Global Village Playground at Expo 67

Forty-five years ago this playground made quite a splash at Expo 67, the 20th century’s most successful World Fair. For a few weeks during Canada’s 100th birthday festivities, Montreal’s Expo was the cultural crossroads of the world. In that global village mashup, that summer of celebration and exuberance, the Canadian pavilion put children front and centre.

From CCA’s Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Archive

The playground at the Canadian pavilion was a must stop for the 10 and under set. By North American standards it was cutting edge, ahead of its time, as can be seen in this short excerpt from a National Film Board of Canada documentary.

Landscape architect Cornelia Oberlander had a great stage to share her playground design ideas with an international audience and the 30,000 appreciative kids who played there over the course of the summer.

The playground especially designed for Expo ’67, in conjunction with the Children’s Creative Centre, should provide some new ideas for crowded urban communities. Everywhere in cities there are areas that could be made into “vest-pocket parks”, with mounds, ravines, treehouses, streams for wading, and places for building.

See Oberlander’s entire Space for Creative Play text and a letter to the editor of Maclean’s magazine about the playground here.

From CCA’s Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Archive

Cornelia Oberlander is now a doyenne of the landscape architect circle. I have seen her referred to as the Queen of Green. The ideas she put in play at Expo 67 are increasingly in vogue. A case in point is the burgeoning interest in natural playscapes.

From CCA’s Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Archive

Cornelia, thanks for the Expo 67 gift that keeps on giving. It’s as relevant and exciting today as it was forty-five years ago.

More on Expo 67 here and here.

More on Cornelia Oberlander in future PlayGroundology posts.


The Unbearable Lightness of Swinging

There’s something cosmic about swinging, a certain je ne sais quoi. When I saw Teena Marie Fancey’s Baby Boy at The Craig Gallery on Dartmouth, Nova Scotia’s waterfront a couple of years ago, I knew I had found a great opening image for a paean to swings. Thanks Teena.

Swings are all grace and simplicity as they trace their airy arcs. In downward sweeps there is the tickling acceleration of free fall. Then as the pendulum tracks the outer bounds of its trajectory, the weighty hand of gravity pulls down.

The rise and fall, earth to sky movement is one of the first experiences that parents and children share together at the playground. It’s the bond of the baby swings – push, push away and then fall back into papa or mama’s loving embrace.

There are milestones – graduating from baby to big kids swing, getting on unassisted, giving another child a push, pumping and propelling through the air unaided, standing up swinging, twosome riding one person standing and one sitting, helicoptering and flying off the seat into a heart stopping jump.

And what a variety of swings, of choices – rope, lawn, glider, tire swings and the truly inventive ones like this got you over a barrel model from India.

via flickr by Eileen Delhi. Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Years ago when my art college daughter was just a tyke and I was finding my way as a single dad, we were regulars at a playground not far from our home. We created our own fun activities and for the longest time one of our favourites was the elliptical whirl of the tire swing.

For Alexa the velocity and tilt were exhilarating. For me, the rhythmic repetition of the pushing was a soothing release at the end of the day. We both remember the little ditty we sang together as she whizzed through air…

round and round and round
she goes
where she stops
nobody knows

round and round
on the tire swing
high in the sky
like a bird on a wing

People do love their tire swings and can get downright sentimental about them. Just check this Flickr group dedicated to one of the earlier recycling ideas for an industrial product.

Swings have also become part of the public art vernacular in some cityscapes. For two consecutive summers, Montrealers have been able to create their own downtown symphony of swings with the temporary 21 Balançoires installation. This is one of the more popular PlayGroundology posts.

And who knew that one day this elemental piece of equipment would inspire its own movement? The Red Swing Project installs swings anonymously in unlikely venues. This international band of merrymakers has hung swings in the USA, India, Thailand, Brasil, Taiwan, South Korea, France, Spain, Portugal, Haiti and Poland.

In their timelessness, swings are chic, à la mode.

I found this lovely necklace by Calourette on a SwissMiss blog post. If you’re not familiar with Tina Roth Eisenberg aka SwissMiss don’t miss her site on all things design which was recently featured on Say:100

And wait, just before we go, did I hear tattoo? Fellow Canadian Marc Johns has created this wonderful line drawing – Playground – that is also available as a tattly. The line drawing looks like this.

Find a few moments this weekend to swing through the summer sky, let your toes touch the stars. We’re never too old for that climb and drop sensation.

Keep on swingin’.

