Park Summit 2018: A Serious Look at Play

Ralph Waldo Emerson got it right when he said: “It’s a happy talent to know how to play.” This year’s Park Summit presenters have this talent nailed down. Each has a unique ability to cultivate playfulness among targeted audiences to reach particular goals.

Yes, it can feel odd to speak so seriously about play, but creating intentional outcomes using play requires serious planning and consideration.  As speakers from both Montreal and Toronto demonstrated, it’s critical to determine what you want to achieve through play to deploy it most effectively. The presentations our Park Summit speakers shared offer many lessons for those of us trying to figure out how to use play to create impact-both among park and public space users and the key stakeholders who make decisions about how space does, and does not, get used.

 

The act of seduction

Marie-Hélène Roch, Founding Member of Ruelle No 13 project, a white laneway in Montreal’s Villeray neighbourhood, spoke about creating a space that entices people to play during cold winter months. She said:

“Together we’re trying to create a cocoon that’s conducive to gathering.”

Sometimes the snowy laneway is a cocoon formed of active play like hockey or fort-building, and other times it’s a cocoon of warm, delicious food that seduces people to leave their living rooms and come outside to break bread.

Laneway

Marie-Hélène highlighted the seductive powers of food in particular when discussing Ruelle No 13 project’s participation in Restaurant Day, a worldwide festival of people organizing their own pop up food events in shared spaces. Bringing Restaurant Day to the snowy laneway helped Ruelle No 13 lure people into the space to enjoy the benefits of gathering together and experiencing new possibilities for their shared, underused space.

 

Be present for play

Janelle, from Green Change at Toronto’s Jane-Finch Community Centre, has her own take on what it takes to entice people to play together. In short, Janelle’s strategy is: just keep showing up. When Janelle was trying to activate Oakdale Park, a large, but underused park in the Jane-Finch neighbourhood, she made a point of being consistently present in the park. Being in the park, day in and day out, allowed people in the neighbourhood to get to know Janelle, and eventually engage in conversations and build trust.

Gradually, Janelle was able to connect with neighbourhood kids who had a vested interest in the park’s success. The kids collectively worked on securing a shade structure for their park. With Janelle’s guidance, the kids collected data, built prototypes and spoke to the local City Councillor to advocate for the shade structure. Spoiler alert: they got it!!

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Janelle treats children like “park royalty” because they know their park and understand its inner workings more than we ever give them credit for. This approach to kids allows Janelle to tap-into their wisdom, energy and unique perspective, and harness it to make the park better for the entire community.

 

Building home through p

Lisa Dietrich, a volunteer with CultureLink’s NEATWalks (Newcomers Explore and Appreciate Toronto) program, focused on the importance of active engagement in public spaces to build a sense of belonging among newcomers. As Lisa said:

As soon as we physically engage with –maybe even shape– our environment, it changes our relationship with this space. Active engagement creates a sense of control over our environment. And with this control comes a sense of security, of ownership, of belonging.

As Lisa emphasized, “active engagement” can be as simple as throwing rocks or as complex as an organized scavenger hunt. These experiences help build newcomers’ relationship to a new geography and establish a new sense of home.

 

Making the pitch for play

Caroline Magar, Development Coordinator at Montreal’s Les Amis du Champs des Possibles, had advice on how park groups can “play well with others.” In particular, Caroline’s presentation underscored the importance of understanding how to influence stakeholders and build a shared vision of a public space.

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Les Amis du Champ des Possibles has transformed a Montreal rail line into a semi-wild place where people can experience nature in a high-density neighbourhood. However, historical contamination has limited the groups ability to host formal events in the space.

Caroline has taken it upon herself to become an expert on contamination issues and how to remediate the land in order to have credibility among key stakeholders and make informed decisions about the land’s future. Embracing the more scientific and technical dimensions of the project has been a tremendous help in turning an unusual and inspiring space into a public place where people can safely experience the wild.

 

Help people see themselves in play

 

Finally, in her keynote presentation, Mouna Andraos, co-founder of design studio daily tous les jours, shared how her projects deliberately diverge from conventional ideas of play in order to appeal to audiences who may otherwise be reluctant to join in the fun.

In fact, Mouna specifically took aim at the word ‘play’ because it’s a term that is generally associated with children. In her experience, the term can undermine the seriousness of creative endeavours, like those of her firm. The large, public installations that Mouna and her team create using cutting edge technology in public spaces utilize unexpected adult colours and are situated in public places not generally associated with play. These interactive installations are able to seduce adult audiences because they are unlike other objects we conventionally associate with play.

For example, one of the firm’s installations, entitled Hello Trees!, invites people walking along a busy promenade to stop and send a message to nature that is then translated into beautiful sound and light patterns travelling along arches that connect the trees above, providing a canopy for participants below.  As explained on their website:

The result is an immersive, light animated, crowd-sourced concerto. It is a poetic exercise that encourages slowing down and engaging all the senses with the nature that surrounds us.

