For most of us, graffitied walls and industrial sites are usually things to be repainted and remade. But in our hearts we all know that the most interesting places have a little bit of grit to them; it’s what gives them life, character, and makes them memorable. In the end, the things people leave behind them are what make communities authentic, and a few developers have started taking risks by celebrating community history with incredible results.

For one neighborhood in Miami, graffitied walls have become a cultural selling point instead of an eyesore. Named one of the Top 20 Best Hipster Neighborhoods in America by Forbes Magazine in 2012, Wynwood holds one of the largest permanent outdoor mural exhibits in the world. Started in 2009, the late Tony Goldman set out to transform the warehouse district of Wynwood, and saw in the huge, windowless walls as an opportunity to create a home for the greatest street art in the world. Today, Wynwood Walls is a venue for graffiti artists unlike any other, and the center of a thriving arts district that has attracted visitors, residents, and businesses to a place that just a few years earlier was forgotten.

Since opening, the Wynwood Walls program has seen over 50 artists representing 16 countries and has covered over 80,000 square feet of walls. Visitors take advantage of walking tours, new restaurants, and events programmed by Wynwood. The neighborhood is an example of how cultivating an urban landscape without refining it beyond recognition can create overwhelmingly positive results for both the community and commerce.

A little closer to home, The Steel Yard in Providence, Rhode Island has done something similar. Founded in 2001 by Nick Bauta and Clay Rockefeller to revitalize the Industrial Valley district of Providence, it’s located on the former Providence Steel and Iron complex. A 10,000-square-foot industrial shop offers arts and technical training programs for everyone from working artists and students to educators and community members. The Steel Yard provides shops for crafts like welding, ceramics, and jewelry-making, and is funded through private and public gifts and program-related income. Just like Wynwood, it’s a place for the community to come together, and the multi-use outdoor work and exhibition space is home to a variety of public events throughout the year.

Wynwood Walls and The Steel Yard are examples of recognizing and enhancing the best parts of a place that are so often overlooked, and building upon them instead of tearing them down. As designers, one of our responsibilities is to look at places and projects through a different lens and recognize the defining characteristics of an area. As a result, we help our clients and community create places that are stronger and more authentic in every possible way, because they reflect personality of the community they belong to.

Topics: Design, Urban Design, Travel