Events Photo Credit: Western Living

How Do Public Play Spaces Affect Urban Design?

We chat with Amery Calvelli, executive director of the Design Talks Institute, about the importance of public play spaces.

The Design Talks Institute (d.talks) is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the public’s understanding of art, architecture and design. Their next panel discussion, Let’s Talk About…Play (happening Thursday, April 13) delves into the realm of public play spaces. How do parks and playgrounds affect urban design? We spoke with Amery Calvelli, executive director of d.talks, to find out.

Design Talks Institute, Let's Talk About Play

How did this particular topic come about?

We came up with the idea of play because it was a topic that is somewhat overlooked, but also, there’s been a bit of recent attention drawn towards the design of spaces for play. Part of our interest in the topic lies in exploring the relationship between social activity, physical activity, and the landscape and urban design components of spaces for play.

What can we expect to hear from the speakers?

They have a range of expertise. Cynthia Watson is with an organization called Vivo and has done a lot of work around finding solutions to challenge sedentary behaviour and promote activity with children and youth. Julie Guimond is with Calgary Parks, exploring options on what a playground really is and the different options available. Kris Fox, from the University of Calgary, is a professor in the Environmental Design department; he has a lot of experience working with the Outdoor Playbook (a how-to guide that offers the leading research and best practices for school grounds in creating play spaces) and has done lots of research exploring the notion of materials and design aspects of playgrounds. Evan Dickinson is an attorney at Torys LLP and he’s bringing a perspective on regulation and safety.


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Why should the public take an interest in these types of talks?

We were founded on the idea that design happens all around. You might not be aware of how a street was designed because you don’t think about it. I’m not saying we should be looking at a street with “deep, design glasses” on, but it’s really building awareness on how design surrounds and affects us.

What is the outcome and effect of these talks?

What we find is that there is a lot of open discussion and conversation, and when people leave they will often go with different ideas about things like, “What can I do in my neighbourhood?” or “I want to get to know my neighbourhood better.” They gain volunteers, connections, and insight.

How does play effect urban design?

Well, I think the way we design our spaces affects how we interact. Are they designing a place where we go to sit down and watch children, or do we go to meet people and converse? Not that there should be that expectation on a playground, but we’re asking: what are the opportunities?

Why is it important to incorporate public play spaces in cities?

Play is something that is spontaneous. It’s light and allows us to think and interact in different ways, which is a valuable social skill.

Do you think that the quality of outdoor spaces have been altered to counter against “free play” in recent urban design?

I don’t know if it is intentional. It’s something we’re looking to explore in the discussions, looking at how it has changed and how that shapes the kind of decisions we make. Nothing happens in a vacuum, everything has effects and is done with many things in mind, everything happens for a reason. Lots of academics have looked at the notion of free play and how it affects everything.


Let’s Talk About Play

Thursday, April 13

Central Public Library
John Dutton Theatre, 2nd Floor
616 Macleod Trail SE, Calgary

Advance tickets: $12 adult, $5 student
Tickets at the door: $15

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