepared for their next step: a presentation to the local utility company.

The artful duo scheduled a meeting with the top execs of the City Utilities of Springfield, not afraid to show off their vandalized poles. According to Linda, the execs cut them off halfway through their presentation. The execs were blown away by the idea of making utilities into art and gladly allowed the two to carry out their project.

Linda told me that another motive for the project was to distinguish the neighborhood from the rest of the city, her and Phyllis wanted to leave a message for all passersby saying “Welcome to the most creative part of Springfield.” Apparently everybody else in the district loved the message so much that within two years the neighborhood had over 130 painted poles.

There were benefits other than distinguishing the neighborhood. Traffic passing through is now slower, and safer, as people are checking out the works. The poles were no longer vandalized with graffiti or flyers. The utility company looked great for promoting local artists. Residents began taking pride in their neighborhood (Phyllis even was voted on to city council after she lead the project). And, when Pokémon Go was all the rage the poles became Poke Stops or gyms.

Moon City is just one of many cities that are working to unite engineers and artists. Through my research I found out that the inspiration for Moon City began in Canada at the Fernwood art district in Victoria, BC. Houston, TX has their own project of decorating traffic light control boxes called Mini Murals. Orlando, FL has an multi-neighborhood project encouraging neighborhoods to enlist the help of local artists to decorate everything from walls to dumpsters.

We should take pride in our cities, and there’s no better way to do that than giving the streets a bit of personality with the help of the local artists. Municipal governments, especially their utility branches, should embrace these creatives and provide them with the funding and tools to make a pole more than a pole, or turn a substation wall into a mural. We need art on the streets.