Out West student blog

Playground Superheroes

Creating image boards that will be used at public meetings to show and collect feedback on different possibilities for future shade structures, plazas, entryways, and public art at Panorama Park.

By Victoria Mendez
Earth Systems, Class of 2019
Denver Parks for People Program Intern
Trust for Public Land

“THROW IT! Now!”

I watched from underneath the park shelter as a kid on one side of the structure launched a cherry red dodgeball over to his friend on the other side, who tried to guess where it would ultimately land. Others sprinted around the playground, or tossed a football with city employees in brightly colored shirts. They were here for a supervised “pop-up play” program that the City of Colorado Springs hoped would help activate this typically unused space.

Next to the picnic tables, my supervisor and I rolled out a banner I had made the day before. It asked, “How do you like to play?” in large letters across the center. After inhaling their lunches (followed, or sometimes preceded, by cake) the kids circled our banner, using markers and crayons to draw or write their responses.



“Feel like a superhero!”

This was the Trust for Public Land’s first community engagement event at Panorama Park, which was identified as a high priority site for park improvements based on environmental justice principles, community input, and spatial data. It was easy to see why—the park had limited shade, dying grass, and no restrooms or water fountains. I was here in the hopes of contributing to the organization’s ultimate goal of ensuring that everyone lives within a ten-minute walk of a quality park. Knowing that minority communities have historically been denied access to the many health and environmental benefits of urban green spaces, this mission is incredibly important to me.

While the Trust for Public Land works toward its mission from many different angles, including land conservation and GIS analysis, my work this summer is primarily focused on community engagement during the “Creative Placemaking” process. While “Creative Placemaking” might sound flowery to some, it’s really quite simple. The goal: partner with underserved communities to create beautiful parks with public art that celebrates their identity. The idea: the community knows exactly what it wants its park to look like, and their ideas must be heard and acted on. From an environmental justice standpoint, it is not enough to simply put a park in the ground. Community members deserve a voice in every step along the way, and in working to improve and empower their community, they really should “feel like a superhero”.

Major themes from TPL's first community engagement event at Panorama Park.

  After our activity at Panorama Park, I sorted the kids’ responses into major themes that TPL will later work to incorporate into the park. I’ve also been learning how to use Adobe InDesign to create image boards that we will use to collect feedback on how community members want future park components to look, including shade structures, plazas, entryways, and public art. I’ve been humbled in getting to collaborate with amazing grassroots community organizations, like Denver’s Westwood Unidos and East Los Angeles’ Equipo Verde. It’s reinforced a message I find incredibly important for everyone working with a community they are not from: You are not the superhero.


Read more at the Out West Student Blog »

Recent Center News

A keystone species slowly disappears from the Yukon; Cuyama Valley, California farmers boycott Big Carrot; a pond turns pink in Maui; environmentalists oppose an Alaskan Arctic oil drilling project; direct-air carbon capture arrives in the Central Valley; pikas return to the Columbia Gorge; and other environmental news from around the American West.
Advisory Council Member Nancy Pfund and colleagues author a new paper exploring the benefits of prescribed burns, highlighting how new technologies in wildfire mitigation, vegetation management, and forestry can help prevent catastrophic fire. The paper also investigates how a variety of innovative funding models could be harnessed to dramatically scale the ability to use prescribed burns safely and effectively in the future.

Photo courtesy of Brandon Kapelow

Every year, the Bill Lane Center awards a $5,000 fellowship to support a journalist illuminating crucial issues about the American West. We are proud to announce Brandon Kapelow as our 2023-2024 Western Media Fellow, and the publication of new work by last year's fellow, Janet Wilson.