Public spaces are part of what makes a community feel like home. This is never more true than when a disaster shakes a community to its core, and a park or square becomes a trusted place for people to work toward recovery together. As our cities and towns recover from COVID-19, public spaces continue to be where we rediscover the joy of coming together as a community.
To help public spaces fulfill this vital role, Project for Public Spaces is partnering with Claritin® this year on the Clarity Parks Project™, an initiative that will improve public spaces in three communities across the U.S. that have been impacted by natural disasters. With the help of grants from Project for Public Spaces, funded by a $150,000 donation from the makers of Claritin®, those public spaces are being improved and the communities they serve are getting outside again. As a registered charity, Project for Public Spaces selected the grantees and is providing them with technical assistance as they tackle their own unique placemaking and resilience challenges. Given ongoing measures to restrict the transmission of COVID-19, all work is proceeding in accordance with reopening guidelines from state and local governments.
Today, we are excited to announce the recipients of the grants: Republic Square in Austin, Texas; Lafitte Greenway in New Orleans, Louisiana; and H.A. Chapman Centennial Green in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Located in one of North America’s most frequently flooded areas, nicknamed “Flash Flood Alley,” Austin’s Republic Square presents a unique opportunity for resilience-building. In the few years since its 2017 renovation, Republic Square has already seen unprecedented storms, like Hurricane Harvey. This has prompted Austin residents to seek out strategies to help the space adapt, with features that can absorb heavy rainfall while also enhancing the comfort of visitors on an everyday basis.
The Clarity Parks Project™ helped Project for Public Spaces to connect with local partners at the Downtown Austin Alliance. As a result of this collaboration, Project for Public Spaces will support Republic Square to improve the comfort and image of the area. The square will be enhanced with new landscaping, plantings, seating, and water retention features surrounding the park’s historic “Auction Oaks.”
In 1839, the Auction Oaks were the site of the auction to divide the city of Austin into lots for sale. The park went on to become the center of a thriving Mexican and Tejano neighborhood, notable as a hotbed of early Tex-Mex cuisine. In the 1920s and ‘30s the neighborhood became an industrial district, and the park was turned into a parking lot in 1950. Thankfully, in the late 1970s, the Lions Club and other citizen activists returned it to its role as a park, and its design and management has continued to evolve since then.
Enhancements to Republic Square will demonstrate how social and physical infrastructure work together, strengthening the experience of public space users while simultaneously improving the park’s ability to absorb future storms.
Even while recovering from historic storms and flooding events, New Orleans residents have repeatedly sought opportunities to create a more livable, sustainable, healthy, and equitable public realm.
New Orleans’ Lafitte Greenway, the idea for which arose after Hurricane Katrina, has served as a focal point for these efforts since it opened in 2015. In addition to providing much needed green space and 2.6 miles of linear trails, the Lafitte Greenway incorporates physical adaptation measures to local climate hazards. Because the path runs adjacent to flood-prone neighborhoods in New Orleans, its design enables it to absorb water during heavy rainfall events and reduce runoff.
Now, through the Clarity Parks Project™, the Friends of Lafitte Greenway and NORD (New Orleans Recreation Department) will collaborate with Project for Public Spaces to transform the area on the greenway adjacent to the former Brake Tag Station into a pedestrian plaza. This effort will mark the intersection where the Greenway meets the Bayou St. John with a new commemorative public artwork, Iris of Memory by local artist William Nemitoff, and make the area more welcoming and attractive through new landscaping, stormwater management infrastructure, and activities such as farmers markets.
Flash flooding is also an ongoing hazard to the residents of Tulsa, Oklahoma. As a response, efforts to convert hard, impermeable surfaces into green space have been gaining momentum.
In 2008, for example, a surface parking lot in the city’s downtown was transformed into the H.A. Chapman Centennial Green. However, due to budget issues shortly thereafter, the efforts of local placemakers and urban design students to reimagine the space were cut short.
With the support of the Clarity Parks Project™, Project for Public Spaces is working with partners at Mayfest, now part of the city’s arts and humanities council ahha Tulsa, along with Tulsa Park & Recreation and the University of Oklahoma Urban Design Studio. Soon, new sustainable landscaping and shade features will create a cool oasis in the park, counteracting the heat island effect that can be felt in downtown Tulsa. The project will build on the initial transformation of the space and create a lush, green “outdoor room” where locals can relax and socialize—at a safe distance during COVID-19, of course. While combating both heat and flooding, the park will also serve new users with features like pet walking areas and more public art.
As communities rebuild and seek to reopen their public spaces after hard times, they face not only the physical and financial realities of repairing damage, but also the questions of recovering and strengthening social ties among community members. Our parks, plazas, streets, and trails can help heal our communities not only by being designed to become more resilient, but also by bringing out the best in people as they work together to rebuild, restore, and reconnect.
By offering grants and technical assistance to communities impacted by natural disasters to improve and strengthen their parks, the Clarity Parks Project™ from the makers of Claritin helps ensure that people can rely on public space to restore joy to their lives, while building social and physical resilience for the long term.