In the shade of the historic Athens Armory building, Nadzeya Ilkevich pulls weeds from between the painted stones that encircle a new garden in Armory Park. Noticing a piece of misplaced mulch a few yards away from where she kneels she hurries to return it to the landscaping. Ilkevich is not the warden of this space, but as the community placemaker that reimagined it she takes pride in her work.
Ilkevich is a local activist and community placemaker driven by a vision to beautify this small town's most ignored spaces. In Athens, Ohio Ilkevich used the community-based approach to planning and designing public spaces known as placemaking to develop an empty lot into the Armory Park. Placemaking advocates across the globe are redeveloping underutilized places with the support of activists, community volunteers, and a determination to beautify communal space.
Gif sourced from 'Making The Place' Documentary
Eighteen months ago the site of Armory Park was nothing more than a neglected and empty lot. Nestled between the Dollar General and Armory buildings in uptown Athens, many considered the space a prominent eyesore. That was until the city of Athens replaced the gravel and trash with a maintained plot of grass. Yet, the space remained lacking in purpose.
In the spring of 2019 Ilkevich organized Placemaking Week. With a series of lectures, workshops, and community trainings, the week’s program culminated into a weekend of concept implementation. Dozens of community volunteers, local artists, and activists rallied to the space, constructing new park benches from reclaimed palette wood, a communal garden, a children’s play area, and mural painting.
Ilkevich’s efforts impressed Athens Mayor Steve Patterson. Patterson said of the park, “I’m working in the uptown area, as a lot of people do, and to now know there is a place where you can go during the day to unplug and get into your zen place, it’s exciting.”
“What is placemaking?” Ilkevich asked rhetorically as she gestured to the crowds of people mingling in the park. “Placemaking is all about this”
A week after Ilkevich’s team of organizers and volunteers transformed the space, Mayor Patterson announced a ribbon cutting ceremony to officially reintroduce the space to the city. On the day of the ceremony the small urban park was teeming with members of the community. Local folk band Brother Hill performed on a newly constructed stage, children gawked at the mural depicting the city in technicolor, and throngs of community members admired the work of their friends and neighbors.
“What is placemaking?” Ilkevich asked rhetorically as she gestured to the crowds of people mingling in the park. She unfurled her clipping of ribbon from the ceremony and waved it around. “Placemaking is all about this”.