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KCAD Spark Park Invites ArtPrize Audiences to Reimagine Urban Landscapes

For the last three years during ArtPrize, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) has leveraged the parklet concept as a way to actively explore the potential impact of public green spaces on the city.

Dubbed “The Spark Park,” KCAD’s parklet again occupies a section of Pearl Street between the 17 Fountain St. NW building and the Woodbridge N. Ferris building at 17 Pearl St. The space’s open and inviting atmosphere features lush green grass, living wall gardens, comfortable group seating, a long picnic table with a blackboard paint surface, lawn games, and even after-dark lighting, making it a perfect place for ArtPrize visitors to take a break and hang out, whether it’s morning, noon, or night.

KCAD Spark Park(above and below): Since popping up between KCAD's two main campus buidlings, the Spark Park has been frequented by KCAD stduents and ArtPrize visitors alike; some professors even decided to use it as an outdoor classroom

KCAD Spark Park

As in previous years, a number of local organizations have been engaged to assist with the design and construction of the parklet. According to Gayle DeBruyn, who serves as chair of KCAD’s Collaborative Design and Furniture Design programs in addition to her role as the college’s Chief Sustainability Officer, a collaborative, designed-based approach is essential to exploring new urban planning ideas and strategies.

“Each time we’ve created a parklet, we’ve been very intentional about bringing as many stakeholders to the table as possible, because integrating these spaces into the existing urban environment presents a variety of design challenges that can only be solved with a broad perspective,” she says.

KCAD Spark Park PartnersCollaboration and community engagement is what the Spark Park is all about; a sign proudly displays the organizations who pitched in support, time, energy, and materials to help bring it all together

More than just a public space for congregating and relaxing, the KCAD Spark Park serves as a forum for education and discussion on the evolution of the urban landscape. To stimulate conversations about alternative transportation, The Rapid is parking one of its new Silver Line buses in the Spark Park each weekend during ArtPrize, while local bicycle co-op The Spoke Folks will be on-site to offer repair services and advice on how to care for and safely ride a bicycle in the city. An Airstream Flying Cloud travel trailer is parked in the space near Division Ave, providing additional room and inspiration for reconsidering the design of small spaces.

The Spark Park will also explore the possibilities of urban agriculture. Local nonprofit Urban Roots is showcasing different ways of maximizing organic production in small urban environments, as well as the potential community benefits of hyper-local food production.

“Seeing what happens when an urban space moves from car-centric to people-centric is really inspiring; I think once people get the opportunity to see firsthand how versatile these spaces can become and how they can be integrated into the existing landscape, they start to open up to new ideas,” says Levi Gardner, founder of Urban Roots. “It makes you wonder how many parking lots can be brought back to paradise.”

Visitors will also be able to purchase locally grown, high-quality fresh produce directly from the YMCA’s Veggie Van, a mobile farmers market that will make numerous stops at the Spark Park throughout ArtPrize.

Other KCAD Spark Park collaborators include Baker Tent and Party Rentals, Belden Brick, Hortech, Inc., IB Compost, Integrated Architecture, Landscape Forms, Pacific Casual, Standard Lumber, Summit Landscape Management, and Trendway.

Since Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) released a manual of guidelines for parklet design and construction in 2014, a total of five parklets have been approved for installation. DGRI officials say they have seen an increase in awareness of how improved public spaces can improve the Downtown experience.

“While we think there are additional opportunities for parklet installations, we also recognize parklets are only one approach for raising the profile of public spaces. Additional elements like public art, murals, street furniture, and basic outdoor seating can all improve the experience of Downtown space, and we are excited to see many of these amenities being added to the Downtown landscape,” says DGRI Planning Manager Tim Kelly. “Further, and specific to green space, the GR Forward effort which is helping to establish a new vision and investment strategy for Downtown, recognizes that as our city continues to grow, we need to add more open space and recreation opportunities for residents, employees and visitors to enjoy.”

KCAD Spark ParkKCAD students leave their mark on a long communal table in the Spark Park, topped with a layer of chalkboard paint

Kelly and other DGRI officials are excited to see the parklet concept expanded beyond commercial applications to include elements of education and community engagement.

“What I love most about the KCAD parklet is the focus on demonstrating how different programs and activities can be synthesized to create a unique urban experience and destination,” says Kelly. “In addition, I think the focus on incorporating education opportunities is a great way to help people reimagine public spaces, and the way they interact with their city at a macro level.”

KCAD Spark ParkBeautiful greenspaces, plenty of seating - even an Airstream travel trailer; visitors can find it all in the Spark Park

The KCAD Spark Park is open and available to any visitors throughout ArtPrize. To learn more about ArtPrize at KCAD, visit kcad.edu/artprize.


KCAD Students Help Drive Design of DGRI Parklet

DGRI’s own parklet, located in front of its Pearl Street offices, was designed in collaboration with students from KCAD’s Master of Architecture (MArch), Interior Design, and Collaborative Design programs. Students researched parklets in other cities and possible building materials, developed physical and digital models of the parklet’s design, and presented their work to DGRI’s Board of Advisors before developing documents that DGRI then used to solicit bids for the parklet’s construction.

DGRI parklet(above and below): KCAD students and faculty installing the parklet in front of DGRI's offices, just down the street from KCAD

DGRI Parklet

“The components of urban space problems are complex and good design cannot be about perfection – rather, it is about proposal-making, taking the good ideas along with not-so-good ones, embracing the mini ‘failures’ that happen, and engaging in the cycle of inquiry, reflection, and re-proposal that is critical to the process,” says Julie Brode, a professor in the MArch program. “The completed parklet continues to hold increased understanding for all who worked on the project.”

KCAD students working in the finished parklet

Kelly, who worked directly with the KCAD students throughout the project, added, “This collaboration grew out an ongoing partnership between DGRI and KCAD to find opportunities to use Downtown as a learning laboratory for students, and to demonstrate innovative designs for parklets so that other Downtown businesses and organizations can think creatively about how to use the parklet program. From DGRI’s perspective, the project was great success, and we are extremely excited to the see the students vision and hard work become a reality that enhances the Downtown experience.”