Dancing the Light Fantastic

Full disclosure – I love Matt Harding’s global dance adventures. There are millions of others that are right there with me via the magic of YouTube sharing Matt’s imaginative romps around the world. Although I don’t have a patented move, I do feel some affinity with Matt because I too have a certain level of gawkiness when I throw myself wholeheartedly into the dance experience.

Matt’s back with some further adventures that he posted earlier this week. If you’re a fan of his previous work, you’ll love this too. If you’re not familiar with Matt take a peek and be ready to smile and groove.

Watch for kids in the sequences from Haiti, Thailand, Iraq, The Philippines, Finland, Australia, Serbia, Afghanistan, Gaza Strip, Scotland, Serbia and several American states. They are play, play, playing as they dance, dance, dance.

If Matt continues this wonderful series, perhaps he could consider dancing in the some of the grooviest playgrounds around the planet with casts of kids. Gulliver in Spain, the themed playgrounds of Malmö, Sweden and Amsterdam’s Amager Ark come immediately to mind. What do you think Matt? A playful backdrop and a promotion of play at the same time.

The YouTube counters have broken through the viral zone and are rising rapidly. Thanks Matt for another wonderful dancing gift and for a great accompanying tune – Trip the Light performed by Alicia Lemke.

Thanks too to fellow blogger E.W. Spider for serving this up for me to enjoy before breakfast this morning.

Happy dancing, happy play.

Water jump, Sky run, Earth bounce

We’re sliding into a post-holiday groove following our San Diego adventure. Noah-David is reunited with his buddies at school. Mélanie is shipshaping SS Domestic Bliss. I’m on the daily cross harbour commute to work and four nights a week some combination of the three kids are lacing up their soccer boots. Thankfully, sleep rhythms are almost realigned to our east coast time zone.

At the end of our first day back in The Passage, I ask Nellie-Rose if she is glad to be home. Her eyes light up. “Yes, papa,” she replies “but I miss San Diego.” I’m curious about what she’s pining for and ask. I get two words back – “the playground”.

We didn’t do a lot of purposeful playgrounding in southern California but we did check out a few. The most fun were expansive, multi-level spaces within major attractions. Nellie-Rose was remembering the good times at SeaWorld. Wobbly tunnels suspended in the air, undulating mats soft to fall on and springy rope rigging to grip, pull and climb are some of the features of this always busy playscape.

See the photos below and in this flickr slideshow to get a taste of play at SeaWorld, San Diego.

Water jumping

Sky running

Earth bouncing

And to wrap this post, here’s an aerial view of the play area courtesy of Google Maps that gives some idea of its scope.

Apprentice Car Painters

Our San Diego interlude is just about a wrap. It’s been a great couple of weeks to relax, play and have fun. There’s been no rain, mostly sunny skies and plenty to enjoy from the La Jolla seals to Ocean Beach’s thundering surf.

A couple of days ago we visited The New Children’s Museum. We loved the hands-on exhibits – build, play, explore, create. A permanently parked car located out in the open air on the main level is a kid magnet. I’m sure the lavishly and lovingly applied layers of paint never actually get a chance to dry as there is a continuous procession of would be artists and body shop specialists slapping it on.

Click through here or on the photo below for a short slide show on the blue and purple painting capades.

Can you recognize it is a Datsun? I had to ask. I wonder how many gallons of paint get mixed annually to decorate and redecorate this lucky vehicle?

More on children’s museums coming soon in PlayGroundology.

Kids and Playgrounds Co-star in New Canadian Reality TV Show

Ontario’s towns and cities could be on the verge of a grassroots playground revolution. It’s already taking place in 13 communities across Canada’s second largest province. GIVER, a new TVO public television reality program for children, shows how kids themselves can make a difference and inspire broader community action.

It’s the kind of experiential television that has the potential of creating ripples. Seeing young designers and builders mashing up playgrounds in a truly kidcentric vibe is sure to have other kids, parents, municipal councillors and parks and recreation directors sitting up and taking notice.

Hamilton, Ontario’s Future Park – artist’s rendition

J.J. Johnson is one of the principals and co-founders of Sinking Ship Entertainment, co-producers of GIVER with TVO. He’s almost evangelical when speaking about the the impact these small scale community projects are having on the kids who participate in the planning and the builds.

The kids learn about taking control of their environment, making something that suits themselves and their friends. It also shows them that it’s possible. The kids are out there getting people to donate stuff. They’re learning that it’s not as complicated as they might have thought.

Series host and kid crew leader Michael lays out the recipe at the top of each episode – six kids, three days, one mission – build a playground with their community.

