Reinventing schoolyards in Philadelphia

December 7, 2016
Graduate students discuss schoolyards with students in Philadelphia.

This fall, students in Professor Lois Brink’s Landscape Architecture Design Studio 6, along with landscape architecture students from Iowa State University (ISU) taught by assistant professor and CU Denver College of Architecture and Planning (CAP) alumna Bambi Yost, MLA/MURP, worked with students at 10 Philadelphia elementary schools to reinvent their schoolyards.

In a hybrid class that is taught 50 percent in studio and 50 percent online, the graduate students worked with schools and communities in North Central, Lower North and South Philadelphia to breathe new life into old schoolyards, making them more useful during school hours and on weekends.  Starting in 1998, Brink’s Learning Landscapes Initiative partnered with Denver Public Schools to transform all 96 Denver school playgrounds into attractive and safe multi-use parks tailored to the needs and desires of the local community.

CU Denver student Allie Vostrejs with Wright Elementary School student.
CU Denver student Makena Roesch with Edward T. Steele Elementary School students at recess
CU Denver student Makena Roeswood with Edward T. Steel Elementary School students.

Fall 2016 efforts in Philadelphia built on the success of the previous year when 43 graduate and undergraduate students from CU Denver and ISU collaborated with schools in Lower North Philly—and a cohort of schools in Mt. Airy, Chestnut Hill and Germantown—to engage each community in the redesign of their schoolyards.

“We saw a piece of land that was of no use turn into great use after graduate students and community members came together to create a safe space for children to learn and play outdoors,” said Duckrey Elementary School Principal, David Cohen. For each school, graduate students worked alongside leaders and visionaries within the community to inspire neighbors and business owners alike to shoot hoops with students, draw and interpret full scale chalk art blueprints on the asphalt, and most importantly, listen to the concerns of parents when it comes to the needs of a shared space.

“This kind of immersive experience is the only way to ensure every voice in the community is heard,” said Brink. “It should be the only way to design shared spaces. Plus, it’s always fun for students.”

This human centered design and dialog continued throughout the semester on digital platforms and is currently on exhibit in the third floor octagon gallery at CAP through January 1, 2017.

Guest Contributors:  Lois Brink, MLA and Betsy Metzger, PhD