In Art News
The Artist Who Wants to Redesign Seattle's Street Grid
Cheryl dos Remedios would like to redesign the street grid of Seattle. What she has in mind is something like a scene out of Dr. Seuss: traffic made up not of cars that all more or less look the same, but a jumble of human-scaled vehicles engineered for various purposes and in various styles. One might be a pedal-powered wheel you'd sit inside (it would also have wheels, so you wouldn't go turning over and over); another might be a solar-powered, collapsible vehicle requiring you to wear a special traveling suit. Freight would be separated from human transit. Maybe this all sounds about as likely as slicing off the top of Mount Rainier and licking off the snow, but dos Remedios is not just some wacky artist: She's also a bureaucrat with connections.
Dos Remedios is a well-placed, well-dressed radical. She's an artist but also an arts administrator in the city of Kent, and last year she worked tirelessly to raise awareness about the locally unknown but nationally admired modernist sculpture park there, Herbert Bayer's Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks. She wasn't just trying to advertise the sculpted mounds of earth for the purpose of attracting tourists: She wanted to save it from being altered by insensitive engineers directing changes in the area that were required by new state laws. (The engineers prevailed, unfortunately.) Why do state laws apply to a work of art? Because Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks is also a working water-retention system. That's exactly the kind of public art dos Remedios stands for—the kind that works. The kind Seattle used to be known for, back in the day.
To introduce me to her idea about transforming the Seattle street grid, dos Remedios e-mailed me a researched, annotated essay she'd written called "Oil and Water" that referenced everything from the fastest way to get off of welfare in Seattle (get a car) to the 520 bridge project to storms and particular officials at WSDOT. This is a woman who has done her homework; she also credited many other green-design minds in the area, including Nancy Rottle, Brice Maryman, and Buster Simpson, all of whom she's working with on what she calls the LIV ("live") project: the Low-Impact Vehicle project.
When she came to talk to me about it—listen to the interview at thestranger.com—she'd just come from a meeting with Seattle Parks and Recreation. She was headed to a meeting with an interested artist. Maybe all these meetings and all these connections won't add up to a new street grid. But they will at the very least yield an art exhibition, slated for September, of LIV designs. For now, dos Remedios says she's just trying to "increase the imagination" about the issue of roads. But be sure: While you're increasing your imagination, she'll be sitting in a meeting with an engineer, a mayor, or a transportation department official, trying to make it real.