Elm Playlot is a ½ acre park in the middle of the Iron Triangle neighborhood. Before being adopted by Pogo Park as its pilot project, Elm Playlot was, in the words of residents, “dirty, dull and dangerous.” In 2008, the City of Richmond replaced the park’s aging play equipment with new, pre-fabricated play equipment bought from a catalogue, only to have it vandalized within a week. To break this cycle, Pogo Park initiated a community involvement project to investigate why Elm Playlot was not being used and what local residents wanted in a neighborhood park. This project, Photovoice, revealed that the primary problem was that the abandoned homes across the street from the park invited illicit activity that spilled over into Elm Playlot. The City of Richmond secured $3.6 million in NSP funding from HUD and, once these houses were restored and occupied, violence in and around the park decreased dramatically.
Pogo Park next began to implement its “community development through park restoration” approach. Rather than have outside professionals do all the work, Pogo Park enlisted members of the local community to plan, design and rebuild Elm Playlot. Pogo Park formed the EPAC Team (Elm Park Action Committee), a group of local residents who reflect the racial and cultural diversity of the surrounding neighborhood. Pogo Park employed EPAC to plan the park, build a scale model of the future design, make physical improvements to the park and act as park stewards during open hours. EPAC is currently still working in Elm Playlot.
In 2012, Pogo Park partnered with the City of Richmond to develop a successful $2 million grant application for the restoration of Elm Playlot. As the community partner for the project, Pogo Park worked with the City to implement the grant. For example, Pogo Park assisted the City in purchasing the house adjacent to Elm Park, which expanded the park and provided a structure for the park office and snack bar. While waiting for construction to begin in summer 2013, Pogo Park built a “Pop-Up Park” to beautify and activate Elm Playlot. Consisting of low-cost, temporary installations such as fencing, murals, stump seating, a sand box, movable toys and a converted shipping container, Elm Playlot’s Pop-Up Park was a huge success, enabling Elm Playlot to evolve into a community hub for recreation, activities and services.
Elm Playlot is thriving, welcoming over 17,000 visitors each year. Local residents have built the majority of the park, with professionals providing technical expertise as needed. In 2017, we completed construction of a “tot-lot” for our youngest visitors, complete with a “mountain stream” to facilitate water play. Most recently, we added a community picnic area with “trash-can” barbecues designed and built by our community resident team. The park is continually evolving as we create new play areas and expand our programming.
Elm Playlot is open daily from sunrise to sunset, staffed 7 days a week, and offers a variety of free arts and play programs.
Location: 8th Street and Elm Avenue
Current Amenities/Programs: disc swings, sandbox, community BBQ/picnic space, zip line, tot-lot with mountain stream, loose toys, seating, park office, public restroom, meal/snack window, homework club, chess club, Zumba, petting zoo, rock-balancing, arts and crafts, East Bay Center for Performing Arts programming
Future Amenities: covered “Chill Zone” for arts and rainy-day activities