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Calgary’s Variety Park Provides Inclusive Play for Everyone

In cities around the world, playgrounds are a place of joy, excitement and laughter from children as they run through play structures, squeal at the rush of going down a slide, and test their strength on the monkey bars. However, for those growing up with physical or cognitive disabilities, more traditional playgrounds may present limitations on how they can participate in the act of ‘play’, which is why, 15 years ago, Variety Club of Alberta helped to build Calgary’s first inclusive play space at South Glenmore Park.

Since 2002, families of all types have been enjoying the park, including Urban Systems Landscape Architect, Gregg Kahan. He has been visiting it for years with his children, never thinking it was anything more than a regular playground, and a chance opportunity would prove to be an education is what it means to build inclusive play spaces.

You Can Never Predict Where Work May Come From

Gregg Kahan, Landscape Architect

The story goes that one day Gregg received an email from colleague, Michael James Davies, about an opportunity to help upgrade South Glenmore Park. Michael’s sister-in-law, connected to Variety Alberta, had reached out to him to see if he knew of anyone that would interested in helping out. As a networked organization, it’s not uncommon that consultants will recommend colleagues for projects, but still, as Gregg points out, “It goes to prove you can never predict where work may come from.”

Over a decade old, the playground was in need of some upgrades, due in part to wear and tear but also because in that time there have been a number of innovations around accessible play equipment. Variety were applying for various grants to help fund the upgrade, and asked Urban Systems, as well as two other firms, to submit proposals to include with their application to show they were serious about the work. Lee Giddens, a Landscape Consultant and the project’s Design and Project Coordinator, feels it was thanks to their previous relationships with not-for-profit organizations, including Outdoor Classroom built for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), that helped to earn them the contract for Phase one of the project.

“The project included a focus on policy, which speaks to how municipalities can create ones that better support kids with physical or cognitive disabilities,” Lee explains. Gaining a better understanding of this aspect of the project was as much a reward for Lee as helping with the design and planning of the park. “It was also a great introduction into learning which organizations and government bodies are responsible for the various aspects of a project like this. It was a challenge, but in a good way.”

It’s all about providing space

For Gregg, this project offers a unique opportunity to examine what inclusive play really looks like. “The number of things to consider were more than meets the eye in terms of this project,” he admits. Designing a space for a diverse range of users is about more than just flicking through a catalogue and selecting the equipment. The playground has to be accessible not only for children with physical limitations, but also cognitive – simple details like colour and texture can have just as big an impact, and are equally important in making a space welcoming.

“As a Landscape Architect, the excitement comes from creating places for people to enjoy,” says Gregg. “It’s all about providing spaces for people and there’s no reason anyone should be excluded from that.” Gregg and Lee see this project as a rewarding experience that has allowed them to make an investment in their community, and is an alignment with our philosophy as an organization in supporting vibrant communities.

Providing Opportunities for Play for All People

Lee Giddens, Landscape Consultant

On Saturday, June 24, 2017, the playground was re-opened, complete with updated equipment and expanded with more space to play. The day included a celebration which brought together officials from all levels of government, and included an official announcement from the Rick Hansen Foundation, committing to support future phases of the project, which Gregg and Lee hope to be involved with.

The true measure of this project’s success is whether or not the children were happy with the end product, and Gregg and Lee have no doubts. “It was great to see people of all ages interacting with the park,” Lee admits excitedly. Gregg even notes the benefits the space has given to grandparents, now able to better interact with their grandchildren in the playground. “It’s all about the equipment that provides opportunities for play for all people,” he states.

Both Gregg and Lee are proud of what their team has accomplished, and to have been able to have a positive impact on their community. However, their personal growth has been equally rewarding. Gregg views this project as a stepping stone the better understanding how to design and create places for inclusive play, and all the variables that come together to support that. For Lee, she now has a greater appreciation for the number of people who contribute to a project of this scale. “Seeing how many people are involved with planning and implementing a park is inspiring and special.”

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