Story by Ingrid Sjostrand
Bus shelters aren’t the most visually appealing structures in a city and Ferndale was no exception – until recently, thanks to the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority (DDA), in collaboration with the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART).
In August, they completed the first installment of the “Put the Art in SMART” project by renovating the bus shelter on West 9 Mile, right off Woodward Ave. Not only does it have a fresh coat of vibrant red paint, it features a rotating collection of art in place of old advertisements and — most notably — a green, living roof.
The project began as collaboration from DDA design committee volunteer Dustin Hagfors and Chris Best, co-owner of Rustbelt Market, with the help of Cindy Willcock, operations manager of the DDA. “The idea to replace the ‘Get Tested STI’advertisements, which were no longer under contract, and make the screen into a revolving art gallery was what jump-started the plan,” Hagfors says. “Through collaboration with Cindy and Chris, we were able to develop an idea that brought some vibrancy to the community.”
Through connections at SMART, Hagfors, who has a master’s degree in urban planning, arranged a meeting where he and Willcock pitched the idea to Madonna Van Fossen, SMART’s Oakland County Ombudsperson.
“SMART gave their blessing to our idea for the first shelter and has been very open to all we’ve pitched,” Willcock says. “[We] ran our idea by Van Fossen and she was very interested and enthused — she even came out and helped us clean and paint the shelter!”
When Best heard about the project, he knew exactly how he wanted to contribute. “I have been dreaming about putting a living roof on these bus stops for three years. The way these structures are built, they are just begging for it!” he says.
And Best had the expertise too, having built a living roof on his own home seven years ago, which has the same slanted roof structure as the shelters.
These updates do more than just make Ferndale more aesthetically pleasing, Hagfors says.
“It draws positive attention to the great transportation options we have available,” he says. “Ferndale is one of the only communities in Metro Detroit that has multiple lines of bus service available seven days a week, and my hope was that an artistic shelter would not only bring attention to mass transit but also make mass transit cool.”
Willcock notes the importance of a clean, safe place for those waiting for the bus, and has research to back it up. “It’s been shown that these types of enhancements actually help mitigate vandalism to the shelters and surrounding area; in fact, a federal study concluded that more people used public transit systems that incorporated art.” Willcock says.
The project needed to be completed quickly; after approval from SMART on August 10th it already had a prime-time TV spot for the following week.
“The bus stop – or at least its location – kind of picked us! The ultimate deciding factor was that Detroit Public Television was going to be filming ‘Dream Cruise Road Show’ on Nine Mile, right in front of the bus shelter on August 18,” Willcock says. “We wanted to make sure Downtown Ferndale looked great, everything just lined up for us!”
A total of 12 volunteers helped complete the project, including Best, Hagfors and Ryan Williams — who created the “Art in SMART” posters. Ferndale businesses jumped at the chance to participate too, by providing plants and donating money.
“Modern Tree and Landscape LLC saw our post asking for plants, and donated nearly $400 worth!
Without that generous donation, I don’t know how long it would have taken to get all the plants needed,” Best says. “Renaissance Vineyard Church even chipped in with a donation -churches usually accept donations, not give –love that Pastor Jim!”
There are three other shelters in Ferndale, and the DDA hopes to start executing renovation of those in the spring of 2017. In the meantime they will work on developing funding, and Hagfors says he’s already creating some eye-catching ideas for the other shelters.
“As the DDA volunteer manager, there’s nothing more gratifying than having a volunteer take such interest and ownership in a project and being able to help them turn their idea into reality!” Willcock says. “Anyone interested in getting involved or finding out more about ‘Putting the Art in SMART’ can contact the Ferndale DDA at 248-546-1632 or firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Best is excited for the potential of the project and notes that it couldn’t have happened without the DDA.
“The DDA does a lot for the downtown and this is just another example of that; they acted like the glue to bind everyone together to make it happen,” he says. “Projects such as this continue to set Ferndale apart as an example of what is possible in a downtown. Ambition plus creativity plus execution equals amazing every time.