When you press a button at a crosswalk, what you hear (“Main Street. Wait! Wait! Wait!” followed by “Walk” or that beeping or rattling sound) may be annoying, but it’s also life-affirming, helping the visually impaired, or the merely distracted, navigate a busy intersection.

Now a Petaluma, California artist-technologist has decided to up the street-corner affirmation quotient by redesigning a “crosswalk station” (the technical name for the button and its box, plus sign) to play positive messages contributed by people across America.

According to an article in the Petaluma Argus-Courier, Tim Dye was initially moved to set up the Push to Change World project by reading that the recorded directions in many of New York’s crosswalk stations no longer play. Crossing a Petaluma street after pushing a button, Dye, 53, began to wonder what else a crosswalk station could do. He found one for sale on eBay and reprogrammed it. Then he began asking people he met on his cross-country travels to dictate a short, inspiring message, which he recorded and fed into the station’s system.

He was careful to be open to all points of view; one contributor, for example, offered “Vote Trump to change the world.”

“Other people said things like ‘Remember that you can’t take anything with you when you die,’” Dye tells the Argus-Courier, “or to just ‘Ride bikes more and drive less.’ It’s whatever speaks to an individual.”

With about 20 messages recorded (and edited to remove profanity and background sounds), he then attached the retooled button-and-box to several lampposts in downtown Petaluma, along with a sign: “Push to Change the World.” He hung around the intersections to observe people’s reactions, and often entered into conversations with them.

He’s set up a phone number for additional contributions, and says that he would like to expand his project within Petaluma by collaborating with city organizations to place buttons elsewhere. He also envisages approaching the city to look at combining his upbeat messages with the directions in official crosswalk stations.

“What if it came on and said ‘OK to cross Petaluma Boulevard, have a great day’ or something like that,” he asks in the article.

The stations could also tell secrets about the city, play restaurant recommendations from locals, or offer compliments, he suggests. “We live in a day and age where it’s complete information pollution,” he says. “I want to have objects that provide unique and interesting information when you need it.”

Written by Public Art Review staff.

[Featured as a web-only piece, “Wait/Walk/Wisdom” during print publication of] Public Art Review #55.