By Robert Voigt.
The summer of 2012 in Toronto saw the creation of a one‐of‐a‐kind urban park experience from the collaboration between Adam Bienenstock (Park Designer/Builder), Urban Planner Robert Voigt, and sponsors ING Direct, Canadian Wildlife Federation, and Parks Canada.
As part of the Celebrate Yonge project, for one month, Celebration Park supplanted automobiles on Yonge Street in downtown Toronto with 250,000 lbs of towering trees, massive logs, boulders, grasses and flowers, 30 seat amphitheater, and a raw log ‘cabin’. A civic place designed to reconnect people with nature and express possibilities for a better future. The Park was intended to be the perfect venue for the partners and community to reanimate the most congested corridor of the busiest city in the country; a new and inspiring combination of nature and urbanity. This was made real with local organic farmers market events, Parks Canada programs, and the Canadian Wildlife Federation bringing live owls, turtles, and porcupines for people to experience.
Connections to nature have been shown to improve physical and emotional health, and profoundly increase everything from IQ to serotonin levels while decreasing rates of ADHD, stress, bullying, vandalism, and obesity. Moving beyond basic aesthetics to addressing real quality of life requires a more refined, supportive, and dynamic connection between our neighbourhoods, towns and cities, and nature. The design of our build environments and their interconnections with nature and landscape has to be about more than just "open space” or urban forestry. These simplified concepts will have to be superseded by design awareness that is informed by medical, and social sciences as well. Our communities will have to support our lives in new ways. Designers will have to embrace city building with a new appreciation and aesthetic. Access to nature must become integrated into our placemaking and community design programs, advancing true livability: the quality of human well-being, nourished and nurtured by an interrelationship between the build environment and nature that facilitates, social, psychological, physical, spiritual and cultural development for all individuals and the community alike.
For one month we lived this future, and Celebration Park showed how the right team and a willing community can create projects that change experiences and expectations. As a result of Celebrate Yonge business activity increased, vehicle speeds were tamed while traffic volumes were unaffected, pedestrian and bicycle numbers rose, and the daily experiences of citizens were improved. When the project came to a close, the work crew that went unnoticed during construction was suddenly being questioned as to why Celebration Park was not remaining, and who could people speak with to make this urban oasis a daily and permanent reality. Have no doubt that there are those that are working on that challenge, but that is just the beginning and there is much work to do in neighbourhoods and communities around the world. So the question that Adam and I are always asking is “Where to next?”
Adam Bienenstock is about to complete a month long workshop & speaking tour of Australia starting on 22 July.
Robert Voigt is currently working with the Australian based Bank of Ideas to schedule dates for a workshop tour on active transportation and healthy community design (contact Peter Kenyon at email@example.com ).
Follow Robert Voigt on twitter here.