“If Portland can do it, why can’t we?”
That was the question Carla Gorman asked her fellow board members of the South Seminole Heights Civic Association almost a year ago. “Why can’t we paint our intersections?”
Turns out we can.
William Porth, Traffic Studies and Safety Coordinator for the City of Tampa, and a founding member of Bike/Walk Tampa Bay as the Chair of Hillsborough Community Traffic Safety Team, says the city began drafting the policy in December of 2014. Turning intersections into public art gets people involved with their communities, and it looks good, Porth said. “But it is up to the community to organize the project and submit it if the pilot program is going to be successful like it has been out west,” which is precisely what the South Seminole Heights Civic Association did.
On July 15, 2017, the Paint the Intersection Pilot Program celebrated its first success at the corner of N. River Road and W. Louisiana Avenue in front of Rivercrest Park. An elementary school is also nearby; Gormon says this is a point of concern for local residents because the parks are busy and people drive too fast through the area. “The park area is very vibrant, and we want everyone to be safe,” she said. Now it’s even more vibrant, with a brand new yellow, orange, red, and blue mandala emerging in the intersection, busy with the paintbrushes of involved residents and paint-covered kids.
St. Petersburg artist Catherine Thomas designed the mandala. Thomas says that, for her, painting mandalas is meditative. “Mandalas symbolize peace, unity, and wholeness,” she said. “The community wanted something reflecting its spirit, which is up and coming, colorful, vibrant.” Thomas says mandalas are also used for focusing attention and establishing sacred space. “It is also meant to slow people down in front of the park,” she added.
Though South Seminole Heights is the first neighborhood in the City of Tampa to paint an intersection, William Porth says other neighborhoods have the interest and resources to follow through as well, including Channelside, Southeast Seminole Heights, and Tampa Heights.
At the end of the day, a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrated the neighborhood’s success, thanking all who organized and participated in the event. And Carla Gormon was thrilled to see the mural come to life before her eyes in the middle of the bustling intersection. “Let’s keep painting these all over! Let’s make Tampa beautiful!” she said.