Slow Street Art

Dominica Phetteplace

Photo: Adrian Bonifacio

Stand on 24th Street and look north, uphill toward Sanchez Street, and you’ll see a bright orange landscape. Artist Amos Goldbaum has designed a mural that stretches from one end of the block toward the other—painted directly on the asphalt.

I was enchanted with this work from the moment I first saw drone pictures of it on Instagram. Only a robot can give you the whole picture in one take: a superlong Victorian framed on one side by a riot of tiny houses that resolve as you travel uphill into a Twin Peaks, a lone palm, and then finally, Sutro Tower.

In person and on two feet, the viewer is too close to see the whole thing at once. The mural is a line drawing done entirely in orange. The geometry of it is tight: quadrilaterals and triangles that only occasionally give way to curves and arches. You have to walk over it and through it to get a sense of it. It reminded me of a labyrinth, only with no entrance and no path.

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This stretch of Sanchez Street has cars on it, but it is not meant for cars. It is an officially designated Slow Street, blocked by temporary barriers that limit the flow of vehicles to local traffic. The Slow Streets across San Francisco were a shelter-in-place accommodation, meant to give bicyclists and pedestrians more room to avoid each other.

Photo: Amos Goldbaum

From the beginning, the Slow Streets were a social pact. Law enforcement wouldn’t ticket you if you went through, and they required the investment of the neighborhood to maintain signage that was continuously vandalized and defaced. On my Slow Street, neighbors held a “craft day” to reinforce our temporary barriers with concrete. My street’s barriers are sturdier now, but still routinely ignored; motorists will creep past them before fully accelerating to an unsafe speed. Like seeing the unmasked, you wonder if they’re willingly endangering lives for their own convenience.

Now that we are exiting the plague year, many Slow Streets are in danger of losing their special designation. The Sanchez Street mural is a creative attempt to make this particular Slow Street permanent. It can only be enjoyed if car traffic is limited on the block.

It’s been a long, hard year and it’s not over yet. Goldbaum’s work is an attempt to call us back to a new normal: a safer street for bikes and pedestrians, with room to slow down and admire your surroundings. I want more streets like Sanchez. Spaces that prioritizes people over cars. Spaces for art, artists, and art fans.

Dominica Phetteplace is a writer and futurist. Her honors include a MacDowell Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, and a Rona Jaffe Award. 

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