Newest St. Pete Campaign Trick: Chalk Ads

IMG_2973Even if you don’t know who Jacob Christiano is, chances are you’ve seen his work: long poems carefully lettered in brightly colored chalk along St. Petersburg sidewalks. Or, more recently, Christiano’s work has appeared on the grounds of the Saturday Morning Market, directing visitors by chalk to food and craft vendors like some guerrilla copywriter. But over the last few weeks, Christiano’s eye-catching handprints have found another niche: political campaign ads.

Earlier this month, Christiano’s perfectly chalked prose invited voters to have a drink with mayoral candidate Jamie Bennett. For a small fee, of course, he’s colored downtown with other messages for Bennett’s campaign. Now, he’s doing work for city council candidate Karl Nurse.

This is the first time I’ve seen chalk ads used in any major political campaign. Sure, my activist friends in college used to scrawl messages on the sidewalk urging students to boycott some corporation or show up and protest the administration for one slight or another, but never a (wannabe) elected official actually paying money to look, well, hip.

And, despite the views of some political pundits, I like the concept. For one, Christiano is a good artist that adds character to sometimes sterile downtown St. Pete and deserves to make some dough off a service he’s done free for the last few years. Also, chalk campaigning is environmentally-friendly. Without it, Bennett could have printed up a few hundred paper fliers announcing his “bartender for a night” campaign schtick. But instead, he chose another medium that washed off with the next rain.

That’s kind of cool. Much more hip than these hokey bartender for a night gimmicks. But that’s another blog post …

Behind the News

Bartlett Park community garden spurs City Council into ‘garden zoning’

commgardenartIf you haven’t had a chance to drive by the Bartlett Park Community Garden in St. Pete, I’d urge you to stop and smell the cabbage. The year-long effort has already paid off with a bountiful harvest of vegetables and fruits, as well as promoting some goodwill and friendship in a tough neighborhood.

But beyond the food and fellowship, the Bartlett Park Community Garden is paving, er, clearing the way for other community gardens to follow in its footsteps.

When I wrote about the community garden last year, I mentioned that St. Petersburg land use codes prohibit a nonprofit from operating in a residential area. And though many cities offer exemptions for community gardens, St. Pete does not. Undeterred, the folks at Green Florida worked with the city to gain a temporary use permit for the site. But they also circulated a petition and reached out to elected officials to change the law.

Now that hard work is paying off. District 6 City Councilmember Karl Nurse recently directed city officials to draft new land use regulations that would permit community garden. So far, preliminary rules would require interested citizens to apply for a permit and have at least a majority of neighbors on board with the plan. This is a good example of — oh, I have to say it — grassroots activism. Ha! Although, I must admit, the rules seem a little bureaucratic to me.

Personally, I’ve always loved guerilla gardening.