Category Archives: Halifax

A Chance Encounter

Here we are, Noah and I, starting out on one of our early morning fishing adventures. We make a beeline to a spot that still has a new feeling to it. Down the steep wooded bank we scuffle brushing branches aside to reach the water’s edge. It is still, quiet, and the summer sun is crashing off the water.

Time is a liquid loop, cast… reel… cast… reel. Noah is the leader of our outing. His angling chops are based on years of research and practical field experience. He is happy to share his knowledge of where to find the fish and how to reel them in. He is a generous helper to right my sometimes clumsy mien.


Three smallmouth bass are our reward for a leisurely morning meander along the small lake’s banks. Each one is catch and release, each one is reeled in by my son who will fish anywhere at the drop of a hat.

Following the shore we attempt a walk around the lake. From our vantage point it looks possible. Approaching the farther shore our exploring is temporarily impeded by a brook. On the other side is thick brush, trees with no visible path.

We leave nature behind briefly to cut through a residential area that allows us to access the woods on the other side and walk toward a path that circles the rest of the lake. This is the moment of our chance encounter, a shelter tucked in behind the edge of an urban wood.


It is magnificent in and of itself, even moreso given its location in proximity to residential neighbourhoods. I hope we will work hard to preserve our city’s natural spaces. There is a calmness and quiet abandon in these spaces, a timeless enjoyment in the best company. We will be back on many an occasion…

 

Participation Levels on All Candidates’ Child Well-Being Questionnaire

Halifax, Nova Scotia, home of PlayGroundology, is in the midst of a municipal election cycle. Voting at the polls is slated for October 17. This year, I’ve embarked on a grass-roots, non-partisan civic project. It’s quite simple, I reached out to candidates with a brief questionnaire related to children’s well-being. Their responses will shed some light on their priorities and interest in making Halifax a more child-friendly city.

Not having any real experience in asking candidates questions for the public record during the course of an election, I’m not sure what to make of the participation level. If any readers have experience administering surveys to candidates running for office at the municipal level, I’d be happy if you could share some insights.

A quick note on methodology:

  • Contact information for candidates was sourced from the Official Candidates – 2020 Municipal and CSAP Elections page on the Halifax website;
  • The original request with the questionnaire was sent to all candidates on September 28;
  • A follow-up request was sent on October 1;
  • A last call reminder was sent on October 5;
  • There are 83 candidates vying for 16 seats on Council, this excludes those seeking the Mayor’s office;
  • Our revised candidate number, excluding the mayoralty, comes in at 81. One candidate provided no contact information on the Official Candidates page noted above. Information for another candidate posted on the Official Candidates page was inaccurate. This is the number that will be used when determining global candidate engagement.
  • Mayoral candidates will be featured separately.

The preliminary results look at response rates for all candidates, subsets of all candidates and district specific information. Many thanks to the candidates who made the time to respond to the four questions related to child well-being.

Readers, what are your thoughts on a 54% response rate for the questionnaire? Out of the 81 reachable candidates for Council, 44 responded and here they are.


 


There are 11 incumbents on the ballot this time around. There were 6 of the 11 who did not respond to the questionnaire.

We would be better served by our incumbents – given the work they’ve done and the experience they’ve gained working for the city and their constituents – if they would give more consideration to participating in all questionnaires that seek to increase understanding of issues that have a broad impact.

Thanks to the incumbents who did participate – Shawn Cleary, David Hendsbee, Waye Mason, Paul Russel and Lindell Smith.

Overall, the non-incumbents had a stronger performance than the incumbents vis à vis responding to the questionnaire as Chart 3 below illustrates.

I would like to share two final charts as we wrap up this overview focusing on candidate participation and lack thereof. The two charts below provide a breakdown by district of the percentage of candidates who responded to the questionnaire. You will note that there is a great deal of variance.

In Districts 1 through 8, with one exception, participation rates are at 50% or above with District 8 coming in at 100% participation.

Districts 9 through 16 are on the opposite end of the spectrum. After the 100% participation rate in District 9, it’s all downhill with 50% or less participation rates in the remaining seven Districts.

It’s heartening to see that all candidates from Districts 8 and 9, three and five candidates respectively, responded to the questionnaire. It’s unfortunate no candidates from Districts 6 and 16, three and one candidate respectively, responded to the questionnaire. In the case of District 16, the incumbent is the only one offering and as a result he will be acclaimed.

All submitted candidate responses will be posted online over the coming week. I am in the process of working on an opinion piece for The Chronicle Herald that I anticipate will be published next week. It will touch on the roll-up of candidate responses to the four questions and a reflection on the municipal election.

