In Joplin, MO, a City Rebuilds as its Tornado-Ravaged Park is Restored

Last month, the Landscapes of Resilience team marked an important milestone in the process of creating a healing garden in Joplin, Missouri’s Cunningham Park. Nancy Falxa-Raymond (U.S. Forest Service) and Keith Tidball (Cornell University) joined a passionate group of architecture students and professors from Drury University. Led by Traci Sooter and Nancy Chikaraishi, the group constructed key elements of the Butterfly Garden & Overlook, including water features, benches, stone walls, and a pavilion.

smart mob

On a Friday morning, the pace of construction picked up when a “SmartMob” of over 50 Drury University volunteers arrived on the scene and set to work carrying stone for the walls and sanding wood for benches designed by the University’s architecture students. By the end of the week, a new Open Spaces Sacred Place had begun to emerge on the Joplin landscape, one that will provide a reflective space for remembrance of the 2011 tornado and also a source of resilience for moving forward.

Touched by the volunteer construction effort, Emily Huddleston, a Joplin resident who experienced the tornado bravely shared her story with all who were gathered on the construction site that day, giving real meaning to the hard work of reconstruction. Emily’s leg was badly injured when her family’s car was thrown across town by the tornado while driving home from attending Emily’s older brother’s high school graduation. The most important message that Emily wanted to convey to the Drury volunteers and everyone at the site was that she felt a strong connection to butterflies in the days after the tornado, and that it brought her joy to see a butterfly garden being created in the middle of her city.

Some of the most meaningful exchanges of the week took place between the Joplin Parks & Recreation staff and the Drury architecture students, who worked long days (and nights) side by side to achieve their vision for such a significant site of remembrance and resilience. Christopher Cotten, who became Joplin’s Director of Parks & Recreation only days before the tornado hit, declared how proud he was to see his alma mater involved in the rebuilding and healing of Joplin. And the students’ learning experience expanded far beyond the classroom as they understood the project from the perspectives of those who saw the park destroyed and who are now tasked with reconstruction and stewardship of the rebuilt Cunningham Park.

— Contributed by Nancy Falxa-Raymond, Photo:  Keith Tidball