Transforming an eyesore into eye-candy



Similar to the image above, the vast majority of highway and railroad underpasses across the country are the epitome of sterile concrete and overgrown weeds.  Left as underutilized vacant space, they hardly engender any sort of warmth or welcome, particularly for pedestrians and cyclists. Essentially, left unto themselves, they are dreary eyesores.

Greater Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, including the City of Mt. Pleasant, the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, and Union Charter Township on the other hand, have worked in unison to transform both sides the M-20 underpass beneath U.S. 127 (future Interstate 73) into a non-motorized visual oasis of colorful flowers and handsome streetscaping. Simple placemaking steps such as this go a long way towards enhancing community pride while reducing visual pollution.

Complimenting this endeavor, Greater Mt. Pleasant has adopted one of the best non-motorized master plans I have ever seen. This impressive and informative plan from 2011 should go a long way towards bringing similar healthy placemaking efforts throughout the micropolitan area.

Other options to consider for turning a drab underpass into something exceptional could include murals, lighting accents, engraved designs within the concrete, or sculptures. Kudos to Greater Mt. Pleasant for showing the rest of us a great example of how to create eye-candy from a sterile highway underpass. Well done!

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1 Response to Transforming an eyesore into eye-candy

  1. jeansc35 says:

    The first thing I noticed in the top photo of the “sterile” concrete is that it’s actually over-used. [Why do so many people say “utilize” when they can use the shorter synonym “use”? To see erudite?] It’s over-used by people parking cars under the bridges, by vandals committing graffiti, and it looks like by homeless people in the far shadows. These underpasses really aren’t places where one should want to spend more time than is necessary to get through. Accidents can and do happen below and on top of these bridges; sometimes vehicles fall off the bridge to the road below. Nice landscaping is good, but the seating isn’t. I’ve seen some great murals in these contexts in Chicago; but think the impetus didn’t start until it was as a reaction against graffiti. The mainstream culture whose engineers design and built these highway overpasses doesn’t need murals under them. This contrasts with some cultures, tending to be based in warmer climates, which habitually decorate many outdoor walls with colorful and very attractive artwork. Graffiti vandals aren’t generally from the mainstream culture. All I want from these viaducts is cleanliness and excellent maintenance. The best use is to go through promptly.


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