In Lexington, Kentucky, where summer temperatures exceed 27C for most of June, July and August, hot days are plentiful. Families had been breaking the rules by playing in the public fountains in Thoroughbred Park – but rather than penalising residents, the city council decided to listen to them.
In Gehl Studio conducted a public space survey for city and discovered a latent demand for family-friendly outdoor space, in particular for play and water. The following summer a pop-up water fountain was installed on the grass of nearby Northeastern Park, and its impact was transformative.
Dubbed SplashJAM, the temporary installation drew people from across the city. Along with a dancing water fountain there were picnic tables, beach umbrellas, and on-site changing rooms and toilets with accessibility ramps.
People flocked to the area: they walked and drove, brought coolers with food and drink, sat under umbrellas, and watched their kids play. People who had never visited the park found a reason to be there. People met their neighbours.
Daytime visitor numbers to the park almost tripled, with 80% of visitors having never or rarely been there before. Before the experiment most park visitors came from within a five-block radius. The city is looking to replicate the project’s success in other parks.