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