On a sunny Saturday afternoon, pop music is playing from large speakers and neighbors are setting up a grill. East 141st Street is closed to traffic between Willis and Alexander Avenues, creating a small corridor for kids and adults to come out and play.
Child-sized benches are placed in the street, and low tables are covered with brightly colored Duplos, magnetic tiles, and flexible plastic tubes with connectors. The whole setup is lightweight and simply designed, meant to be moved around.
This pop-up play scene in Mott Haven on Aug. 30 was created by StreetLab, an organization that seeks to “activate” certain public spaces where there is not an obvious place for families to gather for recreation, such as a park, according to program manager Niri Halperin.
The nearby Willis Playground is entirely fenced-off with tall black netting. A sign says it will reopen this fall, but progress can’t even be seen through the fencing. The closing of this playground is clearly a loss to the community, but StreetLab aimed to fill that gap, if only for the afternoon.
Kids race aboard a parked sanitation truck painted all over with flowers. They take turns sitting behind the wheel, delightedly honking the horn.
Later, some gray-haired women come to join the fun. They start building shapes with the magnetic tiles and bouncing lightly to the song “Happy” by Pharrell.
“If you just look at the street right now, it’s full of life, you know, kids, it’s full of mothers, grandmothers,” noted Wei Du, another StreetLab manager. “When we work in public space, we’ve always made it more friendly for children, a bit more friendly for women.”
StreetLab believes this type of programming is needed in every corner of the city. “There’s no neighborhood too good for us, and there’s no neighborhood too bad for us,” Du said.
While StreetLab pops up everywhere from Times Square to the Upper West Side to the Bronx, Du said he especially loves coming to the Bronx for its sense of close-knit community.
This event was funded by the Department of Transportation and organized through connections with the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. More events throughout the city are listed on www.streetlab.org.