Knight Foundation. 8 80 Cities. Varian Shrum. NHLR, or Neighborhood Living Room. If you haven’t been on social media lately or watched the news, these buzz words have generated a lot of attention in the Charlotte community. Varian Shrum won a $5000 grant from the Knight Foundation to create her vision—an outdoor living room in South End. “I’ve lived in South End for two years and I’ve noticed there’s not much public space,” Shrum said. “We have lots of new development, thousands of new residents, but nowhere to just gather and connect. I wanted to create a place for people to come together where you don’t have to pay to sit outside.”
The NHLR was stationed in the Dilworth Artisan Station, adjacent to the LYNX Blue Line. The LYNX Blue Line’s spine spurred design projects culminating in one of LandDesign’s very own Rail Trail project. As Richard Petersheim states in relation to the NHLR, “It’s nice to see the momentum building from our Rail Trail efforts.” The Rail Trail has received a $412,000 grant from ArtPlace America, along with an additional $20,000 grant from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Community Foundation, gifted towards public art installations along the 3.3-mile trial. In a game of find and seek, patrons were able to witness one of these art installations during the NHLR weekend—delicate discrete dresses, made of leaves, were hidden and hanging in the trees accompanied by little plastic toys and homey space installations, staged at the base of trees and shrubs. The art installation was meant to evoke a fairy like presence in nature, centered on the delight of discovery.
Several LandDesigners felt passionate about offering their services to help Varian’s dream come to life. Kate Pearce began the conversation advocating that it would be beneficial to have some LandDesigners help out with this amazing community initiative. Amanda Zullo, aka “Albert Design-stein” served as designer and renderer extraordinaire on Varian Shrum’s Strike Team—a core group of individuals who met weekly over a three month period to construct, create, plan and project manage the NHLR. Monica Mitevski, mastermind of all things graphic, and Lori Race, designer and contact for LandDesign’s landscape pop up projects, were consulted for their services.
NHLR’s pop-up space was open to the public from October 15th to October 18th. Gil Penalosa, founder of 8 80 Cities and renowned urban speaker/expert, spoke at the Knights Foundation Leadership Breakfast earlier in the week and kicked off the NHLR grand opening ceremony with a speech geared to excite and educate the public on the impact of these efforts. The entire weekend was planned with various programs to cater to the community: pop-up coffee shops, food vendors, beer samples and boutique shopping by local restaurants and entrepreneurs; live music that all ages could appreciate; a special Dilworth Artisan Station art crawl, which only occurs four times a year to the public; outdoor morning yoga to connect with oneself and with one’s community; storytelling and pumpkin painting for children; and even a concluding Sunday afternoon Panthers tailgate.
The NHLR programmed space provided the opportunity for all ages to come together and interact in a comfortable setting. The moveable furniture was key to the dynamic ebb and flow of the personalized space. “It’s interesting to note how the public space was really enlivened and engaged when there were program events occurring simultaneously. It makes you think about how the success of a space relies heavily on adjacent uses, providing another opportunity to attract people,” stated Lauren Cline, a fellow LandDesigner who attended the NHLR all four days.
Varian’s biggest takeaway is “the importance of letting people own the vision with you. People will participate in a movement like this if they feel invested. People will feel welcome to linger in a space if they see themselves reflected there. The main reason NHLR was a success was that the people it intended to serve were involved from the beginning.”
“I love how the NHLR has brought people, children and pets together; this connection is very important to a community,” said one patron. Another remarked, “Varian’s vision is a take on what Europe has been doing all along; by creating a piazza for the people, communities can come together. I look forward to the next installment, but hope this generates enough momentum to create a more permanent place.” Varian has the long-term in mind, too. "I hope the positive experience my neighbors had in this temporary public space will inspire them to advocate for permanent ones," she said. "Giving input to the Planning Department's re-write of the Zoning Ordinance would be a great way to guarantee these kinds of places are included in future development." She intends to use the rest of the grant to create another pop up location in Charlotte sometime next year, after she and the Strike Team get some rest. Stay tuned by following the Charlotte Living Room at:@CLTLivingRoom, CLTLivingRoom.com, and #CLTLivingRoom.