The lily pads were never simply art.
When the mural renewal at 10th Street Plaza is complete, its lily pads will be hopscotch-ready, arranged intentionally for children to leap and play.
Artist Chenlin Cai, who returned to his mural Sunday for a Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation-hosted community paint day, explained that the mural was meant to be both “educational and playable.”
The updated mural at 10th and Vine Streets will cover the plaza’s concrete tiles and feature play space, a neighborhood map and historical bites for people across ages, including tourists. The updated version is going to be larger and cover the whole plaza grounds. It covered only the sidewalk before.
The project is expected to be completed by late October.
“Everything they want to know about Chinatown? Probably we can give them some simple introduction,” Cai said.
The mural update is part of new effort to turn the area into a playground of sorts, but it’s also part of PCDC’s ongoing work to make the expressway that cuts through Chinatown a space where the community can still come together. The new plaza project, Chinatown PlayZa, comes with support from William Penn Foundation and Kaboom!, a national nonprofit that targets playground inequity.
Alex Gilliam, co-founder of the nonprofit Tiny WPA and designer of the plaza’s to-be-installed new seating, said one goal is to create a space that could be welcoming to different groups, such as elders, or people in the area who have no home, or youth of color who may not feel welcomed elsewhere.
Fostering intergenerational conversations, explained PCDC neighborhood planner and project manager Yue Wu, factored heavily into the design because many families in the neighborhood live with multiple generations in the same home. At times, language barriers exist between grandparents who play a role in caretaking and the children they look after. ”By putting icons and with bilingual game prompts … we’re encouraging this kind of intergenerational communication to let them know they share the same community and the same history,” Wu said.
Xin Li and her daughter Enya Su were both working on a koi fish Sunday afternoon. They had driven into Center City from North Wales for the paint day. Li called the event “very meaningful.”
There are a lot of things she loved about it. She loved seeing positive changes in the neighborhood. She loved that the mural comes in traditional Chinese style and signifies peace, harmony and treasure. She loved seeing positive changes in the neighborhood. ”It’s a good learning for my daughter, but also me, too,” Li said while crouching over a nearly painted koi.
“Usually, I’m [not really] involved with her painting, but this? I would love to come and paint with her. It’s really a good thing for the whole family, and for her culture, for her painting.”
Su, 13, appreciated the time to practice, and said she thinks the skills will serve her later, perhaps in other ways. ”I’m really happy to be able to participate and relax,” she said, holding a small bucket of marigold yellow paint, “And like paint and do art and work with so many people to coordinate in making the painting.”
Catherine Tien, 75, another student of Cai’s, drove in from Allentown with family. ”To gather, to be with grandkids, it’s a good experience,” she said. Tien and her daughter Hui Fu agreed that it was important for the children to be able to learn their roots. Even though Allentown doesn’t have a Chinatown, Tien explained of her grandchildren, “they know Chinatown.”