Client People’s Emergency Center, Community Design Collaborative and Get Healthy Philly
Location Philadelphia, PA
What began in November 2014 as creative intervention to put an end to the drug use and defecation that was occurring daily on a vacant lot on Lancaster Avenue has evolved into an ever-growing mini-park and playground for young and old to enjoy. Through constant play—rapidly building full-scale ideas and temporary installations on the site, Public Workshop and Peoples Emergency Center have engaged hundreds of people in revitalizing the blighted lot. From store owners and police officers to unemployed young adults and longtime residents, passersby actively take part in determining, designing and building the best use for the lot, a needed play space for youth in the area. Together they have begun creating a ‘neutral’ mini-park for exploring and inspiring social change in the area around an adjacent, troubled intersection. Amongst other things, local residents and businesses started taking more pride in the block, and families near and far started bringing their children to the park to help build and play. Last summer, the work on the lot was strengthened through a collaborative project called the Art of Public Play with Get Healthy Philly and the Community Design Collaborative. This project explored what happens when play and exercise spill beyond a playground, becoming part of the sidewalk, neighborhood and business corridor. Public Workshop co-designed and fabricated three different scales of prototype play structures with youth, community members, Collaborative volunteers, Get Healthy Philly staff and many others. These structures—a Fort-Gym, Switchback Bench and Balance Beams—were then installed along the business corridor in the immediate vicinity of the mini-park and playground. The design of the Fort-Gym additionally morphed based off of feedback and use by local residents as well as during Design Philadelphia, when all three structures were temporarily moved to Smith Memorial Playground. The responsive design-build approach to the process meant that many hundreds of people were not only exposed to and felt ownership of this innovative project, but developed new building skills as a result.
Based off of the local demand and excitement, Public Workshop—working with numerous community organizations—pursued and secured funding to run a design-build, adventure play after-school program in 2016 on the formerly vacant lot. Young and old participants will create additional improvements to and shape the lot to the needs of the neighborhood. In January, Get Healthy Philly, working with the Community Design Collaborative and Public Workshop, surveyed Philadelphia non-profits to find a home for the second Switchback Bench while also assessing demand for playful street furniture throughout the City. To date, over 40 organizations have applied to adopt the Bench, demonstrating a much larger need. The Art Of Public Play project partners will work together to explore creating more benches and additional ways to meet this interest.
A huge thanks to the Surdna Foundation, ArtPlace, LISC, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for supporting this work via our clients.