Streets employees may be the least likely city workers to be found
spending Sunday at the Barnes or catching a gallery opening on
First Friday. And yet it’s probably the only city department
that’s baked an art-preservation clause into its standard, bid-out
The city’s paving agreements stipulate that paving contractors
must halt resurfacing and notify a Streets engineer if they come
across a Toynbee Tile, those strange mosaic messages embedded into
the pavement across Philadelphia.
The tiles are at once part of our local lore and art known the
world over, the purported product of a South Philly man with a
tenuous grip on reality and a tremendous amount of creativity. The
tiles have inspired imitators and thieves alike, not to mention
numerous news pieces and one award-winning documentary. And with
all signs suggesting the mysterious tiler has left the city for
good, the tiles are becoming ever more rare and in danger of
extinction in their native habitat, Philadelphia.