Power to the Playgrounds: The Wind-Up Garden

Chris Metcalf
Playground in Biloxi, Mississippi five months after Hurricane Katrina.

New Orleans is arguably the site of America’s first large-scale battle with climate change. Around the world, people don’t believe in climate change because of scientific consensus, they believe in it because they can see it happening around them. According to the Red Cross, climate refugees currently outnumber war refugees worldwide. In the United States we have thus far been spared the brunt of climate change impacts. However, we are starting to see climate change patterns similar to those happening around the world—particularly evident when Hurricane Katrina hit.

More recently, we have seen a direct catastrophe at the hands of nonrenewable energy acquisition, when on April 20, 2010, the BP oil well started gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. This has presented New Orleans with a huge challenge, but also with an opportunity. What will become of the hundreds of jobs that will inevitably be affected by a gulf full of oil? Where do we start when we were only just beginning to rebuild from a previous disaster?

This is where our project comes in. Power to the Playgrounds is a new initiative to build a playground with moving parts that harnesses kinetic motion, converting the human energy of play into usable mechanical power that can help irrigate and support a community garden.

Power to the Playgrounds will bring youth, community members and organizers, engineers and allied artists together to transform a damaged lot into a redesigned playground that will be both a safe public site and a source of free, fresh produce for the surrounding community. The people of New Orleans will determine the exact location. We seek to build an interactive sustainable community space that encourages civic engagement. It will be a space where community members can let their children play, access clean drinking water, and also manage the local water table at the same time.

The changing climate and our overdependence on fossil fuels call for innovative solutions to overconsumption, disenfranchisement of communities, and the hardships caused by these problems. We can choose to rebuild New Orleans sustainably and re-create it as a model city for community empowerment, or we can continue to neglect the issues that cities such as New Orleans face. It is time for the people of the United States to demand sustainability for all communities. We feel that our playgrounds in New Orleans are a good place to start.

As an organizer, this is my first experience with a building project. I have previously been involved with organizing around political issues. For me, however, the time has come to get to work—to create our own reality, to show we can provide for our communities in a just and sustainable way, and to help one of the oldest and most culturally relevant cities in America survive the destructive forces caused by our irresponsibility.