Keep your eyes on the Government Center Plaza, the Rail Trail, and bus stops on Beatties Ford Road over the next few months. Three applicants in Charlotte have won KaBOOM! Play Everywhere Grants that will transform the City’s public spaces to make them more playful and accessible to families and children of all ages.
KaBOOM! is a national non-profit dedicated to bringing balanced and active play into the daily lives of all kids, particularly those growing up in poverty in America. It was developed in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Target, Playworld, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the National Endowment for the Arts – attracting an outpouring of creative ideas to spark kids’ imaginations and get their bodies moving.
The Kaboom! Play Everywhere Challenge received over 1,000 applications nationwide for $1 million dollars in awards. Of the 50 project winners, Charlotte received three – the only other cities to accomplish this were New York City and Philadelphia. The Queen City is making its mark on placemaking and community innovation!
The City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County (Spring 2017)
Reimagine the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center Plaza as a fun and vibrant space, where low income kids, their families, and people of all ages want to spend time and exercise their active minds, bodies, and souls. In the spring, playful interventions will be introduced on the Plaza, in order to test permanent changes to a large open space where unused, uninviting, vacant fountains currently sit in the corridor of government buildings. It is the hope that through this temporary project, the City and County can test permanent design changes that will better contribute this large open space to the ever-growing network of parks and plazas throughout Uptown.
There is nowhere in the City that the separation between work and play is more visible than in the City’s government district, where the urge to stay inside is stronger, and where function and efficiency have been prioritized over play and fun. To reinforce this separation, people most often interact with government when they need something or are compelled to do something, (e.g. get a permit, pay a bill, or go to court). Families often walk by as they are traveling to conduct business with government during the day, and depending on that business, it can often be a stressful and uncomfortable experience. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Gov Porch will add a moment of joy, rest, and discovery to the experience of those families, and to create a lively and level playing field, where government workers, and the community are all invited to interact or simply relax with each other on the Gov Porch.
The interventions on the plaza include:
- “A Playground for All”: colorful porch swings, outdoor bean bags, an iconic custom hornet’s climbing structure, ping pong tables, life size legos and games, shade sails, activation of fountain structures.
- “A Library Garden”: A library station where everyone can borrow books, wall fountains, rocking chairs, and glow in the dark potted plants.
- “Accessibility and Connection to the Public”: child-painted stepping stones, platforms with colorful seating, fun, can-do signage
The Rail Trail Symphony
Charlotte Center City Partners (Winter 2017)
Next to a high-traffic pedestrian trail, bike-share and light rail station, a 7′ x 29′ patch of grass will be transformed into a lively place for self-expression and exercise of the mind and body. Rail Trail Symphony will be an installation of colorful, musical instruments that offers an exciting interlude in daily routines and bridges social divides by encouraging collaborative jam sessions with neighbors.
Kids and families will bang on drums and chimes, sing to passersby from a performance platform, share favorite lyrics and compose new melodies on an interactive sign, dance on imaginative stamped concrete and wave to the trains from creative seating. This ensemble of physical components will work in harmony to facilitate fun, casual interactions and conduct a beautiful “sidewalk ballet” starring Charlotteans from all walks of life.
The rail corridor has historically been viewed as a barrier between neighborhoods, but is now being re-envisioned as a community “zipper” — a quality public place that connects neighborhoods rather than separates them. This vision hinges on the Charlotte Rail Trail, a 4.5 mile path that runs along the light rail line through 10+ diverse neighborhoods. Over 2,000 people walk and bike the Trail every day, but a recent study observed that the Trail is currently only for people in motion. With so many daily users and so few places to rest, interventions like seating and plazas could make the Trail a truly “sticky” public space. Rail Trail Symphony presents a unique opportunity for people to pause, linger and connect.
This project will be located near New Bern Station, the light rail stop closest to historic neighborhoods under immense development pressure. Their ownership of this fun installation will grow community pride and enhance families’ experience of the Trail as both a recreational amenity and safe alternative for commuting to work and school. Easily accessible to a wide range of kids and families, Rail Trail Symphony’s open invitation to play will foster connections through the simple joy of making music.
SPARK (Socialize, Play, Accommodate to Reach Kids)
The Konnected Foundation, Inc. (Spring 2017)
The norm is to stand at the bus stop, look at the ground, your phone, or twiddle your thumbs while waiting. Through S.P.A.R.K, the sidewalks, shelter, benches, and people come alive! Users can challenge themselves to find new images in the stop’s bench or in the mural that adorns the bus stop’s shelter. Kids can play together on the Inspirational Seesaw that spells out “DREAM” or “HOPE” in their neighborhoods where dreams get deferred and hope is all they’ve got. If the seesaw is occupied, no worries; the users will be able to play hopscotch, master a maze, connect the dots by completing movement tasks, and create their own artwork using chalk. By reaching out to kids and their families living, working, or playing in the Beatties Ford and Central Avenue neighborhoods, S.P.A.R.K. will encourage each neighborhood to “SPARK change” – be more active and playful, no matter what the day brings them.
As part of this project, S.P.A.R.K. will host a “Konnected Community Day of Play,” where neighborhood residents and other visitors will be able to come together in the name of play, utilizing a game car that is full of nostalgic and innovative games. Kids will enjoy group play with over-sized games like Jenga, Chess, Checkers, Connect Four, and participate in team-building challenges with the famous Imagination Playground set. The Jenga and Checkers sets will also serve as inspiration, as each piece will be painted to read positive words.
This project is a true community effort. Using input from the community, students from two local universities will design the background for the murals and benches, build the seesaw, and install custom play signs. Visual art majors from the local arts magnet will paint the activities on the sidewalk and the inspirational words on the game pieces. The neighborhood’s residents will come together to paint the murals and benches. And the neighborhood kids and their families will come out to play! With this grant, we will be able to spark change.
All images courtesy of KaBoom!
Article first published at The Charlotte Agenda.