It seems I have stirred up a bit of a hornet’s nest over on Facebook in a thread about the beautiful mural being painted by Panmela Castro on the western Wall of the Willy Street Co-op. The mural is gorgeous, replacing a sterile beige cinderblock wall with a broad golden ribbon, strands of crimson, and a sparkling pool of emerald. And yet I am bothered by it.
It is not the mural itself that bothers me, but the context the mural has been born into. It has been less than a week since the Co-op announced that they would keep the Jenifer Street driveway (which the mural faces) open to automobile traffic, after a contentious process bracketed at the Co-op’s move-in by what was perceived as a promise by the Co-op to not open a driveway onto Jenifer street, and at the end with the conclusion of a traffic study whose parameters did not include addressing the concerns brought up by the critics in the neighborhood. So the Co-op seems to have decided to paint over this ugly canvas with a pretty mural.
The Co-op sits at the epicenter of what local talk radio considers the most liberal bicycling bohemian bourgeois ward in the state. But it is clear the Co-op has staked its livelihood on attracting residents of the more conservative outer-ring of Madison. Those outer-ringers demand to be lavished with pavement in the form of abundant car parking and free-flowing automobile travel. Cheap and abundant oil doesn’t hurt either, never mind the wars, climate issues, and the fact that the oil and road building interests tend to donate to Republican candidates who care not one whit for social justice. What better way to take the neighborhood’s mind off the clash of culture going on at the Co-op than to affix an image to the wall from a young multimedia artist from Brazil who uses graffiti and street art to promote social change and awareness?
I regularly ride my bicycle along Jenifer Street past the store. Defenders of the Co-op’s driveway tell me that its financial success depends on those people driving from the outer ring and that I just have to tolerate their presence and the threat to my safety that increased traffic and a more visually cluttered environment creates. I feel as if I am being squeezed into a car-shaped mold and told to conform to how the world wants me to be. But inside I crave the freedom to ride my bicycle in a space where I don’t have to constantly yield due to a physical threat. In my imagination, there is another way for the Co-op to grow yet hold to the principles of the neighborhood in which it was founded, where any bicyclist can let their hair loose and ride freely, much like one might enjoy a country drive in a convertible that you see regularly in automobile commercials.
My predicament is exactly the same kind of juxtaposition of conformity and free self-expression that seems to be portrayed in the mural itself! The female subject’s body has had a rectangular frame imposed upon it. Cylindrical arms frame a rectangular body capped with square breasts. In the middle is a conventional head from which flows a mane of fanciful wavy hair. Flowing off into infinity toward…
That driveway. Ironically the flowing hair that represents self-expression in the mural could actually be a visual distraction for drivers as they head toward the Jenifer street driveway. And that means I will have to be even more ready to conform to how the world wants me to be.
Categories: | Planning Issues - Generally | Traffic Bikes Roads