Editor's note: This post has been modified from its original version to reflect that the Vernon Avenue Pocket Park will open in fall of 2013, instead of March 2014.
Like many Phoenicians, Christiaan Blok and Laryn Callaway-Blok, the husband-and-wife team behind Shine Coffee, grew tired of seeing the dirt lot near their business remain a dirt lot, day after day. Unlike your average Phoenicians, the two decided to do something about it.
Enter the Vernon Avenue Pocket Park project, an independent design and concept for the historic Willo neighborhood that quickly gained momentum with the support of the City of Phoenix, Local First Arizona, and Valley residents through social media and the website Kickstarter.
Kickstarter encourages anyone with a viable idea to post projects and solicit donations from independent sponsors. Typically, contributions are coupled with incentives. In the case of the pocket park, those who pledged $500 or more (13 backers) will receive an invitation to the park's grand opening party, get their name on the website, and have a tree named after them, while those who gave $25 or more (104 backers) will receive an invitation and coffee for two, courtesy of Shine.
By creating a Kickstarter page to fund the project, Callaway-Blok, intentionally or not, also raised awareness of the ever-present dirt-lot problem throughout Phoenix.
As of their Sunday, September 29, deadline, and with the help of 312 unique backers via the crowd funding website, the project raised $23,160 -- over a thousand dollars more than the original goal of $22,000.
Currently, the dirt lot sits between buildings beside Shine's walk-up coffee bar and its new "living room" area featuring indoor seating at 10 West Vernon Avenue. Creating a pocket park, a scaled-down version of the Tuileries Garden in Paris, will not only bridge the two areas for coffee connoisseurs but also offer a quaint, outdoor destination for residents and visitors of the museum district.
The duo has enlisted the help of Kirby Hoyt, a landscape architect with Edge Industries, whose past projects include the 2007 renovation of Biltmore Fashion Park. Hoyt donated his design for the park, an idea centered on simple elegance through the use of thriving desert trees, a small lawn area, outdoor lighting and seating, and drip irrigation.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton tweeted Monday that the project will become the second location of PHX Renews, a joint effort between the city and the non-profit Keep Phoenix Beautiful, an offshoot of the nationwide Keep America Beautiful campaign.
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The first PHX Renews partnership brought public art and community gardens to Indian School Road and Central Avenue -- a venture that gained national attention in part because of a partnership with the International Rescue Committee and the opportunities for refugees to volunteer. PHX Renews now has a three-year lease on the lot in Steele Indian School Park, which had been vacant for 25 years.
The Vernon Avenue Pocket Park should take six weeks to complete after permits are obtained and demolition begins. It's slated to open this fall.
Shine Coffee will stay open during construction.