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Workshops Explore Creative Ways to Make Community Improvements

Diane Shelton, a Community Outreach Specialist with Interfaith Neighbors in Asbury Park, speaks during a panel on Creative Placemaking while three other women listen.When Newark commissioned Nina Cooke John to create a monument honoring abolitionist and social activist Harriet Tubman, she envisioned a community space that also celebrated the story of Newark – it’s role in the Underground Railroad and also the people who live there.

“Ultimately the monument becomes integrated not only into the park, but into the life of the people,” said Cooke, who gave the keynote address at Placemaking in Context: Honoring the Culture and History of Communities, a workshop on creative placemaking.

The NJTPA sponsored the workshop through its Vibrant Communities Initiative, held in partnership with the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers, which hosted the event on April 26.

“Placemaking is all about communities taking intentional steps to make a neighborhood, a park, a city block, a transportation hub, and other locations into great places to live, work, and enjoy. Places that are thriving and vibrant,” NJTPA Executive Director David Behrend said in his opening remarks. 

The workshop highlighted examples of diverse types of placemaking that honor the past and preserve community memories while celebrating the communities that occupy spaces in the present.

Shadow of a Face, the Harriet Tubman monument, is a multi-media experience. In addition to celebrating Tubman’s life, it also integrates the stories of Newark residents, through mosaic tiles and audio recordings they created during a dozen community workshops. Audible, which has offices adjacent to the park, created the audio recordings, which feature narration by Newark native Queen Latifah, an actress and musician.

During a panel discussion following they keynote, Tamara Remedios, Director of Neighborhood Activations for Global Center for Urban Innovations at Audible, said the reimaged park has become a gathering space where families participate in drum circles on Sundays, more than 1,400 people turned out for the Juneteenth celebration last year (they expected about 400), and a host of other community events are held.

The panel also featured Jennifer Souder, Founder of the Asbury Park African-American Music Project, and Diane Shelton, a Community Outreach Specialist with Interfaith Neighbors, who spoke about efforts to create the Springwood Avenue Heritage Walk through the NJTPA’s Vibrant Places Program, part of the Vibrant Communities Initiative.

The project is recording oral histories of people who experienced Springwood Avenue during its prime, before music venues and local businesses shuttered following civil unrest that devastated the community in 1970. The heritage walk and a digital museum will celebrate the community’s vibrant Black History.

“The stories that are shared with us, each one is a gift, and we want to make sure we honor that,” Souder said.

Shelton described the effort as “creative place-keeping” because they’re “trying to maintain the fabric of that community.”

She said younger generations are much more aware of the music scene on the east side of Asbury Park and know nothing about the history Springfield Avenue. But she’s hopeful this project, and others, like weekly music performances at the site of the former Turf Club, will help raise awareness.

“That’s very important, the history of a community, that everybody is aware,” she said.

Rutgers Professor Anette Freytag speaks about the science of walking a community to better understand it during a panel on creative placemaking.The final panel discussion featured Anette Freytag, a professor of history and theory of landscape architecture, and Dan Swern, Co-founder and Producing Director, coLAB Arts. Freytag provided an introduction to strollology, the science of walking a community to understand it better before designing improvements.

Swern spoke about the role murals can play in celebrating a community and also making it safer, for example, street murals can be used to calm traffic and make it easier for pedestrians to cross busy roads.

He also highlighted a project that made improvements to a New Brunswick community garden used by residents who migrated from Oaxaca, Mexico. As part of that effort, coLAB interviewed gardeners about their experiences and why they moved to the United States and created an illustrated comic book sharing their stories. Swern said they learned after completing the project that it was the first documented history of Latino immigration in New Brunswick.

“We don’t take it for granted that we’re building some special things through this work,” he said.

The full workshop recording is available in the two videos below.

Posted: 4/30/2024 11:42:57 AM by Melissa Hayes | with 0 comments