Category Archives: Toronto

Spring Garden in the Snow

Unpredictable twists and turns are an inherent part of play’s beauty – adventure and discovery, the lingua franca. Resilience is the pièce de résistance, a piece that in later life can make all the difference.

cropper-torstar-photoSpring Garden Public School – Photo credit: John Mahler, The Toronto Star – 1979.

Twists, turns and discovery are also hallmarks of the sedentary surfer. The internet of play offers seemingly endless redirections and constant parsing of new, unanticipated information. As frequently as not, the eventual destination is altogether different than what was initially intended.

cropped-0001Spring Garden Public School – Photo credit: Bill Chambers

As dawn breaks on drifting white dunes of snow outside my window, I discover an early 1970s playspace in Toronto. I arrive by way of an article that reports Crow Nest Adventure Playground in Dewsbury, UK may be subject to cuts. From there, a Google photo search takes me to a photo of a playspace in Bowood, Wiltshire, UK. This in turn leads to Spring Garden Public School via an UrbanToronto forum and ultimately to an index of photos by Bill Chambers reproduced here.

toronto-adventure-playground004Spring Garden Public School – Photo credit: Bill Chambers

I look the place up on the map and it’s in Willowdale, North York. Though the school is no longer there, I see it was close to where I lived from about 1964 to 1970. Those days, we would walk through that neighbourhood on our way to the Willow Theatre and the Memorial Swimming Pool and that little corner store where we could buy 10 cent bottles of mini-pop and get a nickel back on the empties. Those were the times that my friends and I first started getting out and about independently.

toronto-adventure-playground008Spring Garden Public School – Photo credit: Bill Chambers

I can imagine myself playing here – hanging on in the crow’s nest, trying to balance on and climb the logs. It helps to see kids dressed pretty much as I had back in grades 7 and 8 – in those rockin’ late ’60s kids’ togs. The space must have been created after our family left the area. I can’t believe that our parents wouldn’t have brought us to this cool spot, or that we wouldn’t have heard about it ourselves.

Today, mysterious algorithms present a gift that in three of four jumps bring me from the UK to a familiar space close by my old childhood neighbourhood.

The black and white blast from the past is a nice visit. Here, before my eyes, the kids are exalting in the snow. The white dunes outside the window have been tamped down through the course of the day by their sledding and their first attempts at cross country skiing. This is the place to be.

 

Underpasses Overlooked

An underutilized urban wasteland, a drive by blight for sore eyes has been transformed into parkland with a playground in downtown Toronto. This component of WATERFRONToronto’s West Don Lands project is the largest repurposing of underpasses in Canada and the first of its kind in Ontario’s capital. The total cost for the 1.05 hectares (2.7 acres) park is budgeted at $4.7 million.

Underpass Park Playground. Source: WATERFRONToronto

Underpass Park’s Phase I which includes a children’s play area is now open. The entire project is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2013. Here’s a video of construction at the site last fall that shows some of the already installed playground equipment.

Those who live in the new residential spaces being created as part of the overall redevelopment of the area will appreciate an opportunity to enjoy this small oasis. I wonder though about the noise and pollution levels caused by the steady stream of cars overhead. Toronto Star urban issues and architecture journalist, Christopher Hume, sees some greater significance in the creation of this park as it relates to Toronto’s overall development.

“As much as anything, Underpass Park offers hope that the city might manage to keep up with the future after all.”

Underpass Park Playground. Source: WATERFRONToronto

There is much of the same sentiment in an opinion piece published earlier this week in the Toronto Star.

Kudos to WATERFRONToronto for the innovative spirit in the remodeling of yucky urban blah.

Underpass Park Playground. Source: WATERFRONToronto

In Halifax we have spaces in the urban core that could benefit from this kind of deep makeover. Do you have any examples of similar projects in your city – recreating beauty and useable space from post industrial neglect?

Jamie Bell Adventure Playground Photo Shoot

Earlier this week, the Jamie Bell Adventure Playground in Toronto’s High Park was partially destroyed by arson. The community is outraged and vows to rebuild. I’m sure the playground will rise again and reclaim its former magical hold on kids and adults alike.

Below are four slideshows I posted on flickr today. The shots were taken about a year ago on a cold frosty March morning. Click the text links or the photos themselves to activate the slideshows.

The Towers

The Equipment

The Etchings

The Paintings

All the best on the rebuilding.

How do we stop the Jamie Bell Playground madness?

For about a year now, I’ve been compiling media stories on vandalism and arson in playgrounds with the intent of writing about this contagion. I signed myself up for a discussion group on the topic on LinkedIn but haven’t really created the time to participate though many others have as they seek solutions to the problem.

The stories I’ve read frequently report on destructive activities in small towns. Cities are not immune but proportionately, I’ve read fewer stories about vandalized playgrounds in urban centres. This may be because these kind of stories are not covered as much by big city media. Invariably, the playgrounds involved are of the composite plastic and metal variety. For these structures, a raging fire’s superheat results in twisting metal and plastic melting into a dripping caustic goo.

On St. Patrick’s Day the senseless madness struck Toronto’s Jamie Bell Playground in the city’s beloved High Park, the downtown green space sans pareil. Here’s what it looks from a Toronto Star photo.

Source: Toronto Star. Click image to enlarge.

This one really hit home for me. On a business trip to Toronto last March, I made an early morning pre-work visit to Jamie Bell Playground just to check out one of the funkier downtownish play spaces. Though I traipsed through mud on a frosty frost morning I wasn’t disappointed. This is a Robert Leathers special on a grand scale. They can be found in communities throughout North America – customized, wooden playgrounds built with community engagement and sweat of the brow labour.

I took a lot of photos that cold March morning thinking of the day I’d get to take my kids there. It was a soft, sweet and dreamy start to a long business day.

Source: PlayGroundology. Click image to enlarge.

The now burned towers once looked like this. I’m on the road again today and only have access to these thumbnails. I’ll post a set of Jamie Bell photos to my flickr account later in the week.

It’s such a despicable act of cowardice as it confronts children with senseless destruction. More than 2,000 people have facebooked the Toronto Star story. Jamie Bell will rise again through the same community spirit that created it in the first place.

Another photo of the destruction from Torontoist.

Source: Torontoist. Click image to enlarge.

More photos from Torontoist here

Here’s PlayGroundology’s original Jamie Bell post

Let’s hope the perpetrators are caught. This kind of senseless destruction is happening in communities across the US, Canada and the UK. Charred remains are a terrible way to start a day.

Calling all Dads, Attention les Papas – KaBOOM’s Pledge for Play

My friends at KaBOOM! are encouraging us all to take a pledge for play. What a magnificent idea. The pledge means a commitment of time on our part, time well spent with our children exploring their abilities, their potential, their laughter, their fun.

Here it is in all its simplicity:

I believe that my child needs to play outdoors, every day. Regular play outdoors makes children happier, healthier, smarter, more socially adept, more independent, and more creative. By pledging today, I add my voice to the growing movement of fathers who are committed to restoring play to childhood.

I’m in Toronto on business and took Kerala’s call to action to heart. Serendipitously, I have a daughter here who I was able to do some playgrounding with. Never mind that she’s in her late 20s, we had a fine time at Christie Pitts swinging and spinning.

So smile, stand up and be counted. Take the pledge for play right here.

When I get back to Halifax, I’ll be taking my wee ones out to run, climb, take big gulps of air and laugh because to play is to be.