Bus Stops as Subversive Art

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Bus Stops as Subversive Art

I caught a chunk of a story on WVTF the other day concerning the role of bus stops in the Soviet Union – specifically, how bus stops were used to communicate individualism and local culture in a society dominated by a Communistic emphasis on industrial regularity.

A video clip of the story can be found here, part of a BBC series called The Silk Road.  This CNN article tells more of the story and includes a slideshow”

When it came to building roadside bus shelters, Moscow’s former satellite states were streets, perhaps even highways, ahead of the rest of the world.
Before their 1990s independence, the Soviet states threw up hundreds of extravagant rest stops, giving tyro architects and artists unusually free rein to express their wilder ideas.
And so bus passengers from Estonia to Armenia have been able to pause beneath buildings resembling UFOs, majestic crowns and concrete eagles while waiting for the number 37 to come rumbling into view.

I found this concept fascinating, particularly later in the CNN article where it relays how some of the more extravagant stops were found in the middle of the countryside rather than in the heart of towns or villages.

Political discussions aside – and certainly there is a lot to talk about here in how this humble piece of transportation infrastructure became an expression of subversion and local character – such usage of bus stops as a focal point of a community aligns with ways I’ve been thinking about our own public transportation networks here in the Roanoke area.  Mainly, that our bus stops can be considered, in some cases, as gathering places or mini-plazas in a lot of our neighborhoods.

Roanoke has already flirted with expanding the purpose of a bus shelter through its several art bus stops – the most recent, “Change is In the Air” in Roanoke’s Hurt Park neighborhood, being a collaboration between us, Valley Metro, and the City of Roanoke Arts Commission.  All of these have the goal of being something that is both functional and interesting – that draws attention either to itself (in the case of the shelters at Patrick Henry and William Fleming High Schools) or to the neighborhood in which it is located (as is the case with the Hurt Park bus shelter).  I think these are good started, but I’d like to see more of this, and more involvement from the people and neighborhoods served by these stops.  I think it would be interesting to see these gathering places make a statement about their particular space particularly if, as is the case with the Soviet-era stops, those statements are very much focused on the character and history and aesthetic of the communities in which they sit.

To put it more plainly, I’d like to see bus stops in Old Southwest look like they belong in Old Southwest, and stops in Melrose-Rugby to tell stories about Melrose-Rugby.  I would like the people in these communities to have a hand in their construction, and i would like everyone in these communities – bus riders or not – to be proud of little street-side gathering places.

I know it is not so easy as that, but if we can now look back a period of history marked by brutal repression and laud the humble bus stop as a statement of resistance and individuality, certainly we can look to the future and continue to encourage this role.

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