I've been working on creative placemaking project proposals that combine art with public gardens as a tool to activate unclaimed areas, strengthen community identity, and meet basic human needs within underserved, and often marginalized, neighborhoods.
If you are familiar with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, you will know that basic human needs include food, safety, and shelter. The next tier of needs includes personal relationships. At the top of the pyramid is self actualization, which includes creative pursuits. If the basic needs of an individual are not being adequately met then both access to or participation in art will never be a priority or even a topic worth discussing.
During a recent trip to San Fransisco I stayed in the Tenderloin District. This neighborhood in downtown San Fransisco has a plethora of murals completed by world renowned visual artists. As I walked the streets of the Tenderloin I noticed that these murals were irrelevant to many of the individuals that call the Tenderloin home. These murals didn't make their neighborhood any safer and the subject matter didn't speak to their identity as a community. Furthermore, the murals didn't address the fact that the neighborhood is a food desert riddled with drug use, mental health problems, and homelessness.
I did, however, find one public art project that resonated with me, the Tenderloin People's Garden. This garden is located outside the McAllister Hotel, transitional housing for San Fransisco's homeless community. The large mural, which stretched 40+ feet high, was welcoming, spoke to a diverse community's identity, and linked the arts to more basic needs - food security. Around the garden's fence were handmade painted cutouts of vegetables.
This is an excellent example of creative placemaking. Here are before an after photos showing how art can activate an area and provide a transformative experience.