As we are entering the 3rd summer of the UIA OASIS Schoolyard project the last one of the OASIS Schoolyards, the elementary school “Quatre Fils” is expected to be fully transformed in the following months. Leveraging on the experience gained by transforming other OASIS Schoolyards this past year, the OASIS partnership decided to explore a different participatory approach, which would also integrate a co-implementation process. The idea was to actively involve the school and the local community, beyond the design phase, in the actual “making” of the schoolyard.
More specifically, certain “heavy” construction works were meticulously planned during school holidays throughout the year, while in parallel, a number of school and local community workshops were planned for hands-on construction activities that were safe and fun to be executed by children and adults during the weekends. These activities were coordinated and supervised by experts.
Pupils, parents and local residents were invited to participate in hands-on activities during weekends, and thus actively contribute to the transformation of the schoolyard.
The timeline of the co-implementation actions
In brief, to encourage the school community and the local neighborhood for gradually taking ownership of the new schoolyard, the OASIS partnership planned this schoolyard transformation in phases aiming to encourage the active and meaningful contribution of the community through participating in “light” construction activities in-between the phases of major construction works.
Initially, a number of preliminary workshops were coordinated with pupils for the preparation of planting areas as well as for marking the schoolyard’s floor as a testing for the final signage and wayfinding in the school area. These preparatory workshops were combined with the first and second phase of construction works.
Regarding major construction works during the school year, small areas were dewatered and re-surfaced to create the appropriate layer for the new paving material. These areas were in turn filled with wooden chips to become ready for installing the wooden tipi-shaped structures, which were scheduled to be constructed by the participants later on during the community workshops.
Moreover, existing structures were re-purposed according to the children’s ideas and drawings. For example, the entrance awning was transformed from a plain industrial awning to a colorful surface that creates a playful ambience on the ground, when rays of sunlight go through the awning’s surface.
Lastly, specific schoolyard areas were “depaved” in order to be transformed into permeable pavements. The existing paving materials (asphalt and concrete) were carefully detached from the ground and stored in order to be re-used during the community workshop activities (see “Building the schoolyard’s bench” activity).
With the support of relevant professionals, a number of community workshops were coordinated after the spring break focusing on the following activities:
Building the schoolyard’s “tipis”
Children together with adults worked on building wooden structures in the shape of a “tipi”. The structures were covered with bamboo in a way to also help the vegetation grow over the structure and cover it. The “tipis” were placed at the wooden chip areas and thus created the schoolyard's quiet zones next to nature that offer the spatial quality of a quiet shaded nook or a place to play and hide for their young users.
Planting and naming the schoolyard’s plants
From the beginning of this school year, pupils have actively contributed to planting and growing the schoolyard’s vegetation. During the spring, the children and adults worked together in planting the schoolyard as well as decorating and adding the names and characteristics of each plant aiming to also add an educational aspect in their new garden.
Building a schoolyard’s bench
The UIA partnership in collaboration with the landscape agency “La Terre Ferme” offered a unique opportunity to the neighborhood's children and adults for learning how to build a bench themselves by re-using the concrete slabs, which have been extracted from the schoolyard’s pavement.
The participants worked together for varnishing the re-used slabs, painting them, and finally building a bench with a flowerbed on top of it, where they also re-planted the flowers they have been growing during the year.
Fostering intergenerational relationships at the OASIS Schoolyards
The different approach that was followed in the transformation of the “Quatre Fils” schoolyard highlights the multiple benefits of achieving a hands-on contribution of the community in the implementation of a public space project.
In this case, not only did the children share their ideas for the schoolyard but they also became active actors in realizing their ideas while working together with their parents and neighbors. Such activities strengthen the sense of ownership and pride for the future users of this everyday space while also they set the foundation for building intergenerational relationships through a shared experience. Children and adults learn together as all participants are putting their skills into action on a common project.
Intergenerational bonds among the local residents are anticipated to strengthen the community’s social cohesion as residents have the opportunity to get to know each other, while also tackle social challenges such as isolation or mental health issues such as depression and dementia. Residents of all ages are collaborating and working in teams for delivering a shared space which they will all use, enjoy and feel the responsibility to maintain as well.
Additionally, a community that cultivates social ties among residents of all ages is likely to create a friendlier and congenial atmosphere in the neighborhood’s public realm which in turn could mitigate common urban nuisances, such as safety. Referring to the popular “eyes on the street” concept, developed by Jane Jacobs in 1961 as a form of public surveillance, the added value of this intergenerational element of the OASIS project, offers the opportunity to develop safer neighborhoods, where the concept of “open schoolyards to the neighborhood” can flourish and be widely embraced and supported by the school community.
Jane Jacobs, in her book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”, introduces the concept of “eyes on the street” which is the activity taking place in city streets that keeps the movement and security of the street intact. Jacobs suggests that where there is a crowd of people, the streets are safer to use because if someone is in trouble the eyes on the street are ready to assist and protect from danger.
Similar to the city streets in Jacob’s concept, the OASIS Schoolyards activities provide another opportunity for residents to come together, interact and get to know each other in the neighborhood. These growing social ties and trustful relationships among neighbors are likely to secure public safety in the newly established public space of the neighborhood – the OASIS Schoolyard.
Why continuously engaging the users is important!
A key element for securing the sustainability of a public space project is engaging its future users early on in the planning process while also maintaining an active relationship throughout all the stages of the process; planning-construction- maintenance.
In the OASIS approach the priority users –the children- have already been engaged from the design phase and through different types of activities they remain engaged in all phases (see Journal No2). In doing so, the UIA partnership anticipates on the one hand the wider acceptance of this innovative public space project by the school community and on the other hand the security of the community’s contribution to the maintenance of the space.
In parallel, certain activities such as the community workshops that took place at the “Quatre Fils” schoolyard together with the ongoing neighborhood workshops that are coordinated during weekends in all OASIS schools are expected to deliver similar outcomes not only among the school community but for the wider local community as well.
More insights, outcomes and lessons learnt from the neighborhood workshops will be discussed in the next OASIS web article. Stay tuned!