Take the Scenic Route: Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk

The following is one of nearly 50 case studies included in the newly updated creative placemaking guide, the Scenic Route. This resource provides a tour of eight common approaches used in exemplary projects across the country at the intersection of arts, culture, and transportation.

Join Smart Growth America, Transportation for America, and the National Endowment for the Arts on Monday, May 10th at 3 p.m. Eastern to hear from experts on why this guide matters and how you can use it in your community. In the meantime, check out the Scenic Route at transportation.art.

Collage of 12 images of city sidewalk poems in Saint Paul, MN.

Started by artist Marcus Young 楊墨 in 2008, Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk is a program by the City of Saint Paul that uses the city’s existing sidewalk maintenance program as an opportunity to stamp—and publish—residents’ poetry into its sidewalk network.

The challenge

The City of St. Paul’s City Artist program started in 2005 as a way to embed artists upstream in local government and provide a unique opportunity to enhance city services and systems. Marcus Young 楊墨 held the position from 2006 to 2015 and during his time focused on “shap[ing] public spaces, improv[ing] city systems, and deepen[ing] civic engagement.” 

Young focused his time on systems and identifying opportunities in the city where a small adjustment could have a big impact. What ended up catching his eye was the sidewalk stamps that contractors use to mark the sidewalk with their company name and the year of installation. 

The project

From there, in 2008 Young worked with the city and outside partners like Public Art Saint Paul to create the Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk program which uses the city’s existing sidewalk maintenance process (which repairs 10 miles of sidewalk each year) to concurrently stamp in poetry.

The poems feature a diverse set of languages including Dakota, Hmong, Somali, and Spanish that start to reflect the diversity of St. Paul residents. Public Art Saint Paul states that additional languages may be added in years to come and that the diversity of languages “celebrates the remarkable cultures that make our city home and that makes our city strong.”

Map of City of Saint Paul's Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk

The results

Since the program’s launch in 2006, the city has installed more than 1,000 poems into the city’s sidewalk network. The coverage and implementation has been so strong that every St. Paul resident lives within a 10-minute walk of a sidewalk poem. Young reflects that “the project created a new platform for the creative voices of local residents. The dream is to pave all the streets in St. Paul with poetry.”

Key partners: Marcus Young 楊墨, City of St PaulPublic Art Saint PaulSaint Paul AlmanacCity of St Paul Mayor’s OfficeCity of Saint Paul’s Department Public Works

Originally published on the Scenic Route website. To see all of the Scenic Route case studies, head over to transportation.art

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