Dance and Design at 289 Derby

Kylie Sullivan of Main Streets engages people at the information table – get your postcard! and Michael Jaros engages people walking by and gets them to participate

This is part 1 of 5 posts documenting the Community Engagement Process for a new public space at 289 Derby. The City of Salem, Salem Public Space Project and Creative Salem welcome the community to participate in an exciting and innovative approach to placemaking. After a public process, CBA Landscape Architects of Cambridge became the primary designers with Salem Public Space Project and Creative Salem working as local leaders tasked with managing the community engagement / schematic design for the parcel.


We wrote down suggestions from the chalkboard wall and voted on the favorites!

Your Feedback

I was surprised that, from over 50 suggestions written on the chalkboard wall, the most popular by far was: “Botanical Garden with open space for education, music, dance.” As I talked to dozens of people over the course of the first Community Design Event, and later as I sifted through all the community input, the winning idea began to make sense: people generally want some variation of “gathering” in some sort of “green space.” What type of gathering and in what kind of green space is different for different people. The desire for multiple potential activities (reflecting plural communities) is exactly what is offered by a “Botanical Garden with open space for education, music, dance.” This suggestion implies that this would be an open space for a variety of activities, surrounded by greenery that is of greater interest, and perhaps meaning, than the standard grass-and-tree landscape.

For the first event, we requested feedback to understand the values, scope, and general feel of the public space people wanted most at 289 Derby. We used a variety of engagement tactics from on-site to on-line. Over 50 people provided trackable written feedback, and over 100 attended the event, while some wrote suggestions on the chalkboard in the days leading up to the event. The information gleaned below will serve as as we move forward with the design. You can access all the data by here.

Top Input from Week 1 of Community Design Engagement in the Placemaking of 289 Derby

A Brief History of 289 Derby

Late last year, the City of Salem bought what has been known as “The Carnival Lot.” The City Council was persuaded to vote in favor of purchasing the lot for a new public space by countless testimonies from nearby residents, restaurant owners, and even the Chief of Police who cited improved safety: more “eyes on the park” would result from a well-used public space. Creating a new, centrally located, and iconic public space is incredibly exciting. Even more exciting is the prospect of involving the multiple communities that make the actual design.

People wrote their answers on the Doors of Engagement

Our Design Process for 289 Derby

In typical park design, the larger community gets involved only after a couple plan options have already been developed with primary stakeholders. At 289 Derby, the process is turned on its head: we are outside and open to the boundless – sometimes silly, often thoughtful – suggestions of the myriad people walking on Derby Street.

Local dancers engage participants of all ages

Our first event – Dance & Design at 289 Derby – featured four local dance groups that danced and made music in different locations. First, kids danced with Thrance as adults watched; then everyone drummed in a circle right on the edge of the water and watched African dancing; we then watched Sarah Slifer Swift engage the entire space through bold movements; we finally ended with a fun and frenzied Scottish jig.

We were so happy to showcase talented local artists engaging people in dance across ages and genres: Thrance, Greg Coles Dance and Drum, Sarah Slifer Swift, and the Scottish Dancers around Salem since 1974! Their participation strongly suggests their desire to help produce spaces for community and creativity – they all agreed to participate with short notice and a bare-bones infrastructure. Each performance transformed the space. They helped us imagine. At the end of the evening, we unanimously voted for a dance and performance space right on the water.

Images of other public spaces to stimulate your imagination

While some people danced, many more watched. The seemingly small infill plot of land seemed much larger when people walked around its extents. On two occasions we counted over 65 people, but we aren’t entirely sure how many came. We wanted to provide an opportunity for people to come for five minutes or stay for a couple hours; we wanted them to engage on their own terms, in their own way. We collected postcards, votes on favorite images and chalkboard suggestions, and provided input on the “Doors of Engagement.”

A spontaneous paddle-boarder just as someone said – “You can’t paddle-board there!” and many people gather under the shade of the lone tree to chat.

