Positive vandalism

Yesterday we vandalised a local bus stop.

I love Walworth Road

I’m not entirely sure it was legal, but I can’t imagine anyone will be that bothered by removing the bluetak.

I wasn’t acting alone. There were four children (the innocents) and at least 11 grown-ups.  We drew pictures, wrote lists (‘things we love about Burgess Park’) and made things pretty.  There was no spray paint, no swearing, no ‘tags’, but lots of crayons, felt tips, and reasons to love our local area.

It was our monthly gathering of folks who are trying to build relationships with their neighbours and work for the good of the community, and this month we were right opposite the newly developed Burgess Park on Walworth Rd.  There’s a ton of redevelopment happening in the area – flashy new (expensive) apartment blocks springing up, (badly) replanted grass, new outdoor ping pong tables and a multi-gym – but we’ve been asking ourselves who it’s benefitting.  Is it the long-term residents of the area, or the upwardly mobile newbies we seem to be trying to attract?

Whether development happens or doesn’t, it’s too easy to be cynical and critical.  (Digression: I went to see the play Coalition last night and was hit in the face again by how our default attitude to all things political is cynicism.  Would it even be possible for someone to write a British West Wing-style show, where the political realm was coloured by idealism and altruism rather than cynicism?)

What we did yesterday wasn’t big or long-lasting, but it was a small, rebellious act of anti-cynicism.  An attempt to celebrate what’s good in both the old and the new – and maybe inspire some other locals, as they wait for their bus, to think about what they appreciate in the neighbourhood.

Decorating the bus stop

One of our crew has lived in the area since he was a kid and could remember stuff about the Walworth Rd from way back then.  One of the kids drew a bright red double decker bus, and another drew herself playing ‘Spies’ in the park like she’d done earlier that week. I wrote how I liked the library.

A friend was visiting from Belfast and he shared with us some beautiful stories from another neighbourhood, which centred around the tiny act of painting a street’s windowsills over the course of a year.  It seems so unlikely that minuscule creative acts like these could provoke even the smallest of changes.  And yet these are the stories we hear and we love.

It reminds me of that verse in Matthew 13, “the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed” (super-small).

Bus stop

I doubt much of our graffiti is still up outside Burgess Park, but we’re on the look out for other small subversive acts to do next.  And here’s why:

We believe something else, something better is possible for our neighbourhoods, and so even if we only see the tiniest of opportunities to plant the seed of our dreams, we will seize it and celebrate it.

What do you do to celebrate what’s good about your community?  How do you fight the cynicism of the city?

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