 

Hello trees! from Daily tous les jours on Vimeo.

Mouna’s presentation highlighted that creating new ways to play requires having systems in place that support creative exploration and collaboration. She specifically pointed to the Quartier des Spectacles district in Montreal, which created a centralized permitting department to provide a one-stop-shop for artists, park groups and community groups to secure the permits and permissions necessary to activate the space. The simplicity of this model allows groups who may not otherwise be willing or able to go through multiple bureaucratic processes to bring their vision to life.

 

All in all it was an awesome Park Summit. Thank you to the 400+ people who attended and who work diligently to activate the power of parks in Toronto, Montreal, and across Canada. Also, thanks to the many presenters and our moderator Christina Hug, who made us look so good.

A very special thank you is owed to our Presenting Sponsor, TD Bank Group, who has supported the Park Summit from the start and makes it possible for us to host this incredible event.

 

You can access available presentations and relevant media below:

Thank you to the Park Summit Presenting Sponsor

 

Thank you to our Sparking Change supporters for helping underserved park groups attend the Park Summit

 

 

Ideas to spark your imagination for Public Space Incubator

Since we announced our Public Space Incubator Program last week, we know that ideas for how to re-imagine public space in Toronto have been bubbling up in the minds of people across the city.

But just in case you need some inspiration for how to bring people together in public space in innovative, creative, and even radically new ways, we wanted to assemble a few examples of existing projects in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver that have sparked our own imaginations.

These projects—done in laneways, parks, and community housing land—include a wide variety of focuses: winter programming, food, arts and performance, local economic development, cultural exchanges, and more. But what they all share in common are new ways of inhabiting and enlivening public space to promote social connections, share experiences, and foster a sense of belonging.

We hope these projects get your own brain juices flowing and we’d love if you were to share some of your own examples, from Toronto or other cities, in the comments or with us on Twitter at @Park_People.

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Bright, back alley basketball brings a laneway to life

This fun project, spearheaded by a downtown Vancouver BIA and supported by the City of Vancouver, spiced up an otherwise drab downtown laneway with bright paint, decorative lighting, basketball hoops, and programming to create a new type of gathering space for people. Laneway projects can seem complex with all the access and loading issues that come with them, so it’s nice to see how something simple like bright colours can make a big difference.

But it’s not just about the physical transformation—the space has become home to fun pop-up events like a dance party done by an event collective, Public Disco, which invited people to dress up and dance together in public space. (photos by Modacity)

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Thriving public market and tandoor oven sparks change in a park

Step into R. V. Burgess Park in the middle of the Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood on a Friday afternoon in the summer and you’ll be treated to a park transformed into a thriving bazaar with North America’s first tandoor oven in a park serving up fresh naan.

Organized by Sabina Ali of the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee, the bazaar and the oven support other activities in the space, like kid’s entertainment, that have helped bring this important central green space to life through community animation. The bazaar is particularly innovative—creating a space for people, many of them newcomer women in the neighbourhood, to sell food, jewelry, and clothing.

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Community-run container café creates a new, tasty focal point

Food and parks go well together, but if you forgot to pack your own picnic lunch it can often be difficult to find a place to quiet your rumbling stomach. One local community group, the Friends of McCormick Park, worked with their city councillor to solve that problem by outfitting a shipping container café as a community café in their local green space.

The café is run by a non-profit organization and serves fresh, affordable food and drink to hungry and parched park goers. The café helps support programming and activity in the park, providing a focal point for local residents and offering up shared experiences like $5 Friday night dinners.

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Inter-cultural exchange brings people together

Arts organization MABELLEarts, working with local community members, has helped transform a Toronto Community Housing green space into a collective gathering space and a site for cultural exchange. Throughout 2017, the group hosted Iftar nights—the breaking of the Ramadan fast—on several Thursday evenings in the green space. They also worked with organizations such as the Arab Community Centre of Toronto and COSTI to bus in newcomers and refugees to Canada to take part in the celebrations. (photo by Liam Coo for MABELLEarts)

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Winter laneway wonderlands celebrate the cold

Spring and summer-time activities are lovely, but we can’t forget about winter! We can take some inspiration from Montreal’s green laneways, which invite community members to reimagine laneways as social gathering spaces in the city.

One young women, Marie-Hélène Roch (who spoke at our recent Park Summit) has worked to transform her laneway into a “white” laneway that invites people to connect during the colder months through food events and decorations. Other winter laneway activations in Montreal include dog-sledding activities, ice rinks, snow castle building, and warming stations.


The deadline for Letters of Intent for applying to Public Space Incubator is Thursday, March 29th at 5pm. Check the program website for more information. 

Thank you to Eti and Ken Greenberg and the Balsam Foundation for generously funding the Public Space Incubator. 

 

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