FORWARD: Issue #2: Transportation

From the Guest Editor

Illustration by Noah MacMillan, for Transportation for America.

by Ben Stone, Director of Arts and Culture, Smart Growth America

Transportation is a wide field, including everything from walking to flying. It’s also closely linked to people’s ability to escape poverty and lead prosperous lives. The history of transportation infrastructure in this country is filled with stories about connecting people to opportunity—as well as stories of decisions based on racist ideas that have led, for example, to the destruction of entire communities through highway construction. And transportation is now the leading contributor to climate change in the United States, as well as a field experiencing major innovations.

This issue of FORWARD tackles many of these matters. Included are projects that deal with a range of modes of travel: walking, bicycling, driving, and public transit. Various phases of transportation projects, including planning, design, and construction, are featured, as are projects that highlight alternative ways of thinking about transportation infrastructure: as space for recreation, reflection, representation, and reconciliation.

Tying all of these projects together is the role artists have played in addressing transportation challenges as they have joined teams of civil engineers and planners, bringing their creative skills to bear on our most pressing mobility issues. We’ve categorized these projects under the following headings:

Construction Mitigation COVID-19 Making Streets Safer Respecting the Local Bringing Creativity to DOTs

This is far from an exhaustive list of categories, and we’ve certainly left out hundreds of exemplary projects. Fortunately, there’s a wide range of resources available to anyone interested in learning more about the intersection of the arts and transportation. Field scans, case studies, reports, and interactive resources covering this intersectional field are listed in the Toolkit section of this issue.

Absent from this issue is a discussion of “art in transit” programs and other public art programs run through transportation agencies. While these programs consistently produce beautiful and meaningful works of art, the projects in this issue prioritize artists working as embedded members of transportation teams, in which their artistic contributions are as likely to be changes to a policy or procedure as physical artworks. Furthermore, for the past few years, funding from the Federal Transit Administration has been prohibited from supporting the “incremental costs of incorporating art or non-functional landscaping into facilities, including the costs of an artist on the design team,” putting nearly all art in transit projects on hold.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created special challenges for transit agencies, which normally rely on a steady flow of commuters sharing space in close proximity. While revenue and ridership have decreased, expenses have increased as agencies have had to adopt more rigorous cleaning and social distancing procedures. Several have turned to artists and designers for assistance; their stories are featured in this issue.

In spite of funding restrictions, the pandemic, and diminishing public funding, major new projects are moving forward: at the very beginning of this year, the Moynihan Train Hall opened in New York City. A magnificent extension of Penn Station, the new hall features permanent works of art by Stan Douglas, Elmgreen & Dragset, and Kehinde Wiley. Across the rest of the country, transportation agencies are experimenting with welcoming artists-in-residence to their teams, redesigning roads to accommodate a far wider range of users than just drivers, and cities are considering tearing down highways that have bisected BIPOC communities for far too long.

Each project featured in this issue of FORWARD includes artists helping to create a more responsive, equitable, and sustainable way for people to get to the places and things they need.

Watch this FORWARD conversation series roundtable

FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT: ART, CULTURE AND TRANSPORTATION IN 2021 with Charles T. Brown, MPA, CPD, LCI How are artists and the transportation sector collaborating to solve intractable problems and envision a more just future of mobility & infrastructure? Amidst a change in political leadership, our roundtable features leading voices at this intersection. With Charles T. Brown (Rutgers University), Naomi Doerner (Nelson/Nygaard), and Melvin Giles (community artist and organizer); facilitated by Ben Stone (Smart Growth America). This conversation took place on Thursday, February 18, 2021

Please consider a donation to make events like this possible.


Ben Stone

Guest Editor Ben Stone, Smart Growth America's (SGA) Director of Arts and Culture, has written extensively about the intersection of art and transportation and leads the Arts & Transportation Rapid Response initiative. Stone leads SGA's broad efforts to help communities across the country better integrate arts, culture, and creative placemaking into neighborhood revitalization, equitable development, and transportation planning efforts.


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FORWARD: Issue #2