A friend was in New York recently and saw this blend of advertising and urban art. It was interesting to see the big corporate US Postal Service being creative. I did some digging on Flickr for other pics of these droids, and found hundreds of pics from across the US, some even with fans in costume posing next to the box. According to this one on there taken by cityflickr they are apparently part of a USPS promotion for its StarWars stamps. The paint jobs also act as an effective deterrent for illegal graffiti, of the dozen or so I looked at on Flickr only one was tagged. Plus, the tag was hard to see against all the graphics.
I’m sure many of you have seen the Canada Post boxes that were covered with a special "wrap", done on boxes in selected areas to cover the blank sides and discourage tagging. A similar approach to that of USPS, just not as creative, but it has been somewhat effective at reducing tags on those boxes.
Toronto worked with Bell Canada and styleinprogress last year on a pilot project for mural art on phone boxes, and city staff there are also looking at commissioning talented youth artists to do murals on some traffic signal boxes. Here's more info on the Bell project.
The challenge is for the utilities to give up a bit of their corporate branding and standard look for the benefit of less tagging. The challenge for the city is to ensure that these variations can be done with relative ease - as in don't put a lot of red tape and fees in the way.
I hope this type of art will be considered for Ottawa’s "list" as one of the approved ways to manage the problem of illegal graffiti here. At the Ottawa council meeting for graffiti management in the spring, staff were directed to work on implementing the new bylaw, with its focus on fines and eradication. They were directed to also investigate a program similar to the Graffiti Transformation Program in Toronto, where unemployed youth and community groups work in problem areas to create a mural. In addition, they were to look into partnerships with paint suppliers, and an education program on vandalism. Not sure on what progress has been made since then, as a lot of city programs have been stalled while staff waits for the Mayor to announce his financial plan November 7th. Hopefully they have at least done some planning and research work, we'll find out at the next committee meeting, in the next month or so.