It’s all about kids with ideas and tools pumped to learn. They’re having fun, becoming community minded and learning practical life skills by refurbishing, rebuilding and renewing their public playscapes. GIVER, targeted at the six to nine-year-old demographic, is part sweat, part play and part problem solving with a dash of magic thrown in for good measure as the clip below shows.

Even for the creators of successful series like This is Daniel Cook and Dino Dan there were some unanticipated learning curve moments as GIVER was coming out of the starting gates. When Johnson received a $460,000 quote on the show’s first playground design, he thought it was all over before they even had a chance to begin. With a budget of $10,000 per playground, Johnson knew that they would not be able to rely on standard design or build approaches.

Not surprisingly, the path to success was grounded in community engagement. The GIVER team called on local businesses to donate supplies and on volunteers to help with construction. Experts were available to advise on safety issues and the kids themselves generated some do-it-yourself design.

Donations of time, labour and materials in conjunction with more modest designs helped the show stay within budget. The GIVER teams, local kids were recruited from each community, were able to create memorable experiences, playable public spaces and stay within budget.

Hawkesville, Ontario – Pyramid Movers

Johnson thinks the playground posse from Hawkesville (population – 300) might just have put together the best finished product in the show’s first season. Kids there now have a giant sandbox that Johnson is hoping is the biggest in Canada, an 8′ tall pyramid climber and a sandcastle with a hidden passageway. Local craftspeople were instrumental in making the design come to life.

This flickr slideshow captures the impressive transformations the kids reigned over in four of the participating communities – Hawkesville, Hamilton, Etobicoke and Batawa.

In the course of the first season there has been a lot of learning. Johnson wants to do his best to share the GIVER experience as widely as possible. Blueprints of the designs will be posted online for other communities to use and adapt. Currently there is a tip sheet available on what is becoming an extensive website.

GIVER screenshot

We’ve met so many communities that have been fundraising for years trying to build a playground because they think it’s $400,000. If we can share some hints on how we can build with proper approval processes and some of the scarier things you think you can’t do, I think we’ll find that they can build these things for $10,000 to $15,000 just by activating people in their community.

Another important plus in this process of community engagement is pride, ownership and a strong link to all those individuals – kids and adults – who helped create something new. Without exception, usage of the GIVER playspaces skyrocketed when compared with pre-show levels.

So what do the kids think of all this? If you live in Ontario, you can find out by tuning in at 6:30 p.m. EST Tuesdays. Check the TVO schedule for additional air times. If you live in Canada, you can view previously broadcast episodes online here or by clicking through on the image below.

Click through on image to TVO’s GIVER page.

If you’re from somewhere else in the world and can’t generate a Canadian IP address then you’ll either have to be satisfied with Johnson’s take on it, or start up your own GIVER type show. If you do the latter, please flip us a note.

“It’s great to see the sense of pride in the kids from what they’ve accomplished. It’s a director’s dream. My favourite thing to shoot was the final interviews with the kids. Invariably each would say that they feel like they can do anything now and that they were proud that they helped their community,” he says. “One little girl wished that she could do GIVER every day.”

The last word goes to Pat Ellingson, creative head of TVOKids.

It’s all about kids doing something to help others and connecting to their communities. GIVER shows just how amazing, intelligent and caring young people can be. It’s wonderful to introduce a child to something new. Every episode you see the light bulbs coming on. It was like watching education in action, a spark was being created. Kids were engaged. It was the best classroom.

Thanks TVO, Sinking Ship Entertainment and all the kids giving something back to their communities. Let’s hope you’ll be back for subsequent seasons.

Play as Public Art

On June 3rd, more than 30,000 runners will rule the streets of San Diego for a few hours during this city’s edition of the Rock & Roll Marathon. If they could just pass by a spit of wall stretching from the corner Camino de la Reina and Hotel Circle North in the last quarter of the race, a mural there just might provide an extra energy kick.


There’s a baker’s dozen of happy, laughing kids freeze-framed in moments of play including two wearing Blue Jay uniforms – the artist’s favourite team perhaps? This static mural, complete with beach balls and a wing-eared dachshund, promised motion as it danced across my field of vision our first day in San Diego.

Near airborne daschshund

Since them, I’ve gone back on a nearly daily pilgrimage to enjoy the lightness of this space, the eternal optimism of innocence at play. The simplicity of the images, the expressions on the kids’ faces and the disconnect with the surrounding cityscape are eloquent statements on the joy of play.

See the rest of the Camino de la Reina players here.

Heels in the air

Drop us a line about any public art depicting play or being used for play that we can share with PlayGroundology readers –