Zona de Juego (Play Zone)

Zona de Juego
De Zavala Park, Houston, TX
600’ long
Sidewalk graphic

Year Completed: November 2013

Project Partners:
Design Team: University of Houston College of Architecture Community Design Resource Center
Project Owner: City of Houston Parks and Recreation Department

Project Partner: Community Transformation Initiative at the Houston Department of Health and Human Services
Other Partners: De Zavala Elementary School, Magnolia Park Civic Club, National Endowment for the Arts

Project Summary: The Zona de Juego (Play Zone) project is situated in the heart of Magnolia Park, one of Houston’s oldest Hispanic neighborhoods. Home to nearly 20,000 residents, Magnolia Park’s residents have a median household income of approximately $28,000. The neighborhood was a point of focus for Community Design Resource Center at the University of Houston, because statistically, its residents had elevated risks for heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and stroke. Magnolia Park residents, for example, are twice as likely as Houston residents to suffer from diabetes. These staggering health indicators pointed to the need for more active lifestyles; and so, the “Collaborative Community Design Initiative” partnership was created to develop community interventions that promoted healthier living habits. Zona de Juego was one of the projects to grow out of this partnership, in collaboration with Magnolia Park residents, community leaders, stakeholders, and the Houston Department of Health and Human Services’ Community Transformation Initiative. Zona de Juego is now widely used by both local residents as well as the local elementary school and has been successful in encouraging active play and reinforcing lessons from the classroom.

The Community Design Resource Center began the project by developing a plan on how to improve the lives of those who used the local, De Zavala Park, without the typical budget and inventory of urban developers and contractors. Because the park was populated with children and adults alike, they resolved to create a 600’ long painted supergraphic that provided an inviting zone for active play, learning, and celebration of the local history. While it was understood that painted sidewalks would not be the panacea for neighborhood revitalization, the introduction of such extensive zones of color nevertheless had a transformative effect on the community. The bright forms create stark visual links between the otherwise disjointed De Zavala Elementary School and De Zavala Park, as well as between the bordering streets.

Today, the Zona de Juego serves as an additional play space for the elementary school students and local residents throughout the day. The supergraphic creates spaces for active games like hopscotch and four square, but are also interspersed with large alphabets, measurement tables, and a bilingual historical timeline that encourages children to learn. It is exactly this versatility of function that makes the Zona de Juego supergraphic a dynamic and inviting environment for active play.

Active Design Highlights
Zona de Juego's innovative strategies include:

  • transforming a sidewalk into a space for both everyday commuting as well as active play and learning for local students.
  • strengthening the visual interest of the sidewalk and providing marked walking paths to promote way finding, targeted to pedestrians and bicyclists.
  • acting as an inviting recreational space that complements the local cultural preferences and accommodates a range of age groups.
  • using a budget of $2,000, the project transformed a sidewalk into a creative and activity-promoting venue for play, community collaboration, and gathering.

The Zona de Juego provides a great example of a collaborative project, developed with a small budget, that promotes the health of local residents in a creative and beautiful manner.

  • User Side Images Image 403
    The supergraphic's central location makes it an important communal crossroads for the neighborhood; Image courtesy of Community Design Resource Center.
  • User Side Images Image 405
    Zona de Juego shows how a painted sidewalk has the strong capacity for user interactivity; Photo courtesy of Community Design Resource Center.
  • User Side Images Image 406
    Important local historical events are chronicled throughout the graphic, cultivating a sense of celebration and pride for the neighborhood; Photo courtesy of Community Design Resource Center.