A dreary grey wall on the side of Moon's Kitchen used to attract a bad crowd in downtown North Battleford. The dingy alleyway beside the Chinese restaurant was a petty-crime hotspot, with needles and empty liquor bottles often littering the ground.
"People were ready for a change here, but things were kind of at a standstill," says Cst. Jane Kenny. "At times, it seemed like we had tried everything."
But the city hadn't quite tried it all: in January, Kenny joined forces with the city and local business improvement district to launch Art Alley, an unconventional initiative aimed at reducing crime through environmental design.
"I thought, 'The downtown here is just so ugly and bland and brick, I'm going to take some paint and we're going to paint the city up!" says Kenny.
With the help of local artists, the group transformed the wall into a vivid, colourful mural. Kenny hopes it will reduce the number of minor crimes, such as public intoxication, mischief, vandalism and theft.
"Throwing paint on a wall doesn't fix homelessness, but it creates a sense of belonging," she says. "There's a lot more that comes with it than just paint, it creates a sense of pride when you've got people from the community getting involved in beautifying it."
Lisa Kissick, director of Downtown North Battleford, organized and fundraised for the initiative. She hoped the paint job would reinvigorate the downtown area, bringing in more patrons to local businesses.
In fact, Kissick says there's been a noticeable shift in how the community uses the freshly painted alley in the past few months.
"Before, residents wouldn't park there because they didn't feel safe and secure," says Kissick. "Now, we've seen a full parking lot every day, and a lot more foot traffic. People are using the space for positive things."
Since the mural was revealed, several business owners have approached Kissick, looking to spruce up bare walls in other downtown areas.
"We're seeing investment from the community into these spaces," she says. "We're brightening up the downtown, making it more attractive and turning it into a place that people actually want to go to."
Reprinted with permission from the Pony Express (Issue No. 5, 2016).