Case Study: Our Park/ Southwark: A case study of socially engaged art practice and collaborative design for a more just future
About the Project
Across the evolving landscape of South Philadelphia, differences in culture and language present opportunities for unexpected and meaningful connection. This partnership between the Environmental Justice initiative, Trust for Public Land, and Southwark School tapped into the wisdom and interests of people from diverse backgrounds and experiences—neighbors, students, teachers, and parents—to build a green and sustainable learning environment and to engage them in the process. Artists Gamar Markarian and Mateo Fernández-Muro utilized project planning through gameplay to break through these barriers, asking participants: What is our role in the global waste stream, and how can we positively shape the spaces around us?
Hundreds of community members worked together to co-design a new schoolyard and play space for Southwark School, complete with attributes that address local issues of environmental justice in the urban environment. Gameplay, says Fernández-Muro, is a catalyst, a “participatory activator to make players aware of their potential, in order for them to fully and actively participate in public life.” This innovative strategy also reinforced the perception of the school as a hub for neighborhood activity and interaction.
As a result of this two-year-long process, the front schoolyard has been transformed into a colorful, intergenerational space—one of the few large, open spaces in South Philadelphia, it makes a statement about collective ownership of public space in the face of rapid urban development. Community members worked with artist collective Basurama to build outdoor seating and planters from repurposed school desks, and with artist James Dunn, created a series of mini-murals inspired by conversations about weaving together the neighborhood’s diverse cultures.
In June 2019, this innovative process will continue at Southwark as the back schoolyard goes under construction.
Community Design Leaders and Organizers:
Khin Aye, Yuli Binsi Bakri, Eryani Chandra, Chin Chin, Sung Chin, Elizabeth Cristobal, Mark Ellis, Bilkis Esar, Noelia Garcia, Yuri Garcia, Monica Granados, Gabriela Ramos Guzman, Gibran Medina, Lizeth Morales, Yaneth Melendez, Olga, Dalila Romera, Elena Rosas, Sulay Sosa, Rosa Salgado, Hlawn Kip Sung, Ngun Tha Sung, Si Si Than, Josefina Atonal Tecuapacho, Farida Yusuf, Kwok Xi Yao
Mayor’s Office of Education, School District of Philadelphia, Southwark School, Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet, Philadelphia Water Department
City of Philadelphia, City of Philadelphia Department of Human Services, Jefferson University Hospital, MetLife Foundation, Philadelphia Youth Network, PTS Foundation, Surdna Foundation, Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), Vert Charitable Trust, William Penn Foundation, and 25th Century Foundation
Scout LTD, EPX Civic Association, Friends of Southwark, Principal Andrew Lukov