A sticker for Crybaby Cross Stitch. A poster for a drag show. A bumper sticker for PinkDontStink.com? Another egg-shaped sticker with a picture of eggs that just read “EGG.” The eclectic collection of posters and adhere-able expression blanketed the faded plexiglass message board next to Star Park in Rochester’s South Wedge neighborhood.
Technically, “sticker slapping” is considered vandalism and is illegal in most cities. But unless an officer catches you in the act and has a lot of time on their hands, it’s a consequence-free form of self expression and grassroots promotion.
It wasn’t until recently when I visited one of my favorite Rochester neighborhoods that I truly appreciated just how pervasive sticker slapping really is. I took the time to peruse every surface, every adhered statement featuring websites, thought systems, local establishments and artists. But it wasn’t about the individual stickers.
It was the collective voices that each sticker represented. Gay pride, empowerment of women, Black Lives Matter blended with a passion for local bands, favorite restaurants, political opinions and some that could not be understood unless you were a part of the “in” crowd.
When people are passionate about where they live and what they believe in, that’s when you have something. When people express themselves in a local forum and believe that people will see their expression and adopt it, that’s when you know a neighborhood is strong. Scarcely will you see sticker slapping to this extent near a suburban shopping mall, or adjacent to a strode, because no one is adhering a sticker in a place where no one will ever see it. Personal expression has two parts… one is the passion of the expression, and the other is knowledge that an audience exists.
Another component I’ve always been aware of in Rochester’s South Wedge is the on-street sculpture work. While humble and badly worn by the elements, it’s an additive that few Rochester neighborhoods have in abundance.
Sculpture sends a message that this is a place that people care about and expresses a desire for uniqueness and identification. Even the oddest and most abstract sculptures can convey a message of artistic ownership and community spirit.
Small scale interactive elements such as “Little Free Libraries” and food pantry exchanges like the one seen below at the South Wedge Mission highlight the sharing aspect of communities. Neighborhoods are best when people embrace the ideal of shared space and resources. Elements like these add small but important points of interest for residents, and make visitors feel like they are stepping into a place where trust, sharing, and compassion are abundant.
Finally, building mural artwork adds an element of uniqueness to any neighborhood. From splashes of color on a nondescript building facade, to artistic social commentary in an otherwise dull alley, murals have the power to lift our eyes away from the worn, mundane surfaces of brick and concrete.
None of the creative, expressive, artistic and compassionate elements listed here can change a neighborhood vibe on their own. But in concert, they are low impact, high reward components that convey a strong and unique community narrative. No need for developers, pricey land use consultants or layers of red tape… just creative minds, caring neighbors, supportive businesses, and people who feel they can make a difference. It is this organic urbanism that is rightfully romanticized by people like Jane Jacobs, but seldom appreciated by those who believe that only facelift-style change can spark a community.
Maybe we can’t change our communities with a single creative idea. But if we blend that idea with others who have a collective desire to inspire and raise everyone, we can create a neighborhood culture that defies the norm and dares to engender a welcoming spirit.