Like many other historic cities, New York City has its fair share of trodden parks, eyesore trash bins, and dim, sparsely traveled street corners. A side effect of time and abandon, neglected areas and their communities often remain isolated from commerce and held back from economic growth. Real estate development projects can revitalize these types of areas, but they’re not the only way to turn grim spots gorgeous: careful investment in aesthetic changes, or beautification projects, can make all the difference.

Beautification is the process of making visual improvements to a person, place or thing — in this case, underserved or underutilized spaces in New York City. Projects like murals, parks, and art installations can unlock potential in blocks that would benefit from more foot traffic for various reasons. These small-scale improvements encourage spending in local businesses, and create a more engaging atmosphere for residents and visitors alike.

The value of beautification can be monumental, and is often mutually beneficial to locals and tourists. It can also be a key way to support local artists and encourage community collaboration. New York City has several of such projects that are either underway or completed across the city — here are several that exemplify how they work, and what they accomplish.

191st Street Tunnel

A tunnel connecting Broadway to the 191st street subway stop has recently been transformed from an eerie, rat-ridden passage into a brilliant and colorful commuter experience. Along with the Northern Manhattan Art Alliance, the city’s Department of Transportation selected (and paid) five local artists to each paint 200-foot sections of the wall.


Photo: Scott McDonough via Flickr.

The results have made the five-minute underground walk much more pleasurable and eye-catching. The gritty tunnel, once dreaded, has now become an attraction for visitors. In addition to this, its existence empowers the artists involved along with those inspired by it.

Bed-Stuy Greenscape & Community Backyard

Though vibrant in parts, Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood isn’t generally known for its tourism attractions. Recent projects, however, have revamped streets with green space, bike racks and benches to attract new businesses and shoppers to bustling downtown areas.

Even better has been community involvement in certain green space projects. The Bed-Stuy Community Coalition has turned a local garden into a community hub for “chillin’, grillin’, showin’ and growin’.” The space will host events of all kinds, including educational resources, art showings, and musical performances. Above all, it will allow locals to come together, share resources, and make a difference in their neighborhood.

The Brooklyn Strand

Downtown Brooklyn is full of hot spots and lovely streets, but there are still some stretches sorely in need of development. One is the underutilized green space between Borough Hall and Brooklyn Bridge Park, which serves little purpose currently.

The project will turn the stretch into a “spiffy, linear park” called the Brooklyn Strand, which will ideally transform dangerous intersections into appealing public spaces for leisure, recreation and shopping.

Trash Bin & Barrier Beautification


Photo: NYC Department of Transportation via Flickr.

Lastly, no matter how gray or gay a New York neighborhood, persistent eyesores like trash bins and barriers persist throughout. CitiBin and MetroBox are two options that beautify city streets through the sale of elegant garbage enclosures. Though convenient, they don’t come cheap: the former starts at $1300 and the latter $900.

On the other hand, the beautification of bland street barriers is as free as it is beneficial: the Department of Transportation has worked with 30 local artists to add art to biking barriers across the city. Each spring and fall, artists are invited to submit proposals, then are selected and assigned to sites. The result has been mesmerizing murals that change every season, and encourage bikers to travel alongside colorful, stylized walls of paint.

These beautification projects, obviously, range dramatically in scale, cost and impact. Together, their story is much more congruous: they demonstrate how visual transformation can bring zest to forgotten real estate, drawing admiration from near and far.

Featured image: NYC Department of Transportation via Flickr