Our winning project focused on reimagining a small chunk of the Watchung Plaza District (highlighted in the image below) that runs along Watchung Ave from in front of Local Coffee (a popular local coffee shop) a nearby gazebo that is a sheltered bus stop. It’s ideal because it is the face of the park and will get the most views from everyone that comes by. We call it “Watchung Plaza Plaza” because, in the end, we are essentially creating a mini-plaza in Watchung Plaza. We want our plaza plazato become a destination plus help make pedestrians feel comfortable. We see our small plaza as a test path to reboot Watchung that will allow us to engage the community and learn how they would like to transform this amazing public space.
If you live in Montclair, you know. But if you live in a neighboring town, you likely haven't heard of it. The Watchung Plaza District is situated almost exactly in the middle of Montclair. Though it is centrally located, the area hasn’t reached its potential. It has a train station, a park, established businesses and a growing group of families moving to the area. It should feel alive and vibrant, but the district doesn’t feel very connected. The park is cut in half by train tracks. The shops and the park don’t seem to communicate very well. Traffic in the area makes walkers and bicyclists feel unsafe. Many have called the crosswalks “dangerous”. The street- and landscape are outdated and engineered versus contemporary and designed. That’s a shame too. Watchung Plaza has great bones! There are established businesses full of friendly people. There’s a train station at the edge of the park. Tons of new families are moving into the surrounding area. The entire area from Midland Ave and Park St to Fullerton Ave and Fairfield St (an area we call Watchung District) could be an awesome example for more eco-friendly, livable Montclair.
Our project is simple (pictured above). We want to paint the sidewalk, build a bench, paint the gazebo, plant a bunch of native plants and invite people to dream about the future. We don’t just want to paint the sidewalk though. We want to create a pattern of divine lines that snake from the corner of Watchung Ave and Watchung Plaza all the way to the gazebo bus stop. These new lines will reimagine the existing crosswalk, and we hope it will make it safer. The new bench will be places exactly where there’s a need for a little more sitting – right next to the existing flagpole. There’s already a bench in front of Local Coffee, so we want to paint it and the new bench…and have them match the new paint job of the gazebo. These different elements all the same color will be a visual cue they are of the same place. All of the plants will be native and attract butterflies and birds to the space. They will start blooming in spring and keep going into the fall adding texture and color nearly all year round. But all of this is just a first step, and really just a design-y way to get people talking.
We want our plaza plaza to be a starting point to get a much bigger conversation going about the future of the entire district. Because ultimately, we want to completely rethink & redesign all of the Watchung District through a master planning process where we bring more art, nature and love to the space. Our plaza plaza is our big idea concentrated into a few square feet. But we’ve learned that with passion and care, a small concept can grow and grow and grow.
We've also learned that public projects like this take time and lots of hard work. We are already planning our next steps to make the idea a reality. We hope to announce an event and a workshop with the community in the coming weeks.