Once again, thanks to the candidates who responded to the questionnaire, I look forward to sharing your thoughts and insights.

If candidates who have not yet participated are interested in submitting responses, I would be pleased to include them online and in the opinion piece roll-up.

Found this lovely graphic on the @hfxpublib Twitter feed. Let’s VOTE.

 

 

Local Candidates Asked About Well-being of Children

Earlier today a short letter was sent to candidates running for office in the October 17 municipal elections for the Halifax Regional Municipality. There are three candidates running for Mayor and an additional 83 running for 16 seats on Council. Out of the 16 Districts, there is only one uncontested seat.

The letter to candidates contains four questions linked to improving the well-being of children in the city.

I am very encouraged with the early responses from candidates right across the city’s 16 Districts. Thank you to all those who have already participated.

Candidates who do not respond will be recorded as a ‘nil response’ in the October 1 post.

Many thanks to the candidates for taking the time to consider how we can improve the well-being of children in HRM. I look forward to posting everyone’s responses on October 1.

 

 

For Each Kid a Story

The Halifax South Common is popping, erupting in play. A ‘loose parts’ emporium is scattered in pods across a grassy canvas on what has been public land since at least the 18th century.  On this July day, kids arrive in family groups, with day camps and in gaggles of child care centre pre-schoolers. Before it’s over, 200 kids are dispersed throughout the pop-up zone intent on touching, testing, trying, telling – infusing this public play extravaganza with their joy, energy, words, motion and ideas.

Touching, testing, trying telling…

There is an abandon, some wildness if you wish. Standard conventions are no longer applicable. The assortment of recycled and donated items are the versatile props in an ever-changing drama featuring kids in starring roles as they reveal ingenuity, imagination and inventiveness. It’s play-a-palooza where deep curiosity extends time’s elastic stretch.

 Waiting for the Wildness

Kids and loose parts together are like bits and pieces of exponential merriment. A charged expectancy permeates these encounters and, perhaps counter intuitively, a steady hum of lightness ensues. The air is electric with possibility yet there is no pressure to perform. As the kids play out, rich thematic patterns emerge.

  • Wonder and discovery, play’s elemental touchstones, are rampant, discernible in facial expressions, in the inflection of voices, in smiles and laughter.
  • Cooperative play is an unspoken default cutting across gender and age as kids build up, tear down, design, transport and otherwise demonstrate that when fun is paramount no crowd is too diverse, or too large.
  • Movement and exploration, balancing, climbing, running, rolling – getting from ‘a’ to ‘b’, ‘c’, ‘d’, ‘e’ and so on with an accent on fun. With each step, skip, jump an incredible journey – fall here, hide there, disappear, dare.
  • Creativity, design and build, a smorgasbord of DIY forts, towers, cubby holes, dens, catapults, swings, teepees cobbled together with only the materials on hand and each one displaying distinctive character.

The unbridled joy, the immediacy of creation and the early stirrings of kids exercising agency are such a privilege to experience. They keep me coming back for more of this hopeful simplicity. Now I have heard some people characterizing loose parts as a nostalgia trip, a reach back to a romanticized golden age of play in some idyllic, kidtopian past. This doesn’t reflect my experience.

For Each Kid a Story

In the here and now, loose parts are becoming increasingly popular as a comparatively low-cost means of engaging kids in creative, physically active play. They are being integrated with positive results in child care settings, schools and municipal recreation spaces. As for nostalgia, there were no large scale, open ended, public play events back in the 60s when I was a kid. They just didn’t exist. It wasn’t until the 70s that the first wave of academic interest in loose parts came on the scene.  We had plenty of fun just the same and benefited from significantly more independence and greater mobility than today’s kids experience.

This particular July loose parts iteration is thanks to Dalhousie University’s Summer of PLEY, a giving back to the community following the Physical Literacy in the Early Years research study in child care centres. Event volunteers gathered recently on the Dal campus to share their reflections on the experience. It was affirming to hear how others had processed that day of play. There was much commonality. Listening to the project leads and other volunteers is what led to these musings.

And now for something completely different…

Each of the 200 or more kids who dropped in at the Halifax South Common that fine summer day lived their own story. The narratives varied giving more or less weight to different elements touching on creation, cooperation, adventure, fun, friendship and discovery. The kids were fully engaged, éveillés – awake.

With a growing body of literature that points to the efficacy and benefits of loose parts play, it’s time to press for it to become a more widespread part of the play canon in both institutional (municipal, school, etc.) and community settings.

