Street murals add vibrancy and vitality to communities

Artists turn the community of Las Palmitas, Mexico, into one massive, mural that promotes community engagement and reduces crime.

The hillside neighborhood of Las Palmitas, Mexico is now a giant mural. | Ted McGrath

The hillside neighborhood of Las Palmitas, Mexico is now a giant mural. | Ted McGrath

Street-art, once called graffiti, is a way for local or visiting artists to transform communities often littered with blight into attractive places using quality artisan skills. Bricked buildings serve as murals that, once finished, create places where people want to spend time and visit. Places, such as Detroit, have embraced street artists as a way to “lighten up” the blighted sides of Detroit and create a more enjoyable place. Just last September (2015), Detroit’s Street-art festival was held in Eastern Market, an agriculture and artisan market growing in popularity every year for fresh produce, artwork, food trucks and overall community vibrancy (examples of murals can be viewed here).

Even though it is rare to see an entire neighborhood transform their surroundings by literally painting their entire community, that is exactly what Mexican artists did for the Las Palmitas community.

The city of Las Palmitas contains roughly 42,000 people. Prior to the colorful transformation, crime and gang activity, along with other issues that infect low-income communities across Mexico and other parts of the world, plagued the community.

An artists’ collective, known as the German Crew, worked with local residents to paint more than 200 cement block homes the colors of the rainbow. The effort, which took just over a year to complete, promoted community engagement and, according to local officials, reduced crime by 35 percent. The project intent was to promote community integration and eliminate the negative image of the community.

The success of the Los Palmitas project has reengaged the community that was lost over several years due to low-income, poverty and crime. In fact, one of the successes from the project came from the art collective encouraging some gang members to paint the houses. It worked, and they completed this project successfully.

The Los Palmitas project was so successful that artists are adding more than 16,000 square feet of murals along additional streets. And the nearby, low-income, poverty-stricken neighborhood of Cubitos will soon be getting their community covered in the color as well.

A short film from PBS on Los Palmitas was created to show the visual effects of this project.

Whether in Detroit, Michigan or Los Palmitas, Mexico, street-art can transform communities from dingy to dynamic. Efforts like these can have profound effects on building safe communities where people want to live, work and play. This approach has the characteristics of placemaking, where communities are employing to revitalize their downtowns and neighborhoods to attract new residents and visitors and retain those they have already. 

Photo courtesy of flickr user Ted McGrath at http://www.flickr.com/photos/time-to-look/25531074363

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