A colorful concept: Daylighting comes to South Philly

Jason Peters

If you venture just south of South Street along 21st Street, you’ll see brightly colored swirls and spirals painted along the curb where parked cars would normally be. These Seuss-like designs can be spotted at the corners surrounding both Edwin Stanton and Chester Arthur Elementary schools in the city’s Graduate Hospital area. 

It’s a beautiful art project, but it also serves an important purpose.

“We’re trying to open up visibility for all users of the road,” explained Kristen Albee, a neighborhood resident and project leader for the South of South Neighborhood Association. 

Traditional daylighting along city streets involves painting a curb red or placing some yellow lines on the street to indicate that an area is not legal to park. It is practiced in dozens of major cities like Hoboken, San Francisco, and New York City. However — in South Philly they’re taking it one step further by painting huge vibrant patterns in an effort to make streets near neighborhood schools safer. 

Jason Peters

Through a partnership with Mural Arts Philadelphia, El Salvadorian-born artist Calo Rosa designed the paintings by working alongside the community. In fact, thanks to the project, 8th graders at Chester Arthur got an inside look into the design process.

Rosa explains “we had a virtual workshop with Chester Arthur 8th grade where I walked them through the process of designing this project. I created an abstract design based on this collective brainstorming, which was then approved by the community.”

Jason Peters

The daylighting process had three explicit goals, according to the South of South Neighborhood Association: “to ​create safe pathways to two neighborhood elementary schools, foster a safer and more pleasant pedestrian environment, and to implement innovative traffic calming improvements to increase safety for residents and students.” 

Dozens of community members recently participated in a Community Paint Day where representatives from Mural Arts Philadelphia, Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson’s office, and the South of South Neighborhood Association watched their plan come to fruition.

Daylighting is “a low cost, low tech traffic calming project,” says Albee. “Ideally we’d like to see the cement bump-outs but that’s very expensive, paint and posts are a lot more affordable.” Albee noted a need for increased visibility around schools specifically because “young children are a lot shorter,” meaning they are at an increased risk to go unseen by vehicles. 

The addition of these paintings did not take away any legal parking — Albee added, “it’s illegal to park 20 feet within the crosswalk.” These changes are a unique attempt to prevent delivery trucks from idling on corners and to curb illegal parking around the schools. 

Jason Peters

This is one of the first major daylighting projects in Philadelphia and will serve as a test case for the concept—perhaps paving the way for a much safer and more colorful city as years go by. 

Metro is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Phillya collaborative reporting project on economic mobility. Read more at brokeinphilly.org or follow on Twitter at @BrokeInPhilly