After months of hard work, we are thrilled to be able to share our vision for PL@Y MLK and to announce that we are among the 50 winners of the Play Everywhere Challenge, a KaBOOM-hosted, nationwide contest to bring play to everyday places and spaces in underserved communities.
The seed for PL@Y MLK was planted in April 2016, when we partnered with the Phyllis M. Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking for our second Fast 48 Design Thinking Boot Camp. Thirty design thinkers joined us for 48 hours over a weekend to rapid prototype community development ideas that would help PlayBuild engage a broader cross section of organizations in Central City. Plus help us serve more children in that neighborhood, which is home to our outdoor classroom where we do afterschool programming and host field trips.
A key insight from neighbors and community residents was a need for PlayBuild to raise its visibility in the neighborhood (our classroom site is tucked away on a side street) and offer more frequent opportunities for community members to engage with PlayBuild’s programming and play activities. In addition, several members of the church across the street from our site expressed a desire for us to bring our outreach program to them and engage their youth ministry in much the same way that we engage with local schools.
Based on this feedback, one of the Fast 48 teams brainstormed solutions for “hyper local play.” This concept eventually evolved into the idea of “pop-up play events,” targeting a tightly-focused pedestrian zone within a 5-10 block distance of our Thalia Street home base.
When the KaBOOM Play Everywhere Challenge was announced in May, we pulled our team of weekend warriors back together and went to work on developing this kernel of an idea into a viable proposal.
We needed to create a mobile version of the ‘PlayBuild experience’ that would function as an extension of PlayBuild, yet enable us to broaden our reach and expand our neighborhood footprint. Almost like “PlayBuild To Go.”
Luckily, we knew just the people to ask! Leslie and Sam Davol, co-founders of the UNI Project, have been friends and founding partners of PlayBuild since we started. When we reached out to them, they proposed their mini mobile cart as the perfect solution for our needs and we agreed.
We submitted our initial Play Everywhere proposal in June, and in July, we were invited to the finalist round.
In true design thinking fashion, conversations with potential local partners led us to iterate the initial concept, which we decided to brand PL@Y MLK.
A big focus of our discussion was around using the neutral ground (i.e., what we call a median in New Orleans) along Martin Luther King Boulevard as our chosen location for staging PL@Y MLK play stations. A few team members did a deep dive into the history and significance of the neutral ground as we considered the pros (visibility) and cons (safety) of situating play activities along a highly trafficked corridor.
As we grappled with this conundrum, in early and mid-July racial violence flared in Baton Rouge in the wake of Alton Sterling’s death and subsequent police shootings.
With this context, the historic significance of the neutral ground – a safe zone where two sides in a conflict were invited to come and lay down their arms – took on a greater and more urgent relevance as we considered the day-to-day lives of the children and young people in our neighborhood.
Our tag line became: “From the playground to the neutral ground.”
PL@Y MLK – Phase One
Our KaBOOM award will enable us to implement Phase One of our long-term plan for PL@Y MLK – to build and deploy three play stations along the MLK Boulevard corridor.
We will build and launch our first UNI cart in early November and work closely with a host partner in the neighborhood to plan and manage implementation. Tulane and the Taylor Center will provide implementation support, volunteers, evaluation, and impact assessment.
PL@Y MLK – Beyond
If Phase 1 is successful, we’ll raise money to build at least two more mobile play stations and partner with additional host organizations in the neighborhood to deploy them along the MLK corridor.
Our end goal is to be able to program a zone of play that comprises the eight blocks from Simon Bolivar to Claiborne Avenues and includes our Thalia Street play space.