During the event, Clara Batchelor and DJ Chagnon of CBA Landscape Architects noticed that “The most common adjectives that came across from talking to people looking at precedent pictures for the space at 289 Derby were shade, soft, and green. People often pointed to pictures and said, “I like the trees.” or “I like the shade (from the tree).” Many people also liked pictures of lawn or pictures that had areas that were densely planted.” People’s actions seemed to align with these comments: before the dancing began, most people gathered on the north-west corner under the shade cast by a sidewalk tree. The space is surrounded by mainly concrete. Generally, people rested or walked along the edges, staying away from the broad, shadeless middle. Kids fully took over the stumps arranged in circles and semicircles showing that for the young, a playground is much more expansive than the typical plastic stock.

289 Derby from across the South River during high tide on Saturday May 27th as volunteers paint more stumps for seating.

If you came to the event, or even happened to see 289 Derby, you will notice that it has already been a little transformed. We transformed the lot through temporary means with the help of numerous people over the course of 10 frenzied days. Read on for a short description of what it took!

Public Art Planner Deborah Greel helped us get the Mural Slam 2016 artworks from Artists’ Row to the lot: it was a synchronistic moment since they needed to come down and make way for Mural Slam 2017 happening June 3-4 for this year’s Salem Arts Festival. Tim Clarke, who owns the masonry building adjacent to the lot organized for his crew to put up the mural panels. Waters and Brown donated paint and helped in myriad ways. The City of Salem leveled the lot, brought in almost 40 stumps harvested from dying trees, brought in tables and chairs, and so much more. The kids from Plummer Youth Promise helped paint the stumps, doors, and chalkboard stencils. Tim Haigh of Bambolina helped erect our two engagement walls. A community member dropped off more paint. The Electrical Department hooked up the electricity for music, and helped upcycle the pinwheels from last year’s Move With Me community art project. Just an hour before the event, Jason Rice of Zybodrone wandered onto the lot as we were setting up and asked if he could film the event with his drone, which he did! A family with their kids came to paint the remaining stumps. We have met so many people during the site preparations. This sort of spontaneous interactions are critical to including people in the planning of 289 Derby, and generally opening up the planning process.

With almost 50 responses to our space survey online and on-site, and over a hundred people coming out for the first event, we are so grateful to everyone who participated! Meet&Share at 289 Derby, from 5-7pm on Wedensday May 31 will feature a round-table discussion of all the input from the first event and the priorities of local residents, restaurants, and organizations. Please join!

TidalShift: Plastic in our Oceans…?

The thought of a school of jellyfish flying above your head as you walk down the street may seem strange, surreal… simply not right.

If we suspend what we already know about trash in oceans, we would think it equally bizarre for a bunch of disparate plastic items from grocery bags to bendy straws to surf on waves and populate our waters.

But we know that “275 million metric tons (MT) of plastic waste was generated in 192 coastal countries in 2010, with 4.8 to 12.7 million MT entering the ocean.” So perhaps a school of flying jellyfish among the summer foliage isn’t so odd…?

For this year’s Salem Arts Festival, we are creating hundreds of jellyfish from used plastic bags because….

…. sea turtles and other marine life regularly mistake plastic bags for their food, including jellyfish!

… Salem has adopted plastic bag reduction legislation that will take effect on January 1, 2018 and we want to spread the word about its significance! Perhaps the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts can join in the clean-up effort!

Salem Public Space Project has partnered with Salem Sound Coast Watch and From the Bow Seat to use art to communicate the need for this shift from convenience to caring. Since last November we have been creating jellyfish across Salem in schools, museums, cafes, and our studio at 10 Derby Square.

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In the ocean, jellyfish are fascinating creatures animated through their hypnotic movement, as observed at the New England Aquarium. On May 31 we will install a canopy of jellyfish over Front Street. How will these plastic-bag jellyfish move in the breeze? What will they communicate? A Tidal Shift?

