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Welcome to The Scenic Route

Ben Stone, SGA director of arts and culture
Ben Stone, Smart Growth America. Photo: Le Xander

We wrote the initial version of this guide in 2016 to introduce creative placemaking to transportation planners, public works agencies, and local elected officials who are on the front lines of advancing transportation projects. Back then, we were also in the nascent stages of working within arts and culture. But after our own arts & culture team spent the next five years managing and supporting creative placemaking projects and training practitioners across the country, we had tons of new material, dozens of new case studies, and new thoughts that were based on our own work, research, conversations with artists and transportation professionals, and observations of the field. At the same time, many of the projects that we profiled in 2016 continued to evolve and iterate. 

With a few years of experience under our belts and useful new material in hand, we sought to update the Scenic Route and provide a more user-friendly guide that was accessible and useful to those just starting out on the ground floor and the more experienced hands looking to expand their knowledge and skills. We hope that this updated version of the Scenic Route provides something useful for everyone.

Creative placemaking harnesses the power of arts and culture to allow for more genuine public engagement—particularly in low-income neighborhoods, communities of color and among immigrant populations—in the development of transportation projects. Done right, this can lead to both better processes and better products which better serve and reflect the needs of a community. 

Integrating community-inspired art into the ultimate design of projects is what many of the guide’s new and updated case studies demonstrate. The end results are streets, sidewalks and public spaces that welcome us, inspire us and move us in every sense of that word. It doesn’t take much to get started, but it does require a new approach to public engagement along with intentional partnerships with artists, arts councils and community-based organizations. We hope this guide serves as your starting point to a journey that can truly transform your block, neighborhood, town or city.

— Ben Stone, director of arts and culture, Smart Growth America

How to use this guide

Are you new to these topics? Start with the rest of the handful of pages in this “start here” section. Then you can look through the eight approaches outlined in our “How artists help” section, and finally to the detailed case studies, descriptions of the projects that SGA has participated in, and additional resources. 

For more experienced professionals, we suggest starting with “How artists help” or “Case studies” to read in-depth descriptions of a number of exemplary projects that sit at the intersection of the arts and transportation.

The Scenic Route is broken up into a few main sections:

  • Start Here: You’re here now! The seven pages in this section offer a short description of the guide, why we made it and updated it, some of the definitions of creative placemaking, explanations of different types of artistic practice, and advice on finding, contracting, and working with artists, as well as some of the pitfalls to avoid. Go straight to the second page in this section, our introduction to creative placemaking
  • How Artists Help: Throughout our work, we’ve seen eight specific ways that artists most often help transportation projects. This section forms the bulk of the Scenic Route content. Pick any one of the eight approaches and then read real-life stories illustrating how that approach was put into action in a real community. The descriptions of how artists help were created through numerous conversations with artists involved in the projects.
  • Case Studies: Instead of starting with one of the eight approaches, you can also go straight to the dozens of stories illustrating creative placemaking in action and search them by location, mode, or approach. We’ve highlighted dozens of projects from coast to coast that showcase a wide range of artistic practices, transportation modes, and geographies to illustrate all the ways that partnering with artists can help your transportation work. All of the projects featured here are also included in the “How artists help” section.
  • Smart Growth America’s projects: Since 2016, SGA’s arts & culture team has produced a suite of creative placemaking projects. We’ve provided funding, technical assistance, training, and help with project management to partners across the country. This section serves as an archive of these projects.
  • Resources: The Scenic Route is just a starting point for the wealth of information on arts, culture, and transportation, and creative placemaking more broadly. This section includes links to organizations, reports, and websites where you can continue your journey.

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