ARCHIVES: This is legacy content from before Sustainable Cities Collective was relaunched as Smart Cities Dive in early 2017. Some information, such as publication dates or images, may not have migrated over. For the latest in smart city news, check out the new Smart Cities Dive site or sign up for our daily newsletter.

Los Angeles' Metro Public Art Funding: The Benefits of Cultural Planning

The entrance to Soto Station is covered with beautiful bird sculptures. Los Angeles, California

Recently, I was fortunate enough to participate in an event put on by the American Planning Association showcasing public art pieces in different Metro transit stations. Metro, also known as the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, services millions of passengers each day through both bus and rail transit.

Additional projects focus on creating more carpool lanes and active transportation through bicycle and pedestrian improvement projects.

While the majority of Metro's budget goes towards construction and transit operator programs, the Metro Board policy mandates that 0.5% of Metro Rail construction costs go towards funding public art. Compared to other cities, 0.5% is a very modest amount of the capital project budget, with most cities tending to allocate 1% to 2%, and sometimes as much as 5%, of their budget for such projects.

Art in transit falls within a larger scope of work known as cultural planning, which can be understood as a process which leverages and strengthens cultural resources in a community. In the 1970s, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) was the first to support art in federally funded transit projects.

Boston was one of the first cities to develop a transit art program, and Los Angeles, like many other cities, started commissioning art in the 1980s. Over the years, Metro Art (the group responsible for implementing the art program) has engaged the public through a variety of different projects, ranging from murals to sculptures, poetry cards, film screenings, art tours and music events.

Poetry on the walls of Soto station, the words read

The benefits of art in transit are extensive. Beyond the immediate benefit of providing aesthetic value, art in transit can encourage ridership, which is one of Metro's biggest goals.

High quality art can also work in tandem with well-designed transit stations to promote safety and security – the logic being that these areas would garner greater respect and positive behavior as a result.

Other benefits include improved perception of transit, better customer care, enhanced community livability, improved customer experience, improved organizational identity, and vandalism deterrence. Beyond art in the Metro, the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) is in the process of developing a Master Plan for cultural planning in Los Angeles.

How can art be used to benefit public transportation systems? And what are the different ways that we can use art to leverage the benefits? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments below. 

Credits: Images by Victor Tran. Data linked to sources.