Hard at Play

Bravo to the Dalhousie University team led by Michelle Stone. They brought together the largest selection and volume of loose parts ever collected in Nova Scotia, enabled a huge group of volunteers to participate in the planning and roll out of the event and exposed young graduate students to hands-on magic. Thanks for inviting me along.

All hail loose parts! Last word to the kids….

 

on the waterfront – kids just wanna have fun

where sea meets city is not always a pretty sight – docklands, railyards, industry and in the worst cases some nasty effluents too. it’s cause for celebration when local governments get it right and reclaim urban seafronts for the public with a mash-up of recreational, residential and business opportunities.

residents and visitors to halifax have plenty to enjoy on a 1.5 kilometre boardwalk skirting the downtown core and the shoreline of the world’s largest, ice-free natural harbour. the space is a magnet for special events ranging from tall ships and beach volleyball tourneys to buskers and the night time art extravaganza, nocturne.

it’s also a place where fun and play abound as the kids showed us this weekend. the last thing we expected to come across was a bubble machine. but there it was manufacturing magical bursts of shimmery shapes (click for larger images).

 

 

all hail the bubble maker

 

 

closing in

 

 

bubbalacious

 

 

bubble poppin’ finale

 

 

for kids, the grown-up rest stops are quickly transformed into swing buzzes and obstacle courses…

 

hanging high

 

 

p is for pivot

 

 

stretching and hiding

 

 

then there is art as affordance, an irresistible invitation to skitter up to the crest of the wave sculpture and then slide down to the base…

 

cresting the wave

 

 

a hop, skip and a jump from the wave is halifax’s own orange sub complete with conning tower, escape slide, a jules verne see through nose and springrider whales flanking its seaward side.

 

we all play in an orange submarine

 

 

the sub is no longer quite as shiny as it appears in this photo from a few years ago but it continues to be a waterfront favourite with the kids. thanks to develop nova scotia as well as the municipal, provincial and federal governments for working together to make the land meets sea zone a kid friendly place with playable spaces.

what’s happening on your waterfront?

 

Open House – Pop-Up Neighbourhood

This is a big shout out to the Pop-Up Adventure Play crew – Zan, Morgan and Andy. One year ago, they touched down in Halifax to kick off a very successful cross-Canada summer tour.

Click here, or on image for photo story.

Kids and adults alike had a great time creating and destroying over the course of nearly three hours on a sun washed summer afternoon. Check out some highlights in the photo story by clicking through above.

If you are intrigued by pop-up play and loose parts, then maybe Pop-Up Adventure Play’s next Campference in Houston, Texas is for you – details here.

What’s in a Name or The Spinny-Thing-of-Death

No, not trying to click bait you. The spinny-thing-of-death was in fact a thing back in the heyday of the Dennis the Menace Playground in Monterey, California. There were no mortal injuries but this ‘helicopter’ would certainly be deemed a hazard in many jurisdictions today.

It looks innocuous enough in still photos but watch the video clip below starting at the 30 second mark. You’ll get an idea of the derring-do adrenaline jolt kids could get on this ride’s bucking and spinning axis and why the kids named it the spinny-thing-of-death – so much more gravitas and excitement than the helicopter…

Readers, do you have any playground structure in your community that has been tagged with its own name? A new structure in PlayGroundology‘s hometown at the Dartmouth North Community Centre has sparked some talk in the local community about its name-worthiness.

Any ideas for a name for this play structure?

Having heard this from one of the project organizers, PlayGroundology took to Twitter yesterday in search of possible names.

Most participants are local but we did catch the eye of a landscape architect in Lisbon. No names yet as catchy as the ‘spinny-thing-of-death’. I have a theory that the funnest, stickiest, most popular names will come from kids who play on the piece and they will make all of us adults look like rank amateurs in the naming sweepstakes.

So this is what we’ve got so far:

Leviathan, The Basket (from Lisbon), Imagic Dragon, Freedom, The Snake Range, The Northern Green Slither, The Eliminator, The Dragon’s Tongue, Slidey McSwing Face, Slidy McClimb Face and The Green Monster.

Join the #namethegreenthing sweepstakes and send us your suggestion or join us on Twitter.

When Simple Just Rocks

Sir Sandford Flemming Park in Halifax, Canada now has two towers stretching skywards, carving out distinctive vertical planes. The new arrival is not as tall or venerable as the early 20th century Dingle Tower commemorating the establishment of responsible government in Nova Scotia. Although it may be the shorter of the two, it represents a cachet of a different order altogether.

tower-blogpost-2

Tower of Play

The tower of play, framed by durable and dense black locust pillars and encased in steel core poylester wrapped rope, is a hive of activity during opening weekend. The structure is a beacon, a homing signal for kids on the lookout for a whoosh of excitement. As people arrive, reactions are squarely in the eye popping, can’t believe this, wonder zone. Kids sprint toward the installations at this playscape located not far from the city’s urban core. I can hear sharp intakes of breath and high frequency, surround sound squeals of delight are registering very audibly.

