My start in Community Development seems to stem from a number of factors, but building a playground was the most memorable event that I continue to refer to as a planner. The process started as I was finishing up my final year as a dual-degree seeking student, with majors in both Architecture and Geography. While Architecture allowed me to speak a varied professional vernacular, it felt inconsequential to my vision without adding a component that took a larger context of community into consideration. Upon entering my Geography tract I instantly took to the Urban Studies concentration, and registered in my first Community Development Workshop.
The Community Development Workshop was a pairing to Charlotte Action Research Project (CHARP), a university-community collaborative that put undergraduate, Masters, and Doctoral students together with neighborhoods, cities, and regional cooperatives. The Program Director for CHARP, Dr. Janni Sorensen, had worked with East St. Louis Action Research Project while obtaining her Doctorate in Regional Planning from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
In the opportunity to work with CHARP, we were paired with the Charlotte, North Carolina neighborhood of Reid Park. Reid Park is historic working-class neighborhood, located on West Boulevard minutes from Uptown Charlotte and Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. Over the years the neighborhood had experienced some of the effects of Charlotte's sprawling city limits, which left it locationally distressed far from affordable grocery stores, pharmacies, and other significant community resources. Exacerbating the problem, even the stores nearby were relatively inaccessible because Charlotte's sprawl meant that much of the city grew without sidewalks or non-vehicular transit options.
Despite issues related to crime, poor housing quality, and low owner-occupation rates the neighborhood remained largely intact. The residents of the neighborhood had deep-seated historical roots, and a group of long-term residents who were devoted to the neighborhood. The neighborhood had many valuable assets, including an in-neighborhood elementary school, a community center, and a brand new library branch just steps away.
In 2011 I worked alongside Arthur (Artie) Pryer to put together community meetings, and solicit ideas from the Reid Park Neighborhood Association and the community's residents for a new 'Reid Park' identifiable asset. The discovery of this process was the number of families and young children in the neighborhood that were walking long distances to find a safe space to play, and the lack of sidewalks and near-community assets that would fulfill this goal. Artie began the application to KaBOOM! towards the end of 2011, and we were able to get a successful bid and fund-raising campaign for Reid Park.
For the next few months we worked alongside the Reid Park Neighborhood Association and KaBOOM! to develop a work plan for the neighborhood's playspace. The months of planning included rallying neighborhood residents to come out for the design development, to volunteer for build day, and to structure a maintenance plan for the finished product. One of the most exciting days was working with Kristin Karsch on Design Day (gallery below), where we met with Reid Park's families to draw what they envisioned in their playspace.
The most fulfilling and everlasting piece of the puzzle was Reid Park's 'Playspace Build Day,' where over 300 residents and volunteers came together to make their playspace a reality. Working over just six hours we raised the playspace of out human strength, and were able to observe the transformation derived from our own hands.