Reclaiming Community Spaces Creates Healthier Environments for us All
This past November, Rooted in Place, the design firm founded by Ilisa Goldman,orchestrated a 4 day community build event to transform a parking lot just outside ARTS (a local arts based youth center) into an, ‘arts-dedicated community space for art-making, performing and exhibiting.’ Local residents were invited to participate in masonry, decorative painting, wood crafting, landscaping, and metal working projects. This type of approach – activating the surrounding community during a transformation of a public space – is a near perfect example of the Ms. Goldman’s passion in action.
For nearly 16 years, Ilisa Goldman has sought to grow the possibilities of Landscape Architecture. In particular, her efforts have focused on how to bring more of the natural world into urban neighborhoods. She believes public spaces should reflect and encourage a community’s unique culture and history, while also incorporating the area’s local ecology. Through both her design work, and as a local leader in the ‘Children and Nature‘ movement, Ms. Goldman has expanded the definition of a ‘park’ and demonstrated how design can create healthier children, families, and communities.
Connecting Children with Nature
Most schoolyards are completely covered by asphalt and concrete. There is little shade, and very few trees or natural vegetation. For a long time, Loma Schoolyard’s playlot, like so many others around the country, existed wholly separate from nature, despite being outside. This means it also represented the perfect showcase for just how valuable such a space can become when transformed into a more natural setting.
Ilisa Goldman’s design firm, Rooted in Place, spent a full year gathering input from students, parents, teachers, school staff, and community members before creating a Vision Plan identifying small scale improvements to the schoolyard to be implemented over time through fundraising and volunteer help. Workdays are regularly scheduled and involve students and parents in implementing the Ecological Schoolyard Vision Plan. This past school year funds were raised through grants and donations to implement the Living Lab Outdoor Classroom. The Lab currently has a chalkboard, weather station, butterfly house, raised garden beds with edible and native plants, and is often used for classroom activities and events. Not yet finished, what began as an effort to offer children better recreational activities has already transformed how the entire school operates.
Using Community to Improve the Community
One impressive aspect of Ilisa Goldman’s approach is the persistent and active effort to involve members of local communities in both the planning and construction of new spaces. A participatory design and build process increases buy-in from local community members. It also deepens that community’s commitment to seeing a project through to fruition (which may involve multiple growing seasons). Though some may at first believe that such a process would lengthen the time it takes to create and implement a design plan, the process is actually quicker than traditional construction projects. When community input is sought and incorporated upfront, a project typically moves forward with significantly more support, and very little of the controversy that can hold up more typical approaches to urban redevelopment. In addition, the resulting sense of ownership engendered by the surrounding community makes the entire project more sustainable for the long term.
It is this long-term sustainability that is the true result of Ilisa Goldman’s innovative work in pushing landscape architecture forward. Creating dynamic outdoor learning environments means allowing for the change that is always occurring in the natural world. No project is ever finished. No vision is ever complete. Instead, each student or participant, along with every teacher, parent, and member of the community, is tasked with reinterpreting what such a space means to them. The study of ecology is the study of life in action. The spaces created by Ilisa Goldman’s work is where such action takes place.