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The tower’s hollow core is a scramble of movement. It’s like the kids are aloft in the rigging of masted sailing vessels, or scaling the walls of a medieval town. Ever upwards hand over hand on a perpendicular climb to the top followed by a rapid descent on the slide. Repeat once, repeat twice, the merriment is endless.

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“This is the best, it’s awesome,” shouts Lila as she looks about for her next adventure. It’s just a hop, skip and a jump away. She spies a plot of sand with a pump firmly planted close to one of its borders. It’s a popular spot and she has to wait a few minutes before she gets a turn making the water flow.

Water and Muck

The Kaiser & Kühne water pump is well primed. Lila’s enthusiastic exertions let loose a modest cascade of the clear, wet stuff. Water sprouts out the spigot and carves narrow channels as it flows downhill in the sand – magic in the making.

I think back to a phone conversation I had with Cornelia Oberlander, Canada’s doyenne of landscape architecture, a few years ago. She shared with me what she had adopted as a self-evident truth borne from her decades of involvement with children in play spaces. I paraphrase her here – all children really need for play is some sand, or earth, water and a place to climb. That’s a check, check and check at The Dingle.

Despite the coolish temperatures, kids are immersed in the water experience. There are soggy mittens, dark patches on the knees of pants and the squelchy sound of soakered wet footwear. The water casts a powerful spell transforming sand to muck of varying consistencies and creating ever changing topographies.  There is an irresistible quality to mucky dirt and having the license to get all messied up.

watercourse

Climb and Balance

There is also something for the climbers, balancers and jumpers. Take a dozen or so bark-stripped logs, create a frame with upright anchors and then connect the rest on different planes, angles and inclinations. Think levitating 3-D pick up sticks with netting underneath. This logs akimbo installation offers challenge, fun and a little risk depending on how adventurous the child chooses to be.

climber-1Click here or on photo above for log climber slide scroll show

There are a number of different techniques on display at the climber – the straddle hop, the creep and crawl, the slither, the sure-footed mountain goat, the bear hug and the koala. Kids find their own comfort zone and move accordingly. Inching along with arms and legs wrapped tightly around a log à la bear hug seems to offer the greatest security particularly for the younger children.

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The netting at the climber’s base is a great spot to goof around, crawling under, wobbly balancing with feet on rope, lying back and taking in the big, blue sky. And let’s not forget jumping, the airborne launch from the climber’s highest heights and getting pulled oh so quickly back to earth with a small, soft thud.

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Maintain Play Momentum

There’s more – a balancing log with bark intact, the ‘easy as 1, 2, 3’ climbing bars,  a small embankment slide, a stump stairmaster cluster, a tyke sized climber next to the water pump and the don’t try this in enclosed spaces #playrocks percussion station. Lots to do, try and experience that encourages physical activity and the development of gross and fine motor skills for a wide range of ages.

easy-as-1-2-3

This natural play area, by Canadian design and build firm Earthscape, is a welcome departure for urban Halifax where there has been a bit of a blight on the variety of play opportunities available to kids in public spaces. A notable exception to off the shelf solutions over the years are playscapes on the waterfront which have benefitted from the leadership of the Waterfront Development Corporation and co-funding models.

Earthscape’s Dingle playground may offer a compelling enough example for the City of Halifax to contemplate continued variety and the creation of additional signature playscapes in other parts of the city. Perhaps this is already under consideration.

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Wouldn’t it be as easy as 1, 2, 3 to engage with a representative sample of parents and caregivers to develop an overarching plan for play in public spaces for the city’s kids? Halifax could explore and embrace the growing interest in adventure playgrounds. Are these the city’s first steps in connecting the 3 Rs – risk, resilience and the renaissance of play?

Anyone with kids should take a dangle down by The Dingle. We had a great time and will certainly be returning even though it’s a 40 km return drive from home. Towering oaks, the Northwest Arm, wooded trails and the new natural playscape make this urban oasis a great place for play.

Thanks Earthscape and kudos to the City of Halifax for exploring new dynamics in public play spaces….

A Billion Loose Parts Give or Take

Every January there’s an outdoor event in Halifax, Nova Scotia to welcome new immigrants to the wondrous world of winter. For those who come from winter-free zones, it is tingly, heady stuff.

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This year our merry band of Adventure Play YHZers join the celebrations. It is our second public event. We have a sweet selection of loose parts on hand including PVC pipes, tires, milk crates, cardboard boxes and a multilingual sign welcoming people and inviting them to play.

