Things-I-Wish-I-Saw-on-the-Playground: Community Chalkboards

Charlottesville Virginia based  Siteworks won a competition for a First Amendment memorial with their low-tech public forum:  a 54 feet long by 7.5 feet high double-sided wall of local slate on which members of the public may express their views, in chalk, on any subject they choose.

“Located directly in front of Charlottesville’s City Hall and beside the city’s amphitheater, the monument consists primarily of a two-sided wall of Buckingham slate, approximately 54 feet long (108’ of writing space) by 7.5 feet high, on which members of the public may express their views, in chalk, on any subject they choose. Permanently inscribed on one segment of the wall is the text of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. On the immediate opposite side is the following quote by the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall:

“Above all else, the First Amendment means that government has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content. To permit the continued building of our politics and culture, and to assure self-fulfillment for each individual, our people are guaranteed the right to express any thought, free from government censorship.”

In addition, the monument’s design includes a podium intended to serve as a contemporary soapbox from which individuals may address both planned and impromptu public gatherings. Inscribed on the face of the podium is the following quote by poet John Milton:

“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”

With the completion of the monument in April 2006, the entire area outside City Hall became a First Amendment plaza unique among the cities of the United States — the “chalkboard” for written and artistic expression, the platform for verbal expression, and the amphitheater for musical expression.

The monument’s greatest strength lies in the fact it is both a fixed symbol of the right of free expression and a venue for the exercise of that right. Individuals use the chalkboard to express ideas both political and whimsical, to respond to ideas already on the wall, to convey messages to members of city government, and to create temporary works of art.” 

Text from the thomas jefferson center, images from Siteworks,

See also an  in-depth evaluation of the Community Chalkboard, including usage patterns by the Bruner Foundation, which gave it an award for urban excellence in 2006, specifically citing its ability to be replicated by other cities.

And, I think, playgrounds.


4 Responses to “Things-I-Wish-I-Saw-on-the-Playground: Community Chalkboards”

  1. kidmagnet said:

    A First Amendment Memorial Wall! They should be everywhere! And yes, on playgrounds. Love it.

    March 19, 2012 at 3:14 am

  2. Mike Lanza said:

    I've installed a neighborhood whiteboard in our front yard. We leave dry erase pens in a box outside all the time, so kids can draw on it whenever they want.

    March 14, 2012 at 10:27 pm

  3. Anna said:

    Yes, it's great idea. We used a chalkboard in one of our last projects, because youth on the workshop said to me: “We wish a graffiti wall. You know, washable graffiti, of course” 😉

    March 12, 2012 at 8:01 pm

  4. Jay said:

    I love the public chalkboard! I think it's a fantastic way to activate a public play space. While murals have their place, the temporal nature of chalk is so great as it creates a continually changing art piece. I too would like to see more of these.

    Design Dad

    March 09, 2012 at 9:29 pm

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