Philadelphia, despite its sometimes ill-deserved reputation, is a beautiful city. We have breathtaking architecture. We have parks. We have trees and lights and public art. We have cute kids.
But let’s be honest: We have ugly, pockmarked streets. Like, biker-killing trap/car-destroying/home value-lessening ugly streets. The main culprit? Potholes, that bane of every city at the intersection of harsh winter and shrinking budgets. It’s not that the Streets Department doesn’t care. It claims to fix every reported pothole—and those along the same street—within three days (unless, of course, it’s on this list of streets that are actually maintained by the state, or by SEPTA). So far in 2021, the department has filled 43,494 potholes, according to a tally on its website.
Where better to plant flowers in potholes than the town that has perfected beauty-bombing as a form of civic awareness?
And yet. Ride any distance outside of Center City and you’d think it was Fury Road, minus…well, minus everything about Fury Road except the crappy driving conditions. So what are we beleaguered Philadelphians to do?
We could follow the example of enterprising, beauty-loving drivers around the country (and beyond) who have launched a form of civic activism that is gaining momentum: Planting flowers in potholes. From Bangor, Maine to Jackson, Mississippi to Hamtramck, Michigan, citizen gardeners are taking to the streets with dirt and flowers, surprising their neighbors—and nudging town officials—with bursts of color where there used to be just rubble.
A London “guerrilla gardener” Steve Wheen embellishes his plantings with props, like mini-tennis courts—and has turned his designs into a book. And Chicago artist Jim Bachor has used the potholes as canvasses for mosaics (thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign). Mostly, though, the displays are—hopefully—temporary. In Schenectady, New York, for example, Elaine Santore dropped pansies into 10 potholes in mid-April. By the end of the week, the city had dug them up and fixed the holes. Perhaps someone in charge took notice?
Could this work here? Where better than the town that has perfected beauty-bombing as a form of civic awareness? We turned graffiti into murals. We have an artist who knitted a bikini on former Frank Rizzo statue. Even PHS pop-up gardens fit this tradition: Lots abandoned for years go from eyesore to lush, light-filled summer outdoor dining areas, which in turn makes them more appealing to developers.
You may not get that hole fixed by the city (or state) any faster if you put petunias in your potholes. But maybe it will make navigating the city’s streets a little easier in the meantime. As Saskatchewan pothole planter Clayton Clysdale Finnell told CBC News in May: “Can you imagine just going outside and your coffee is going to taste that much better. The air is going to be that much better because everyone would be in a much happier mood.”
Editor’s note: This story originally ran in June 2015. It’s still an idea we should steal.
Photo by Ian Taylor / Unsplash