The Austin Chronicle

Getting Out and Getting Distanced With PARKSPACE

Public art project looks to bring people together while keeping them apart

By Niti Majethia, October 9, 2020, Arts

The Austin Foundation for Architecture, in collaboration with Austin Parks and Recreation, is bringing something big to local green spaces. PARKSPACE is a site-specific installation series that uses eco-friendly turf paint and aims to delineate spaces where people can come together to enjoy their favorite outdoor activities, from picnics to yoga to relaxing in the sun. 

The initiative is designed with native Texas wildflowers in mind, along with their colors and patterns. PARKSPACE brings people together while reminding participants of social distancing guidelines. More than that, the design is meant to visualize social distancing guidelines by helping people stay 6 feet apart. But quite interestingly, it is initiatives like this that indeed bring the community together – because we could all use some downtime outside.

"We realized there was a need to help Austinites navigate this new normal safely," says Gerardo Gandy of architecture and design firm Gensler and one of the people behind the immersive artwork. 

The initiative offers a refreshing change that proves creativity and innovation in design can make a difference. Each of the sites also has signage that's educational, with some history of each wildflower and some fun facts. "Everybody, no matter what age, is looking for something stimulating to do. It was important for us to keep that in mind as we created PARKSPACE," says Gandy. 

With six installations in total, Gandy says it wasn't just about covering mainstream spots. "The first installation we did was at a spot in East Austin, which was actually the hardest hit by COVID." 

Proudly deemed "a COVID intervention" by its creators, PARKSPACE has already been put to use in various ways: from events for women's suffrage to small (socially distanced) concerts. "Some of the groundskeepers at Republic Square even started coming up with new games you can play, like you stand in one of the squares and throw a ball or Frisbee as far as you can and make sure that it lands in another square. A bonus point if your dog fetches it and brings it back," says Gandy with a smile. 

"We plan to keep the two in Long Center and Bat Observation area maintained until mid-November, to coincide with Austin Design Week. We've also talked about certain communities taking ownership to maintain them," says Ingrid Spencer, executive director for the Austin Foundation for Architecture and its sister organization, AIA Austin.

PARKSPACE offers something in high demand during the temperate months in Austin: a healthy, safe way to spend time outside. Whether you choose to play with your dog or read a book and soak up some vitamin D, take time to notice those around you, no matter how socially distanced they may be. Our needs to have social experiences can still be fulfilled; all it takes is an open mind, empathy, and some out-of-the-box (but literally in-the-box) thinking.

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