"Weed Bombing" Transforms Downtown's Urban Blight into Psychedelic Bling
If you've been out drinking downtown lately and stumbled upon a street corner bursting with neon-colored weeds, don't worry: It's not an acid trip gone wrong.
It's weed bombing.
"We're tired of living in a big dump overrun with weeds and trash," says chief bombadier Brad Knoefler, owner of downtown club Grand Central. "If the city is going to keep on treating us like this we're going to draw attention to it."
Knoefler says he's spent $100,000 of his own money over the years cleaning up downtown because the city failed to do so. By this summer, he and other downtown residents were fed up.
"Why do we have to cut the weeds ourselves?" he asks. "We already pay taxes."
Then, this May, he spotted an article on artists in other cities who make political statements by covering things -- statues, street lamps, even buses -- in yarn.
"Yarn bombing," Knoefler says. "They draw attention to things in disgusting neighborhoods. But here in downtown Miami, the roads are actually in really good shape because the city cares much more about automobile traffic than it does about pedestrians."
"But what we do have is vacant lots full of three-foot-tall weeds," he realized. "Why don't we try to start tagging them?"
Weed bombers use cardboard to keep from painting the street
courtesy of Brad Knoefler
Over the past two months, Knoefler says he and a group of friends, fellow downtowners, and "young kids" have gone on five separate "weed bombing missions." Using cans of spray paint, they tag the giant weeds with outrageous day-glo shades of yellow, red, blue and orange. They even use cardboard to make sure they don't paint sidewalks or buildings, just weeds that shouldn't be there in the first place.
"It's had a beautiful effect," he says. "You walk down the street and smile."
Weed bombing also is a big, bright middle finger to city employees who spend more time power-washing Flagler than cutting back the jungles of undergrowth overtaking downtown, Knoefler says.
But he insists that the guerrilla strategy has actually improved relations with the Downtown Development Authority, the organization charged with the area's upkeep.
"A lot of people laughed, and thought that we were crazy," Knoefler says. "But now I see members of the DDA and tell them: 'You better clean-up those weeds or we're going to bomb them!'"
Except for one cop who threatened to arrest Knoefler, public reaction has been good -- at least from the few pedestrians to actually spot the plastered plants.
courtesy of Grant Stern
"Obviously the first people that noticed were the homeless," he says. "They were really happy about it. One guy even adopted one of the weeds that we painted and sat there all day protecting it."
Yet, Knoefler doesn't think transforming downtown into a pedestrian-friendly, public space will be as easy as tagging some stray grass. He is one of the people behind Grand Central Park. He's also vehemently against "mega projects" like the proposed massive Genting casino.
"That would be the nail in the coffin," he says of the casino. "In every other city, they take old buildings and renovate them. But here in Miami we always look for this magic bullet and nothing ever gets implemented."
Knoefler says the city's promises that the old and new Miami Heat arenas would transform downtown never came true, so it would be stupid to believe the Genting hype.
"We always bend over backwards for these guys from out of town with their fancy renderings and expensive suits," he says. "But then we just end up with these failed mega projects and vacant lots and weeds."
Knoefler says he plans to keep weed bombing until the city addresses his concerns, and may even ramp up the campaign ahead of Art Basel.
"We'll paint the weeds once a month if we have to," he says.
courtesy of Brad Knoefler
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