Play Through Disruption
It all started in late 2012 when we were brought in to work with local business owners and residents to facilitate and organize Flagler Nights, a monthly community driven festival just off of Flagler Street near the Miami River. The festival was a neighborhood celebration of the community's local flavor and culture, but it also gave rise to an unplanned-for event: the transformation of an underpass at the end of the block into a pop up park.
The story behind the making of the underpass park also presents a powerful and important lesson. While making preparations for Flagler Nights, our young daughter, Olivia, took a walk with dad. While exploring the surrounding area, Olivia saw something in the underpass' sloped foundation; to her eyes, it was a slide. Tellingly, there were no other playgrounds in the area.
By the next weekend, we had a plan. Irvans, assisted by several friends, used a folded vinyl black tarp plus some tape to mark off the slide area. Immediately other children that were out for a walk with their parents joined Olivia in testing out the new slide. Kids were given long cardboard rectangles that became sleds for more sliding fun. The group added a rope, tightly secured at the top, that kids and grownups used for climbing. A tire swing was strung up near the base of the underpass while a small used sail was secured between two palm trees and served as a projection screen for fun films (we choose mostly vintage black and whites like the Little Rascals that didn't need much sound).
Parents living in the nearby Neo Loft towers asked when the park would be made permanent. Kids, delighted by the surprise play-space, intrepidly climbed, slid and swung. People of all ages lingered, having conversations and encounters that would have been unlikely otherwise.
The park popped up three months in a row in the same underpass space. Each instance proved to be a positive disruption in the neighborhood. Passersby and residents saw the space for much more than a mural-bearing, sloped concrete base. Kids were allowed to play in a new way, with new playmates. Parents made new connections and spent more time outside than usual.