To Think I Used to Hate Utility Boxes

It took nearly a hundred years for people to make these ugly boxes more beautiful.

While utility boxes, more formally called traffic control cabinets, are a necessary evil, they’ve also been an eyesore for much of their history. The first electric traffic signal appeared in Cleveland, Ohio in 1912, so surely these boxes go back that far in one form or another. Oddly enough, I couldn’t find anything online about the history of the ugly gray metal cabinets that are most common today.

It wasn’t until nearly a century later, in 2004, that Fort Collins, Colorado became the first American city to put art on their utility boxes as a form of graffiti abatement. I can’t seem to find any indication of this trend anywhere in the world before that time. But the beautification of these eyesores has since become a worldwide craze, and I find it much more delightful than the random graffiti, out of date handbills, stickers, and lost dog signs that used to cover the things.

I am constantly astounded by the creativity of artists. There are as many ideas for these boxes as there are people in the world. They used to be hand painted, but now the trend is moving toward wrapped boxes, which allows for much more detail, and even more opportunities for creativity.

While doing research for this post, I stumbled across a blog that was adamantly against utility box art. That writer said that at least before, they blended quietly into the background. Now they’re extremely visible, and generally covered with substandard art. I’m glad I’m not that curmudgeon. The more venues for public art the better, I say.

Without further ado, here are some of the many delightful utility boxes I’ve encountered, mostly via my participation in Pokemon Go. Enjoy!

Stay safe. Get vaccinated. You can enjoy my book while you wait in line.


Author: The View from a Drawbridge

I have been a bridgetender since 2001, and gives me plenty of time to think and observe the world.

2 thoughts on “To Think I Used to Hate Utility Boxes”

  1. I’ve never considered those boxes ugly, but it’s nice to see more places for art to happen. In Renton when I left, there was a project going to paint fire hydrants.

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