‘Park’ to Park
To student Nicholas Geers, “Parking lots are a necessary evil in our world today.” However, in his research, Nick concluded that large expanses of paved surface lots create issues in a city like Detroit. He noted that the dedication of land to parking creates voids within cities, invites crime, and drives away pedestrian traffic. He also noted that oils and chemicals from vehicles is washed into the municipal sewers through storm runoff, and that these lots contribute to the urban heat island effect and global warming. His research showed that 39% of the land in downtown Detroit is paved for the purpose of parking as opposed to 5% devoted to parks and greenspace.
To address this disparity, and the inconsistent use of some lots in Detroit, Nick was inspired to question how parking lots could be converted to public space. Given the unlikely possibility of a full-scale conversion, Nick experimented with the concept of pop-up parks. “A pop up park is meant to show people in a city, how nice it is to have public parks space in the city,” he noted. “It also focuses on solving issues in the community, encourages pedestrian activity, neighborhood interaction, and supports local businesses.”
Towards this end, nick created a guide outlining a series of 4 steps one would have to consider in order to create their own pop-up park:
“The first step involves different components that have to be decided on before the park can be built. The first component is the location that you choose to build your park on. The second component is considering the function of the park. This function can be anything from an outdoor seating area, to a community garden, to a music festival. The third component is to consider the people that would use your space.”
“The second step is the design elements of your park. The three main elements are seating, plantings, and activities. There are also general elements that are common to include in a park. These are things like enclosure, flexibility, and use of recycled materials.”
“The third step is a breakdown of the different scales of parks. I broke this down into small scale, medium scale, and large scale. Each of these scales outlines the common components to the size of each park as well as things like benefits and drawbacks, case studies, and a rendering of what each space could look like.”
“The final step is tools and resources. This step lists different resources one can look to when creating a park of their own.”
In creating his guidebook and illustrating examples, Nick chose to focus upon a common recycled material: wooden pallets. He provided instructions to create simple, functional, and moveable park amenities like seating, planters, and platforms. Nick’s great frustration was difficulty in securing a community partner in the project, and expressed a desire to continue testing the idea.
At the final presentation in 2015, Nick met Rena Bradley, principal of acutE design, and Community Development Director of Bridge of Grace CMC in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Nick’s work on the ‘Park to Park’ pop-up model was a natural fit for some of the neighborhood engagement initiatives that Bridge of Grace was pursuing. In the spring and summer of 2016, Nick worked with adjunct Professor Mike Styczynksi, Rena and the Bridge of Grace team to lead community-based pop-up parklet development in some of the 15 vacant lots in Mount Vernon Park. The park was officially opened in summer of 2017, and the project was featured in the online journal Architecture in Development.