I'm just going to post a few pictures of a utility box I painted back in 2012, to show some folks an example of a comic-strip alphabet mural. These pictures are of a painted utility box on Elbow Drive in Calgary. Each of the panels is pretty small (a few inches in width/height), so there isn't room for more than a single phrase and image. Bigger panels would allow for a bit more than this.
I've had this cool group of local visionaries on my radar since 2007 or 8, when I first heard of "Plan It Calgary." That visioning process has evolved into the imagineCALGARY of today (follow that link to see their lovely new website). But I've always been watching from the sidelines since I was (first) usually out of town, and (later) always at home being a new mom.
Well, now that my son is four years old, I can actually find a little free time now and then to get out and participate in these exciting conversations. I was really looking forward to attending my first imagineCALGARY event this morning. I imagined myself talking with grown-ups about far-sighted, complicated visions, and most of all, enjoying a change of pace from my usual life at home building train tracks with my four-year-old. It's a bit ironic that one of the big selling points of this particular event was that we'd get to play with Lego. Honestly, if I never see any Lego again, I'd probably be ok with that. At least it wasn't train tracks!
Joking aside (the Lego was fun), this was an awesome crowd of thinkers and doers. The opportunity to learn about what they've been up to, and what they want to do next, was inspiring. Here are my sketchnotes:
I was drawn to Bob Miller's suggestion that everyday citizens could engage their neighbourhood spaces with simple activities such as front-yard gardening. This idea reminded me of the 23rd Avenue Artwalk & Street Celebration I helped to organize on my street in Ramsay last year: an event that grew out of a desire to share and showcase the creative talents of a street full of neighbours.
Our one-day event certainly convinced me that getting neighbours out on their front lawns is a great way to forge connections, make streetscapes more lively and lovely, and enjoy all sorts of excellent long-lasting "by-products" into the bargain (neighbourhood safety... friendships... inspiration... not to mention a line on local vegetables, if your neighbours happen to be the Leaf Ninjas). Anyway, I joined this group of thinkers who were working on building a lego model of what our "living sidewalks" (enlivened by gardens, art and general neighbourhood creativity). Here's Mike Fotheringham showing the street we designed.
It's a cul-de-sac that features a painted street, gardens and art installations in front yards, as well as all sorts of other front-yard features to entice visitors over: a bench, a firepit, a gazebo, and an empty lot featuring a tire filled with potatoes. Oh, and some chickens - or at least, a representational chicken leg.
Our group discussion unearthed other ways to engage our street- and sidewalkscapes:
Pop-Ups (shameless plug: take a look at find it!)
Home business ventures, from lemonade stands to yard sales to craft fairs
Firepits for chilly evenings (with hot chocolate for neighbours who stop by)
"Little Free Libraries"
Water tanks & rain barrels for watering gardens
Public art (for some great homegrown examples courtesy of Calgary is Awesome, see here)
(And by the way, public art can sometimes serve a purpose as well as plain old street beautification: witness the Painted Utility Box Program and Sunalta's muralized pedestrian crossing)
Good things about this kind of engagement:
It doesn't have to cost a lot
It doesn't (have to) require jumping through a lot of bureaucratic hoops
It can have great side-effects (traffic calming; crime prevention; neighbourhood networking; creative inspiration; healthy outdoor activity... the list is endless!)
And... it can get people (such as elderly folks) engaged, who wouldn't usually have that kind of opportunity
If you need more inspiration about this kind of thing, look no further than this TED Talk by Jason Roberts of Austin, Texas, in case you haven't heard about his brilliant "Better Blocks."
Well - our group of imagineCALGARIANS talked about staying in touch in order to make something happen on our own streetscapes. Stay tuned! I'll let you know what we come up with!
Thanks, imagineCALGARY, for a great morning. And now back to the train tracks.
Here's a nice nod to Peter Bushe and his innovative City of Calgary Painted Utility Box Program in today's Swerve Magazine! Cold weather is settling in, but I'm looking forward to being part of this again next year if the opportunity's still there. This was so much fun...
Pictures of my two utility boxes can be seen here!
This summer, I had the chance to be part of the City of Calgary's cool Painted Utility Box Program. Here are some pictures from one of the boxes I painted. It's at the corner of Elbow Drive & 58th St. SW. I drew a "Calgary Alphabet" on it... and of course the letter "U" had to be a utility box!
I am a graphic recorder based in Calgary. I like local stories. I write comics when I have free time. And I leave eraser shavings everywhere I go.
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Some nice things people said about my work:
“If Breitkreuz and Foong [founders of the Calgary Comics & Entertainment Expo] represent the Type-A side of Calgary's self-publishing community, Hester may be the community's right brain.” – Tom Babin, FFWD Magazine
“…A strong graphic style similar to other autobiographically-inclined Canadian cartoonists like Chester Brown and Julie Doucet.” – Gilbert Bouchard, Edmonton Journal
The 23rd Story: an indie comics creator's tales of life in Calgary