On Saturday night, the first night of the debut of our White Flint Placemaking project, after all of the vendors had packed up, the programming had ended, and the lights had been turned off, people would not leave. It was the first cold night of the year, and yet, they stayed, gathered around the fire pits, enjoying each other’s company.
Seeing the community embrace and utilize the space showed that we had successfully turned a parking lot into a park.
In mid-October, we created Montgomery County’s first pop-up park in partnership with Montgomery County Planning, Montgomery County Parks, the Randolph Civic Association, and Allen Krondstadt Realty. Approximately six months of design and planning culminated in a community built, public, green space in an underutilized grassy lot in the Randolph Hills Shopping Center.
In the White Flint 2 Sector Plan, the Randolph Hills Shopping Center was identified as an area that would benefit from the creation of a 0.75 acre neighborhood oriented green space. Our site design encompassed a grassy lot adjacent to Boiling Brook Parkway, the main driveway entrance, and part of the parking lot. This section of the shopping center was chosen due to its potential for use past the placemaking project and its proximity to the Randolph Hills neighborhood.
During the surveying process, residents overwhelmingly responded with requests for a community green space. However, it was pointed out during our site design discussions that there is an existing green space on the property, but it is just underutilized. We designed our pop-up park to create a welcome for the neighborhood residents. We wanted to encourage and support the Randolph Hills community members to work with the property owner to take ownership of the space and create a more community-centric park.
For the design of our park, we created two sections connected with a street mural across the driveway. The grassy area was designed based on the tenets of traditional German beer gardens. We filled the space with our Wikiblock long tables, rows of trees donated by the Parks Department, and lined the site with local vendors. We hung string lights at 12-feet to create an artificial ceiling at human scale. Fire pits and swing sets were built to provide people an area to congregate. These elements helped to create a relaxed, casual, human-scaled atmosphere on the previously empty space.
The other half of our park design was more activity focused. The Parks Department brought out toys and games for kids, including Kaboom’s Rigamajig set, ping pong and hula-hoops, which were hugely popular. Rockville Bike Hub and WABA provided bicycle workshops and education, promoting cycling in the DC area. KOA Sports organized games for kids on our pop-up basketball court, while Dynamite Gymnastics, MyGym and Badlands Playspace created pop-up obstacle courses for kids. Working with these partners, we were able to transform the parking lot from a space solely for cars to a safe play area for kids and families.
The reaction to the pop-up park was overwhelmingly positive. Several attendees expressed their surprise at how inviting the space was, despite being located in a shopping center parking lot. Looking at the dot maps and observing people’s reactions, the most popular elements were the firepits and swings. The chairs around the fire pits were constantly full and more crowds gathered as it got later and colder. The kids’ play area was popular, with many of the toys and games being used throughout the weekend. As seen from the below graphic, kids aged 0-15 made up approximately 40 percent of the attendees at 5 on Saturday evening. The audience for this area is predominantly young families with kids, so creating elements that will be popular among kids and their parents must be a priority for this area.
The dot maps showed that the furniture in the kids’ play area was not heavily utilized and could be reoriented and used more effectively elsewhere. Some survey respondents also noted that intimate, quiet conversations were at times difficult because of the noise from the bands. Overall, the site design was successful at bringing more than a thousand neighbors together and creating hope for the future use of the site. Many vendors and neighbors expressed interest in continuing to hold community events here, such as a Winter Beer Festival, community movie nights, and Halloween costume contests.
We often talk about how our projects are not successful if the community is not heavily involved. White Flint Placemaking continued to prove this. The Randolph Hills Neighborhood Association and neighbors showed up, rolled up their sleeves, and worked tirelessly. There was no job too small. They’re a passionate group with a desire to change their neighborhood, and they were an absolute joy to work with. And we just received word that electricity would be added permanently to the area, trees would be placed in planters, a gazebo will be added, and more events are being planned.
We’ve also heard that some families have met there casually for dinner.
The White Flint Placemaking project has taught us that any space has the potential to bring people together, no matter how overlooked it may be, with a dedicated community and thoughtful design.