There are dozens of vacant lots scattered around Central Phoenix, each of which are eyesores strewn with dirt, broken glass, and broken dreams. And if it were up to Dorina Bustamante and her cohorts, every last one of 'em would become beautiful public spaces filled with art and greenery.
They've already transformed the Ro2 lot at Second and Roosevelt streets, which has been given a makeover of green grass, benches, and a colossal blue wooden public art piece created by ASU students and entitled Peritoneum.
The freestanding "organic shade and seating sculpture" is the centerpiece of the verdant pop-up park (which is adjacent to MonOrchid and will hold its opening reception tonight) and a perfect example of how vacant properties can become temporary oases via short-term improvements and art work, Bustamante says.
She readily admits that rolling out a carpet of green grass in the scorching summertime might seem a bit crazy, but it's a sure-fire way to grab people's attention. And its definitely been turning the heads of passers-by.
What once was a dirt lot is now a grass-covered space surrounded by tall boxed trees and dominated by the towering blue Peritoneum sculpture. Isaac Caruso's stunning orchid and butterfly mural on the neighboring also provides an eye-catching backdrop
"When there's more greenery and art around - like public art - it can eliminate eyesores and fill in vacant lots to improve our city," she says. "So we've created this little oasis in a pop-up park where people are least expect it: In the summer. We have the audacity to plant grass in the and put in sprinklers and bring in trees and create this amenity."
The creation of the park and the use of the sculpture, which will be in place through the beginning of the fall, are the result of a community improvement project called "The Lot: What Should Go Here?" that Bustamante helped spearhead.
Revitalizing vacant spaces throughout downtown Phoenix is a particular passion for Bustamante, so she organized the project in 2011 and approached Ro2 owner and local architect Mike Davis about transforming the acre-sized lot into something more useful than a patch of dirt.
Bustamante says she conducted six months of interviews with downtown residents -- as well as sociologist and sustainability advocate Andrew Ross (author of last year's Phoenix-focused tome Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World's Least Sustainable City) -- to determine what to do with the lot.
"A majority of people said they'd love to see a garden or a park or something of that nature," she says. "So based on their recommendations, it became the focus."
Bustamante has a tendency to get excited when speaking about the park, her words coming out a mile a minute when describing what she and the other members of "The Lot" envisioned when planning what they wanted to create.
"We thought, 'Let's have shade, let's bring in plant life, let's bring in public art that has that has lots of purposes, that is beautiful, that's functional, that's feeding, that creates more shade, that gives off a feeling of cool," Bustamante gushes.
Created by a team of five ASU design and landscape architecture students last summer for the X-Square competition -- an annual contest that involves creating art and landscaping to liven up outdoor spaces -- it consists of 45 laser-cut wooden pieces colored with weatherproof paint and resembling a rib-cage.
It's named after membrane surrounding the abdominal cavity, which Bustamante says is apt, since the sculpture "feels like you're walking through the belly of a dinosaur or a whale."
After Bustamante and Davis learned that Peritoneum was being dismantled after spending nine months on display at ASU's Tempe campus, they jumped at the chance to have it relocated to downtown Phoenix.
"[Valley preservationist] Jim McPherson told me that the sculpture was being taken down and was supposed to be sent to Fountain Hills. That deal fell through and the sculpture wasn't going to have a home," Bustamante says. "Jim thought it would work out perfectly for the park and so did we. It's shade, its public art, it stand for everything we were trying to implement."
Getting the sculpture moved downtown and installed was probably the least difficult challenge they faced with the project, she says. Bustamante has busted ass pulling things together in creating the park, including obtaining permits and approvals from various City of Phoenix agencies. She's practically got Mayor Greg Stanton on speed dial and has spent countless hours coordinating with such local companies as Edge Industries and Gothic Landscaping to donate products and services.
Bustamante says all the hassle has been worth it and has given her reason to celebrate tonight during the opening reception at the park. It's planned as a major party, which will feature performances by the Djentrification, Consumer C., and the other DJs of the monthly Civic Space Jam.
The five-person team who created Peritoneum (including landscape architect students Kyle Fiano and Erica MacKenzie, designers Josh Gallagher and illustrator Courtney Larsen) will also be on hand to discuss their work.
Bustamante says that plans are in the works for the park to host events through the end of summer, such as outdoor movie screenings and live music. Ultimately, however, she would like that it serves a greater purpose than just an attention-grabbing space or events venue.
At the very least, she hopes the park will inspire owners of other vacant lots to create similar projects even after Peritoneum and the rest of the amenities are removed by the fall.
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"This thing hasn't happened as fast as we would've liked and it's been a lot of work, but that's part of the learning process for the next group that attempts something like this," she says. "I know that everyone is really falling in love with the sculpture staying there, but the whole point is that we want to encourage private property owners to work with neighborhoods on projects like these," she says. "Do we want a vacant lot to stay vacant? Or do we want temporary beauty for a temporary period of time?"
The opening reception for Peritoneum takes place from 6-10 p.m., at 1005 North Second Street. Admission is free.