Join one of our workshops to make USED plastic-bag jellyfish and let’s brainstorm how we can help spread the reduction of plastic use so that plastic in our oceans won’t grow! 

Extended – Call for Writers

Salem Public Space Cards: an artful gaze onto our shared public spaces.

Over a dozen local photographers have chosen and photographed a public space meaningful to them. What will their image inspire you to write about a place that you know or discover in your own way?

Cards will feature a public space photo and a poem/ written reflection inspired by the photo on the other. To be launched and for sale at the Salem Arts Festival, 2017. The Public Space Cards will be packaged with a map of all locations. All proceeds will go towards recovering production cost and then divided equally among participants. (Cost TBD)

Call for Salem Poets and Writers!


Over a dozen local photographers have chosen and photographed a public space meaningful to them. What will their image inspire you to write about a place that you know or discover in your own way?

Cards will feature a public space photo and a poem/ written reflection inspired by the photo on the other. To be launched and for sale at the Salem Arts Festival, 2017. The Public Space Cards will be packaged with a map of all locations. All proceeds will go towards recovering production cost and then divided equally among participants. (Cost TBD)

Poetry/prose submission Deadline: March 11, 2017

MAX LENGTH: 100 words / 12 lines

TO PARTICIPATE: Send a writing sample to salempublicspaceproject[at] and we’ll get you started! 

Pedestrian Mall Walking Tour

Peabody Museum in 1971... surrounded by cars! (photo by John F Collins, courtesy of the John F Collins Society)

Peabody Museum in 1971… surrounded by cars! (photo by John F Collins, courtesy of the John F Collins Society)

How well do you know your Pedestrian Mall?

It’s all tied together in surprising and wonderful ways… On Sunday, January 29th, join us for a free walking tour of the Pedestrian Mall and East India Square fountain, led by The Collins Society! Come take an afternoon walk with us filled with historic photographs, facts, and the great vision behind this central pedestrian spine of our city.

Beginning at the Old Town Hall (32 Derby Square) at 2 pm, we will highlight all of Collins contributions to Salem’s downtown area. We invite all Salemites to attend!

For additional details, please visit

East India Fountain 1976, photo by John F Collins, Landscape Architect, from the John F Collins Society

East India Fountain 1976, photo by John F Collins, Landscape Architect, from the John F Collins Society

289 Derby St: Let’s Invest in a Lot


From Carnival to Parking Lot to….? What would YOU do with 289 Derby Street?

Well, the Carnival has been over for weeks, and 289 Derby Street is once more a parking lot. But, it could be a lot more. Should it be private development or public space? Public Space, of course!

The following is from my letter to Salem Councilors in support of the Carnival Lot for public use:

I am writing again in support of acquiring the 289 Derby Street lot for public use. When I first moved to Salem, I conducted informal surveys at the 2011 Farmers Market asking why people moved to Salem, since I seemed to be meeting many newcomers like me. Almost all said they love the walkability of Salem. Although anecdotes are plentiful, hard data is harder to come by to show the great economic benefit over time of good, useful, public spaces. Downtown Salem’s footprint is slowly enlarging with new development towards the Point and 1A; 289 Derby Street lot would be one of the largest such public spaces and serve as a great public amenity in what is quickly becoming the expanded center of our city.


As new places open to the South River, Carnival Street Lot would be a great amenity, and a welcome relief for future density.

The acquisition of the lot for public use would be a wise long-term investment for Salem; the ultimate cost is worth it for our investment in our public realm that could be a wonderful, democratic gathering space for all people, in view of the Point on one side, and the bustling downtown on the other, next to a currently neglected but changing waterfront. As a local architect and community artist, I am committed to an expanded and inclusive public realm that is useful, innovative, and beautiful – a worthy and worthwhile amenity to our city.

