Pop-Up Hangout Brings Summer Fun to Vacant Lot in Slavic Village

Teens work on a collage as part of Literary Lots, a summer pop-up for kids and families.
Teens work on a collage as part of Literary Lots, a summer pop-up for kids and families. [Carrie Wise / ideastream]
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Books can inspire lofty ideas, and one has come to life in Slavic Village as a pop-up summer hangout.

Cattycorner from a few car sales lots on Union Ave there’s a Literary Lot.

This previously vacant lot was transformed into a space for kids and families for reading, crafts, music and movie nights.

 “It’s like a pop-up book,” said Shyair Smith, a teen working at the lot.

What was an overgrown field is now set up to be a community hub inspired by “The Wild Robot,” a book by Peter Brown.

“It's sort of reimagining urban space, not just aesthetically but in a way that engages the community in a different way,” said Peter Debelak, one of the organizers and a co-founder of Soulcraft Woodshop in Cleveland.

Debelak shared his expertise in woodworking with several teens to construct scenery inspired by the book, such as trees, caves and mountains.

Teens created these caves for reading inspired by "The Wild Robot" book by Peter Brown. [Carrie Wise\ideastream]

“It is about an A.I., a robot, that's stranded on a desert island,” Debelak said. “He's in this new space, and he just wants to connect with the environment and the beings around him, all the animals on the island, and they want nothing to do with him.”

The book is a launch pad for art and writing activities that consider themes of bullying and belonging, but visitors can choose their own adventures, too. There’s an area for musical performances, folding tables for crafts and a makerspace with 3-D printing.

These 3-D printed robots were made in the on-site makerspace. [Carrie Wise/ideastream]

“We sort of built just a stage and there’s scheduled and planned programming, but it’s also... a platform for the community to take advantage of in any way,” Debelak said.

More than a dozen area groups and organizations provide daily programming ranging from writing workshops with Lake Erie Ink to hip-hop nights with Refresh Collective. 

The effort to launch this is truly grassroots. With a few grants and crowd funding, Peter teamed up with Kauser Razvi, who conceived of the idea for Literary Lots several years ago.

“I would drive around to meetings and work and life things, and I'd pass vacant lots. And I thought like, ‘wouldn't it be awesome if you could turn this lot into a Dr. Seuss book with Truffula trees?’”

She launched the concept on a smaller scale in 2013 in Ohio City and revived it this year in Slavic Village.

“Because of construction and things it's a neighborhood that's a little bit torn up from an access standpoint,” Razvi said. 

This iteration of Literary Lots launched in mid-July and is open daily until August 11. So far community attendance has varied from many people at some times and no one at other times. The organizers admit that’s a challenge of this pop-up project.

“I think there's a lot of potential. And you just need to keep working," Razvi said. "Creative endeavors are our work, and I don't mind doing the work. We'll just have to assess how it goes this year.”

A larger-than life robot constructed by artist Tim Willis anchors the space. [Carrie Wise\ideastream]

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