The Playable Sidewalk
Last summer, Alex Gilliam led 100s of people of all ages and numerous organizations in designing and building a prototype bench at 41st and Lancaster Ave. in West Philadelphia that brought much needed seating and play to the sidewalk of the struggling Lancaster Ave. business corridor. Designed to support sitting, climbing, traversing, and leaping, the Switchback Bench was deeply loved by the community. In fact, even the local drug dealers who became great advocates for the Bench were so proud of it that they thought they were being punished by the police when the temporary installation permit expired and we had to remove it. Subsequently, there have been numerous requests for more Switchback Benches along Lancaster Ave. as well as from over 40 organizations citywide.
For The Playable Sidewalk, Tiny WPA and it's co-founder Alex Gilliam will engage local youth, community members, and nearby businesses on Lancaster Ave. in building on this success to create a "Playable Sidewalk Kit". This will involve refining the design of the Switchback Bench to encourage more play and exercise; working with community members of all ages to co-design two additional playable sidewalk amenities--such as a playable bike rack and planter--that ultimately support broader play, social and infrastructural needs along Lancaster Ave; building neighborhood capacity to produce these structures at our community-focused maker space at 4017 Lancaster Ave.; and installing the playable amenities at five locations along Lancaster Ave that best meet the neighborhood's needs.
Nearly every day we are besieged by elementary and middle school age boys and girls at our community-focused makerspace on Lancaster Ave. Some of the kids come with their mothers, living nearby in People's Emergency Center various supportive housing facilities but many others roam throughout the neighborhood with their siblings. Collectively they come to our space because they are looking for safe places to build big things, be connected to other people who want to do good things, and to play.
While there is an utterly unique constellation of youth and family oriented organizations along the Lancaster Ave business corridor, there are no places for people to gather, play, create, exercise or even sit. Last summer a number of the kids who are now regulars in our space broke into the mini-adventure playground that we were creating nearby on numerous occasions because they lacked other places to play.
- Renee Schacht