One tiny park making a huge difference

Move over Pawnee’s Smallest Park in Indiana. Charlotte has a new tiny park that’s making a big impact.

Recently Charlotte Department of Transportation (CDOT) teamed up with Engineering & Property Management, Arts & Science Council, University of North Carolina — Charlotte (UNCC) Urban Design Master Program and Piedmont IB Middle School to improve safety and create a tiny park with useable space for students located at 10th Street and Jackson Street.

How did this project begin?

The project started with CDOT’s Pedestrian Program. This location was being evaluated for some possible pedestrian improvements like sidewalks and crossings. The city was trying to find ways to make it safer for students to cross the street. Scott Curry, a transportation coordinator with CDOT was working on the project and had served as an adjunct professor for the UNCC Master of Urban Design Program. His colleague reached out to him about using a small piece of underutilized right of way as a test site for his Community Planning Studio and the tiny park idea was born.

What’s a tiny park?

A tiny park is how it sounds. It’s creating a new public space using a small piece of land. This can be a leftover corner of right of way from a project, an unused plaza, a dead-end street or even an on-street parking spot. Sometimes referred to as parklets, this space can bring a once forgotten space back to life.

Bringing the park to life

Old concrete staircase covers transformed into public art.

It took a lot of collaboration and engagement between groups to create the tiny park. CDOT funded the project and set the scope. For the park, students in the 7th grade art class and the UNCC Master of Urban Design program collaborated in an interactive workshop to create design concepts for the park. The city’s Engineering and Property Management department took their vision and brought it to life.

“My favorite part of the project was the workshop that we held with students from the Piedmont IB Middle School and the UNCC Master of Urban Design Program to talk about public space and conceptual design. We had professional transportation engineers, master’s students and a middle school arts class all collaborating together and learning from each other.” — Scott Curry, CDOT

Another part of the project was creating public art. There were two massive concrete stair covers that once led to a tunnel beneath 10th Street. These were recovered and turned into a mosaic that reflected the history and character of the neighborhood. The Arts & Science Council was a key partner in funding and creating the public art piece.

Improving safety

Aside from the art piece, the space was improved with new sidewalks, crosswalks and curb extensions. It even includes glow-in-the-dark concrete. A low retaining wall was also designed to be used as outdoor seating for a classroom. A once mundane space has now become a safer space for students and the surrounding neighborhood, proving that one tiny park can make difference.