The Beauty of Paint: Painting As Urban Development

In Africa, All, Art & Music, Latin America & Caribbean, UDIN (All), Urban Inspiration by Teju Adisa-Farrar

Project Lead (Panama City & Nairobi): Independent Bus Drivers
Project Lead/Organization Name: Mundano, Pimp My Cart
Project Lead/Organization Name: Haas & Hahn, Favela Painting & Other Projects

In places like Panama City, Panama and Nairobi, Kenya many of the public buses are old reused yellow school buses that exhale black smog and are filled with local people on their way to their daily activities and work. The buses are rarely still used in the U.S. and when they are seen in the U.S. we know them as the average yellow school bus. In places like Panama City and Nairobi these old school buses are not average or yellow. These buses are painted with bold colors and designs, given names like Centurion or El Diablo. Each bus driver gives his bus it’s own personality and swag using paints, designs, and sometimes even hooking up a sound system and christmas lights on the inside. While this is average for a Panamanian or a Kenyan, for foreigners it’s an artistic experience.

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People have taken what some of us see as old and broken down and turned it into cultural expressions of mobility and individuality. In places where people need to get around and buses need to carry a lot of people, the city is filled with so much personality when their public buses are painted in a variety of colors and designs. The use of paint in cities to liven up the mundane or dishonorable has proven to be a source of dignity for people in these cities and communities. In Brazil, artists have painted trash carts, catadores, that collect junk and recyclables on the street. Although this service is necessary it is not seen as luxurious or creative in any way, but with the cart artwork it is now seen as an art to be collecting junk.

In developing countries there is a belief that development means building tall buildings and modern houses. In my opinion, painting buses and trash carts is also a form of urban development as well as a form of cultural revitalization. Developing countries have to be the most resourceful, and recycling in style or riding through the city on a bus painted in bold colors is the best way to make do with what you have. There will always be more that can be done, but art goes a long way in urban centers that are growing and managing their landscapes. It is often difficult to think about what can be done in situations that seem unfortunate or hopeless, but as we can see in cities and communities across the world-paint goes a long way.