These quality play pieces were sure fire winners back in the fall with green grass underfoot. This time though, we are outflanked by chill temps and a fresh fall of snow. According to Reddit, there are about a billion snowflakes in a cubic foot and eight billion or more in a snowman.

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It’s hard to compete with these naturally occurring loose parts – each flake its own unique shape – unless it’s with something that transforms the snow such as shaping it into bricks.

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Close by our loose parts central, which isn’t suffering from overcrowding problems, there is one of the many off the shelf playgrounds that are found throughout the city. This is one of the larger ones close to the downtown core on the Halifax Common a large expanse of land that dates back to the city’s founding in the mid-18th century.

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Our kids grease the slide with snow to speed their descent into a cold embrace. Snow makes all the equipment just a bit more slippery – stairs, ropes, rungs and slides. The kids practice being sure-footed and enjoy the thrill from a hint of risk.

Also within a shout is the city’s biggest skatepark. There are no skaters dropping off the edge of the bowl into the collecting snow but kids are finding other ways to make this an all weather venue..

It’s not everyday that you have a chance to get the adrenalin pumping in an unanticipated adventure. Future winter visits to the Halifax Common with our gang will now include a de rigueur pit stop at the skatepark.

BOOM

I’m on the precipice sitting on a kids’ plastic sled legs akimbo. I steel myself to drop over the concrete lip. It’s a minute or two before I push off in a wonderful flash of inelegance.  The kids are braver as they zip down and clamber out sliding their way to saturation, snowsuits sopped through and through. For them, the wet discomfort is a small price to pay when discovering a new snow delight spiced with a dash of fright…

We have to leave early to get one of the girls to a birthday party. As we prepare to go, families of new Canadians are starting to cross the street as they leave the The Oval, the city’s outdoor skating venue of choice.

On this particular afternoon, snow rules. One of nature’s loose parts par excellence takes the day. Welcome to winter….

Loose parts sign

Setting Sail for Play

Life of Pi - The PrequelShip’s Company from the Adventure Playground series. Photo credit – John Drysdale, circa 1960s. Source – Victoria and Albert Museum

Boats exude an elemental mystery. Fresh water, or briny sea they hold the promise of adventure and discovery. Whether in wavy tossed expanse or landlocked far from shore they are dream makers for voyagers young and old.

19579885394_0570494a89_k(1)Merseyside’s Black Pearl (story here), New Brighton, UK. Photo credit – Pete Birkinshaw, (CC BY 2.0)

Although I have no empirical evidence, I will hazard a guess and suggest that boats are among the top three transportation modes represented in play spaces around the world. The two others include the space class – rockets, shuttles, etc. and cars.

DSC09555Jubilee Park, Bridgetown, Nova Scotia.

Playground boats range in size from the small dory that graces the banner of the PlayGroundology FB page to the larger than life Amager Ark which is part of the Himmelhøj play artscape on Amager Island in Copenhagen

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAmager Ark – Himmelhøj, Copenhagen. Photo credit – by the artist Alfio Bonanno.

In Canada’s Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence there is a recurring boat motif in playscapes throughout the archipelago. They are favourites with our kids whenever we visit and have a deep rooted connection to the people and the place.

DSC07548L’Étang du Nord, Cap-aux-Meules, Magdalen Islands.

Running across decks, scrambling up ropes, hiding in holds are activities for young sailors, captains, deckhands, swabs, pirates, fishermen, explorers, or warriors as they set off on an adventurous round of play.

In Halifax, PlayGroundology’s home port, we have a number of boat play spaces and even a submarine. Our iconic boat, a trawler by the name of Halcyon, was retired a few years back after more than 25 years of service in the name of fun. The video below is a short tribute to busy play days on the boat with our daughter Nellie-Rose, in her younger years, leading the charge.

Boats for Play I and Boats for Play II are flickr galleries with photos of boat playgrounds around the world. Does your community have any boat playscapes? If so, post some photos on PlayGroundology FB.

Boats are in my blood. My father and grandfather both worked in the shipyards on the River Clyde in Scotland. My grandfather was an avid model yachtsman and as I write this I look up at one of the trophies he was awarded – The Port Glasgow Model Yacht Club’s Tosh Memorial Shield which his boat the Fairy won in 1952.

As a young adult in the 1970s I had the opportunity to work on board two Canadian Coast Guard ships, an icebreaker in the Arctic and a buoy boat around Nova Scotia’s shores – quite an adventure for a lad of 16. All that to say that I do love a boat playground. You can pipe me on board anytime…