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Reflections on the Burtonsville Placemaking Festival

The Burtonsville Placemaking Festival was a recurring dream for one particular resident; in fact, co-Block Captain Sara Jensen could pinpoint the exact moment of inspiration. During a volunteer workshop, Sara pulled out her phone to show us a list of goals she wrote for the back to 2015 after another Better Block event! Halfway through the festival, she was thrilled to say we had accomplished every single item on the list.

Burtonsville is a town about halfway between Baltimore and Washington DC. The site that was chosen was the mostly vacant Burtonsville Crossing Shopping Center, a place with a lot of history in the hearts of older residents. To the younger generations, however, it’s simply a roomy parking lot that is good for burnouts smack dab in the center of town.

Utilizing community input, we began designing a layout for the Burtonsville Placemaking Festival. The main goal of the festival was to rally the community together around a common space for people of all ages. Creating a pathway for pedestrians through acres of space was an important starting point. We painted a large, geometric ground mural on the asphalt, creating nooks framed by pine and spruce and made cozy with fire pits. In order to create points of interest along the pathway, we placed a beer garden, performance stage, clusters of vendor tents and candy-colored Hollywood letters marking out various sport courts and games.

Prior to our arrival in Burtonsville, the community had already proven that it was the heart of the festival, and the volunteer workshops proved to be no exception. Our first morning, we had dozens of volunteers show up bright and early. Throughout the rest of the week, we painted the ground, hung string lights and public art, and did all manner of creative projects in between. A core group of carpenters took on the task of a design-built skateboard park. Local students joined us in organizing games and painting signs. People of all walks of life and abilities joined to roll up their sleeves and make a physical change to their neighborhood. In Burtonsville, the Better Block team found a support network ready to help with everything from hardware store runs to assembling paper lanterns. We found ourselves at the end of each workshop with a long list of crossed-off tasks and a bunch of tired, happy, hopeful people.

Support came from all directions. From the county, we borrowed athletic equipment, oversized games, trees, picnic tables, and signage among countless other things. Ultrabase came out to demonstrate their low-impact turf fields for futsal and soccer. Meadows Nursery donated plants, hay, and decorative fall mums to the entryway. The traffic garden designed by our co-Block Captain, Sebastian Smoot, was a hit, teaching kids about complete streets. We enjoyed a full, diverse line-up of local talent thanks to our programming coordinator, Debra Adkins. Angelica Gonzalez was instrumental in including local K-9 units, mounted police, and even a vintage fire engine, and Sara was the first person to take the lighting design of the festival to the next level, literally.

The Burtonsville Placemaking Festival was an unequivocal success. In the first hour alone, we had counted 562 attendees. Overall, around 3,500 Burtonsville residents turned out in droves to demonstrate the desire for activated public space in the center of town. Nearly every person we spoke with asked a version of the question, “What’s next for Burtonsville?” Although the ground mural washed away with the first rain, it is clear that residents all agree on their desire for “place”. Places to belong, to relax, to play, to celebrate, and to grow closer.


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