Group Project Design Connect: Ernie Davis Park Redesign

  • Paige Barnum, M.R.P. 2017
    Grace Cheng, B.Arch. 2021
    Kenzi Dignes, B.S. HA 2017
    Liz Fabis, M.L.A. 2019
    David French, M.L.A. 2018
    Aubree Jones, B.S. URS 2019
    Dina Kagener, 2017
    Luyao Kong, M.L.A. 2018
    Gaylord Minnet, B.S. URS 2017
    Isaiah Murray, B.S. URS 2017
    Nate Revor, B.S. URS 2020
    Zach Small, M.R.P. 2018
    Tim Vhay, 2017
    Esther Xie, B.S. URS 2020
    Vivian Zou, M.R.P. 2018
  • Instructor

    Michael Tomlan

The City of Elmira worked with a Design Connect team to create a conceptual site plan for the redesign of Ernie Davis Park and to assist in building community enthusiasm and consensus around a shared vision of the site. Based on feedback gained during site visits, community meetings, stakeholder interviews, and from youth and adult survey responses, the goal was to create a new vision for the park that meets the community's desire for a more usable, safe, and multi-generational recreational space that commemorates the neighborhood's history and the life of Ernie Davis.

The City of Elmira is located in Chemung County, New York, and according to a U.S. Census Bureau estimate in 2015, has a population estimated at 28,200. The park is located within the boundaries of Slabtown, a neighborhood founded in the 1840s by African Americans fleeing slavery on the Underground Railroad. Slabtown was demolished when the neighboring John W. Jones Court apartment building was constructed in the 1950s. After sitting vacant for years, the Jones Court building has been proposed as a redevelopment site as housing for veterans and low-income residents. The city is seeking a redesign of the park to continue to fuel interest and investment in the neighborhood. Ernie Davis (1939–63) was the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy, college football's highest honor. Residing in Elmira during his teenage years, he got his start playing sports nearby at the Economic Opportunity Program (EOP). which now is located at the Ernie Davis Community Center adjacent to this site. Tragically, he was diagnosed with leukemia at age 23 and passed away before he had a chance to make his debut in professional football. A statue of Ernie Davis had previously been located at the neighboring school (now Finn Academy) but was moved to the city in 2016, a decision that the community strongly opposed.

The design elements incorporated in the plan include:

  • Improved user experience with increased shade, seating, and a quarter-mile walking loop
  • Strengthened pedestrian connections to neighboring sites through traffic calming and pedestrian safety measures
  • Pavilion honoring the site's connection to Slabtown by emulating slab-style architecture. The pavilion can double as a stage for events such as Elmira's Juneteenth celebration, which is held annually on the site and draws 1,200 attendees
  • A new Ernie Davis statue and additional commemorative elements, including opportunities for murals and interpretative signage
  • Naturalistic, all-ages play structures to replace the existing deteriorating playground equipment
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