In our seemingly divided and siloed nation, public spaces offering access to public amenities, beauty, festivals, performances, art, community, and a place for conversation are increasingly important. We need more spaces where we can come together with those of different ideologies but an essential shared humanity.

Will you support the acquisition of 289 Derby Street for public use? Write your Councilors!

Read Mayor Driscoll’s OpEd here

Read from some of the Council concerns on the acquisition here

A Rare Public Space Opportunity in Salem


The Carnival Lot from across the South River – taken October 24, 2016 – in hyperactivity two weeks each year.

The Salem City Council has some important Public Space business on the Agenda for tonight’s meeting (10/25 @ 7pm): 289 Derby Street (aka The Carnival Lot) could become one of the newest and most exciting Public Spaces in town.

The Carnival Lot is named for the two weeks in October that it is used as a carnival – like right now! The otherwise empty parcel  is the most significant Public Space Opportunity for the City of Salem in years. The $1.4 million acquisition of the lot appears affordable as a bond order and an annual payment through the Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding, roughly at 12.5% of the total CPA yearly capacity.


View from Congress Street bridge shows the possibility to activate both the Harbor Walk and the South River.

As a city, we have the opportunity to create a vital public space in the center of town that connects to so many community desires that I could write a list longer than you’d care to read. Here are 7 main points:

  • The Carnival Lot is a unique space in the city that can be a gathering space at the intersection of downtown, a thriving commercial corridor, the Point neighborhood, part of the Harbor Walk, and waterside access, all within a dense urban context.
  • Unlike any other public space in Salem, the proportion of the space creates an ideal outdoor room. Up the road, Derby Square functions as our historic “living room.” The Carnival Lot is also defined by masonry buildings on two sides, but has the bustling activity of Derby Street at one pedestrian entrance, and the South River on the other to create the feel of a true urban “front porch” with unique uses, such as “Seaside Cinema” perhaps?
  • The Carnival Lot is a crucial anchor space to facilitate the realization of the South River Harbor Walk as a complete loop that connects across neighborhoods and offers a unique connection to a waterway in the middle of our city. Without this space, the walkway will lack a space for gathering that will create a place, rather than only a walk.
  • The lot offers a unique connection to the South River that symbolically (and perhaps literally!) can bridge across to one of our most dynamic and undervalued neighborhood, The Point.
  • The lot as a public space can connect for water activities on the currently underused South River.
  • The lot itself provides unique opportunities for pedestrian connections, much like the most endearing public spaces in the city from the Essex Street mall and the myriad alleys to the Ropes Mansion Garden to new trails (from rails), a unique pedestrian system of getting through the city enables the robust foot traffic that makes for active, safe, and useful spaces.
  • We have the opportunity to truly “Still Make History” by creating one of the most beautiful, exciting, and dynamic river walks in the state.

One of the most exciting aspects of acquiring The Carnival Lot is the potential for a genuine on-site, public process of what to do with it! Salem Public Space Project imagines great public gatherings exploring possibilities, experiments in the space with temporary notions, conversations about everyone’s ideas from stewardship and ecology to food-trucks and theater…. yes, we imagine and advocate an all-inclusive, all out, participatory process! That is our dream and hope for The Carnival Lot: both its process of becoming and the gathering space we create together will constitute a beautiful and forward thinking legacy of urban design and public space in Salem.


Off Derby Street, the public space can be a “front porch” for the city connecting downtown to the South River.

From Flatbread to Notch, to new businesses across the street and river, the adjacent activity makes The Carnival Lot’s emptiness even more conspicuous. The alternative of an eventual built development (like condos, let’s say) would detract from the value of the location to the surrounding businesses, as well as the public. A novel, vital public space complements and adds real value to the existing and growing density.

Write your Councilor if you support the Public Space Opportunity and / or attend the meeting at City Hall, tomorrow October 25 at 7pm.

Get moving!!

Get moving!!