Public space within a community plays an essential role in the health and wellbeing of a community. These spaces are the public living rooms that form the critical “third place” where people spend time between home (first place) and work or school (second place). They provide a space to connect with nature, exercise, educate, socialize, and play. They can also be a space that expresses the community’s history and heritage, and sustainable practices such as community gardens and on-site energy generation. All these functions seem to blur together within the framework of good park design.
However, in many urban and semi-urban areas where places such as these would do the most good for urban dwellers, office workers, students, and underserved minorities, land is scarce or unavailable. This has created a need to rethink our urban landscape and reimagine how traditional urban infrastructure such as alleys, streets, sub-viaduct spaces and parking areas might be repurposed during unused periods as these essential spaces. An alley is painted to become a roller hockey rink on off peak hours, urban streets become pedestrian promenades after rush hour, wide sidewalks have integrated small play areas. This approach utilizes underutilized resources and integrates vital aspects of the traditional park into the daily environment of the common citizen within their familiar turf.
This is the premise of the ‘Park ’n’ Play” concept. With the advent of the pandemic, many parking structures were unused or underutilized. Even with the return to the workplace, the concept and development of autonomous vehicle will render these structures useless. These structures are located in the very places where land costs are at a premium and park settings rare and precious. This concept proposes that during nonpeak parking times (weekend, early morning or evening hours) the top floors (generally the least utilized) deck of the structure be transformed into a community park for a wide range of activities for all age and social groups within the community. Although this concept could be applied to anywhere in the world, for this submission, a parking structure in downtown Waukegan was selected due to my familiarity of the site, the community, and the opportunities in this setting. Some of the attributes of Park ‘n’ Play are:
Play – Basketball courts, skate park on sloped structure, playground, pop-up water park are integrated into the existing structure.
Nature – The harsh concrete structure will be softened with a planted perimeter of trees, shrubs and ivy. A community garden and small teaching greenhouse will be included.
History – The history and heritage of the space will be celebrated through the Ray Bradbury (native son of Waukegan) mural, flags celebrating Waukegan’s rich diverse ethnic heritage, and the integration of historic images form Waukegan’s historic past.
Nutrition – Integration of a community garden with teaching greenhouse and healthful food truck fare.
Fitness – Basketball courts, walking track, sprint track, and outdoor fitness equipment are all included in the design.
Learning – A teaching greenhouse, elevated stargazing platform, meeting / teaching cubicles, and the sky theater overlooking the lake all provide venues for education and learning.
Sustainability – The entire structure will “greened” with vegetation (see nature). Solar panels and wind turbines will provide electricity to the structure and car charging stations parked in the station below, and the park will be directly connected to the Waukegan PACE bus transfer station on Sheridan Road via the skybridge.
Entertainment – The Sky Theater will provide passive entertainment with spectacular views of the lake and a portion of the sloped parking deck will be transformed into a outdoor theater at night.