Public art is not an indulgence. Cities are expressions of our culture, and public art has always played a role in defining that common space. But public art can also ask the larger questions about what values we hold and what kind of city we want to live in " and it can propose creative, alternative paths to get there.

Urban planners are increasingly seeking ways to bring public art into their planning processes because of its unique ability to create common conversations about our cities and their futures. This is more than simply a trend; it is an effort to consider the ways that artistic practices can help shape public opinion and policy, and ask whether we can go beyond the conventional, top-down consultation process that takes place between citizens and those in power.

Photos: Will Pemulis

Janine Marchessault holds a Canada Research Chair in Art, Digital Media and Globalization at York University, with research focusing on urban space and cartographies of place. Sara Udow is a graduate student in urban planning at the University of Toronto.