City Administrator Assistant Nina Johnson
Paul Wellman

Nina Johnson, City Hall’s point person for thorny problems, is calling on any artists available next Wednesday to share their thoughts on how to make the State Street underpass an inviting destination rather than a forbidding passage frequently accentuated by the briny tang of human urine. Johnson is hosting a design charrette at the Community Arts Workshop at 631 Garden Street, and unlike most civic gatherings, wine will be served.

Johnson’s challenge is to figure out how to increase the flow of people from the Funk Zone and bottom of State Street into the central business district, now struggling to reinvent itself in the onslaught of State Street’s online-shopping-induced vacancies. In this equation, the underpass, built in 1992, functions as a daunting pinch point even though it’s significantly wider ​— ​by more than two lanes ​— ​than the stretches of State Street it connects.

Johnson found other cities have livened up otherwise dead freeway underpasses with murals and lights — gyroscopic LED displays, projected patterns, and motion-activated reflectors. City Hall has budgeted $100,000 for preliminary stages of whatever makeover ensues. More ambitious efforts involving the widening of the underpass sidewalks would have to come later, as funding permitted.  ​


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