Our Place Community Park
Kounkuey Design Initiative
Mecca, United States
Desert Recreation District
Studio Los Feliz
The project directives were generated in direct collaboration between the architect and the community. Unlike many projects, which have directives clearly identified by a client, here, the architect approached the community to identify a project that would address pressing needs. Emerging from that process was the need for a public space—something that the community had long lacked. The public space would provide a place for the community to gather and the types of program—sports fields, play equipment, and shade pavilions—it also became a vehicle through which to integrate sustainable development goals. The public space there is income-earning opportunity, enhanced sustainable mobility options, civic infrastructure, and public health measures. One of the central priorities for the community was a place to gather for cultural performances and community meetings.
As a community that has long been under-resourced, cost was a fundamental priority. The architect partnered with the community to implement a funding strategy that would allow them to successfully realize the project.
The Eastern Coachella Valley, in Southern California, is a landscape of extreme inequity—one that lies at the nexus of multiple and overlapping pressures, including environmental risk, economic uncertainty, public health challenges, and a lack of access to essential civic services, including safe housing, education, income-earning opportunities, education, and, importantly, public space. Though the Western Coachella Valley—known for world-class resort towns like Palm Springs and the music festival that bears the valley’s name—benefits from significant public and private investments and enjoys a range of public space options, the Eastern Coachella Valley tells an entirely different story. For this area of predominantly low-income seasonal agricultural workers, poverty levels rank in the 99th percentile, nationally. The small towns that dot this landscape have been subject to extreme disinvestment over generations.
The experience of the Eastern Coachella Valley is emblematic of the experiences of so many under-resourced communities around the world in that it is facing increasingly acute pressures stemming from climate change. Not only does this region face water shortages and intense heat, it is also situated on the banks of the Salton Sea—a body of water that is rapidly shrinking because of climate change, and, which, as it shrinks, releases toxic dust, long submerged under its waters, into the air, creating a grave public health challenge.
This public space project has become the first of its kind in this region: a purpose-built public space that provides the community with an inclusive and equitable place to gather. Based on the success of this one project, it has also become a replicable model for the region (the architect is now working on a series of other community-based public spaces nearby).
Highly trafficked from the very beginning, its visitor numbers have steadily increased since opening. The pavilion designed and built as a venue for cultural performance has become a galvanizing image for the community and the site of countless performances, community meetings, and informal gatherings.
A local women-led food co-op, which was a project partner, has used the new park not only to provide nutritious food options, but also as a way to create income-earning opportunities. A local youth-led bicycle repair organization, also based in the public space, provides a safe, skills-building activity for youth and enhances sustainable mobility options for the community.