94 – ‘An interview with Wanksy, Penis Doodler and Pothole Avenger’, The Atlantic CITYLAB, 1 May 2015.

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                                         430 words

Wanksy image

Image from CITYLAB.

The sub title to this article says it all – ‘How an English construction worker is fighting for better road infrastructure by scribbling on the streets like a third-grader’. What is it that reduces people to this behavior? Why do they feel compelled to break the rules to get something done? There have been various articles on guerilla gardening, depaving and other aspects of DIY urbanism, but this is the first ‘guerilla maintenance’ article I have seen.

According to the article, Wanksy is a surveyor and professional artist who became fed up with the numerous potholes in his hometown, so he started drawing penises around them. And it seems to be working:

“Been there 8 months at least,” Wansky wrote on Facebook beside a photo of some patched-over wieners. “A bit of art and they are filled in 48 hours.

The interview tapped into several interesting dimensions of Wanksy’s behaviour. He simply wanted to draw attention to the problem and get some action. He had tried reporting them online (website kept crashing) and found reporting them by phone to be too time consuming – and dangerous while he was riding along at the same time on his bike! He had friends who had accidents after hitting potholes and he decided to act.

“They’ll (potholes) cause damage to any form of transport you use on the road – they’ll damage it. And nothing seems to get done until you draw a giant comedy penis around it”

My question is what has happened to organisational systems when it takes giant comedy penises to get something done?

depaving 2There is obviously a gap between the organisational understanding of appropriate intervention levels and that of the community. In this case I reckon (after looking at photos of Wanksy’s work) that the maintenance intervention level has been set for cars, not bikes. The councils haven’t caught on that more people are riding bikes and that they need safe roads too. There is either an gap in understanding or a gap in resourcing or both.

A similar situation exists when residents paint their own pedestrian crossings in streets when local authorities won’t put them. Or asphalt is removed without authorisation (depaving) to create green spaces (parklets) when residents think there is too much street and not enough greenery in their neighbourhood. Guerilla gardening has been more popular (it was televised in Australia), with residents creating gardens on public land where local authorities won’t because they think it is unsafe (e.g. roadsides and roundabouts) or unnecessary (e.g.vacant blocks). It seems to be most prevalent where people think that council bureaucracy has put in place some silly rules.

How do councils get themselves into this position? I think it is related to the general issue of failure to understand public value – the things that the public value and want their local government to do are not being done. Councils have either become disconnected from their communities or so caught up in red tape and risk management that they are no longer capable of serving the needs of their community. As a result, communities are taking matters into their own hands.

When the intervention level for comedy penises is higher than road safety, something needs to change.

The solution lies in councils better understanding what constitutes public value for their community – and then getting organised to provide it.

Honan, Daniel, 2012. Sandy’s Legacy: DIY Urbanism, Big Think, November.

Marshall, Aarian, 2015. An Interview With Wanksy, Penis Doodler and Pothole Avenger, The Atlantic CITYLAB, May.