It was only last week when we began to install the parking meter poles on Allen Street that architect and UB professor Brad Wales pointed out to me what their artistic significance really was. “Have you ever seen the words on the poles,” he asked me. I told him that I had noticed the words, but was not sure why they were there. “It was part of the Small Built Works (SBW) project back in ’01. Each word begins with the prefix ‘re’. It was done to add a human element to the dehumanizing streetscape that is often found (normally the parking meter poles feature stenciled identification numbers). We did it in conjunction with the Pan Am Centennial.
“The prefix ‘re’ was selected because it has two meanings – back or backwards and again or anew. As a concrete poem, the poem itself looks both forwards and backwards. We were renewing Allen Street and paying tribute to the past. All 103 parking meter poles have the poem on them – there are three misspellings… see if you can find them. The student who designed the Parking Meter Poem project was Dave Taglione, a UB undergrad senior who went on to get his Masters of Architecture at RISD.
“There were eight projects that semester. The Days Park Viewer was one and the gateway bus shelter at Main and Allen was another. The Parking Meter Poem was a connection between all of the projects along Allen Street. At that time, Allen wasn’t even close to thriving… they were running drugs out of the Quaker Bonnet building. There were six vacant houses on Park – some houses were going for $30,000. These days those same houses are going for 4-5 times that much. Our strategy was to go after dark corners. Elmwood and North was a big hangout for prostitutes. That’s where we installed the Gateway Kiosk – the tile work at the base says ‘Allentown’, and it also has lettering that spells out ‘Elmwood’.
“We’ve accomplished a lot of projects through this program and they get bigger and better every year. The windmill at Elmwood and Virginia, and the bike rack in front of Rust Belt Books and another in front of the former Squeaky Wheel – those were all was a Small Built Works Projects. There’s even a secret bike rack at 19 Elmwood (a wavy piece of steel). The park on Connecticut Street was another SBW project (big). We installed the artistic bus shelters at Pennsylvania and Symphony Circle (bigger). The renovation of El Museo was another example (bigger). The Putnam House (with a spinning facade) was an incredible effort (biggest). And now we’re working on a whole park at Urban Roots (home run).”
Without knowing that there was an added benefit to installing the bike rings, we have stumbled upon one of the lesser-known SBW efforts. When we fought to keep the parking meter poles in Allentown, how could we have known that we’d also be fighting for the Parking Meter Poem. We thought that being bike-friendly was good enough without knowing that a Small Built Works project was being partially saved in the process. Now, thanks to Brad, we also know which side to install the bike rings in the future.