Cities are centers of activity and development with landscapes that reflect the ever-evolving pace of our lifestyles. The evolution of human activity is marked by the built environment we impose on the natural landscape. As the pace of societal change increased—whether from the horse to the car, the telegraph to the smartphone, the general store to the shopping malls—our built environments were molded to accommodate our latest lifestyle preferences. At some point along the way, we began to lose our relationship with open spaces and, consequently, our connection with one another.
As a group of recently graduated UNC-Chapel Hill students, we decided to move to Greensboro and join UNCG graduate David Myers to bring to life our dream of a more connected community.
Black Diamond: a Public Backyard aims to restore and rekindle these connections that our bustling lifestyles have neglected. Black Diamond is an emerging third space, a place where folks can engage, learn, and re-connect through outdoor activities in a casual atmosphere. We’re located between two Greensboro neighborhoods, along the edge of downtown and directly adjacent to the future Downtown Greenway.
We are creating a place that encourages people to slow down and reconnect in ways that are meaningful to them. Whether it be through gardening, music, art, yoga or potluck dinners—our public backyard provides people the resources they need to reconnect with one another and their environment. On a larger scale, we see our public backyard as part of a growing movement that is recapturing and redefining the value of open spaces as third spaces.
Third spaces are public places on neutral ground in a community where people can gather and interact. In contrast, the first and second spaces are home and work. Third spaces host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gathers of individuals. While these spaces have typically been defined as coffee shops, bars or sidewalks, the growing third space movement is being translated to open urban spaces.
Although open space is limited in many cities, what these third urban spaces lack in acreage, they make up for in terms of social value. Since many first and second spaces operate within our fast paced lifestyles, they subsequently encourage the development of our built environments, and often at the expense of open space. The value in redefined third spaces is that they operate outside of fast paced lifestyles and encourage the preservation of open spaces.
We moved to Greensboro because we see in these almost two acres of land the opportunity to reimagine what urban living is. Greensboro is affordable, culturally diverse, centrally located in North Carolina, relatively walkable and bikeable, and has preserved much of its greenery. Like-minded people and projects are popping up all around the city, such as Greensboro Project Space and Forge Greensboro! The people, their projects and the 5 Universities in the city amount to a fertile environment for collaborations.
Since arriving in May we have begun collaborating with a Guilford College student to build garden beds, an Appalachian State University student who is a Greensboro native for his capstone project, a UNCG researcher to install beehives, and both The Arc of Greensboro and The Arc of High Point for a community-based art project on our fence. We are also in search of donations to build a stage and a shaded area. Ultimately, we are using this space to creatively and critically engage our community.
About the authors:
Gray Johnston was born and raised in Greensboro. As a recent graduate from UNC Chapel Hill with a BA in Environmental Policy, the idea of coming back home to work on a project related to the environment and community planted a seed in his head. After studying sustainable city design in Spain and Germany, Gray was inspired to pursue all of his passions and desires to live a sustainable life. He now works as an editor for Climate Stories NC, a multimedia storytelling project about North Carolinians whose lives have been affected by changes in the climate.
Thais Weiss was born and raised in Brazil and immigrated to the United States with her family in 2005. She is a recent UNC-Chapel Hill graduate with a double major in Global Studies and Geography. Thais has developed a strong interest in sustainable development and communities. In 2015, she traveled to Spain and Germany to study renewable energy and sustainable city design. Aside from being a member of Black Diamond, Thais is Administrative Assistant for the Global Engagement at UNC-Greensboro.
Molly Fisher is a recent graduate from UNC Chapel Hill where she studied geology and history. After studying sustainable cities abroad in Spain and Germany, Molly has become interested in the development of ecologically-minded communities. In addition to her work with Black Diamond, Molly is a Process Improvement & Quality Specialist for Classic Graphics, a manufacturing company in Charlotte.