Skip to content

Project: Pop-Up Plaza

Location: Roosevelt Park, Camden, New Jersey

Lighted Columns, Plaza, Nighttime, People, Pop Up Plaza, Livable Communities

Photo courtesy Sikora Wells Appel | Group Melvin Design

Colorful lighting makes the plaza inviting and usable at night. (Click on the photo to see more images.)

The Goal

To create an interactive, impactful and inviting area for residents of Camden, New Jersey

The Backstory

After years of serious decline, downtown Camden has been enjoying a resurgence because of a rise in private and public investment in the city.

Revitalization efforts have already resulted in a decrease in gun violence, the opening of the first new supermarket in 50 years, more than five miles of new multiuse trails and the demolition of several hundred abandoned, inhabitable homes.

Roosevelt Plaza Park, which sits at the crossroads of existing and proposed developments, is the only large, public, centrally-located open space in the city's downtown. Each day some 27,000 people walk by the area, situated at the intersection of three major business corridors and the doorstep of City Hall.

The Project

Lacking any amenities, Roosevelt Park was being used more as a walk through area than a destination. The goal of the pop-up plaza project was to enliven the space through low-cost, high-impact, flexible placemaking strategies that would make the park appealing and guide the city's future park improvements.

The Timing

The park's initial pop-up demonstration ran from September to December 2014. An expanded pop-up park demonstration in 2015.

The Logistics

  • The designs for the project emulated the 1930s New Deal era, so the group decided to look for items — such as outdoor seating, tables, umbrellas — that could be creatively repurposed.

  • A major feature of the installation was an interactive light sculpture utilizing IBC totes (reconditioned plastic storage containers) as building blocks. The totes, which had been modified before being installed, were refurbished by several Camden businesses and can be used as planters, signage foundations and light towers.

  • Movable furniture, a piano, a comments box, informational signage and free expression chalkboards were added to engage people and encourage feedback about the experimental space. (The feedback postcards that had been mounted on a central planter tote proved to be the best tool for obtaining feedback.)

The Costs and Crew

The park was funded by a grant from the William Penn Foundation and led by a multi-sector team formed by the Cooper's Ferry Partnership, which initiated the project.

The redesign of the park was overseen by Camden Redevelopment Agency, Group Melvin Design, Sikora Wells Appel and the Camden Special Services District. The CSSD staffed the pop-up during the week-long project. Ongoing funding for Roosevelt Plaza Park is made possible by the New Jersey Economic Recovery Board.

Outcomes and Next Steps

Over the course of five months the plaza team collected more than 500 hours in time-lapsed photography, more than 100 visitor surveys and feedback postcards and data confirming that 4,000 individuals had used the space at least once. The findings revealed the following to be winning features:

Makeshift Plaza, Chairs, Tables, Downtown, Pop Up Plaza, Livable Communities

Photo courtesy Sikora Wells Appel and Group Melvin Design

The plaza sits in front of Camden's City Hall. (Click on the photo to see more images.)

Engaging and interactive elements: Visitors to the plaza were able to enjoy and appreciate various decorative and useful items, from the interactive lighting to the piano that was available for anyone to play.

A sense of trust: Items that could be easily stolen or damaged remained unharmed and cared for. People in the area became proud of the space and felt a responsibility to take care of their park.

A comfortable place to be: A survey about the project found that people were especially appreciative of the plaza's new seating and shaded spaces.

Future improvements are slated to include:

  • Expanding the available activities 
  • Rearranging the totes into a new creative structure
  • Providing more lightweight, movable chairs
  • Enhancing the sense of arrival at the 5th and Market Street entrance by adding welcoming signage for riders of PATCO (Camden's high-speed line train station)
  • Additional interactive elements, such as a water feature, vendors, events programming or games
  • More family-specific amenities, such as a playground, to attract more parents with young children to the space

Other Solutions

The plaza would benefit from a long-term build-out by:

  • Improving the paths
  • Investing in structural improvements
  • Building a mature tree canopy
  • Maintaining an open lawn space
  • Integrating the plaza at the steps of City Hall with Roosevelt Plaza Park by removing barriers between the two spaces and creating a unified Plaza Park with diverse zones of uses

Learn More

Page published Summer 2016

Stay Informed — For Free!

Each issue of the award-winning AARP Livable Communities e-Newsletter contains a mix of inspiring examples, community resources and information about livability efforts from places near and far. Subscribe today!

AARP Livable Communities Newsletter