Exploring the Urban Playground
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Exploring the Urban Playground

An architect-led Jane's Walk approaches the financial district from a kid's-eye view.

Photo of the TD Centre cows by {a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/a590is/3817432675/sizes/z/in/photostream/”}Wai{/a} from the {a href=”http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/”}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

Toronto: City as Urban Playground (as part of Jane’s Walk)
Meet at the central fountain in Berczy Park (by the Flatiron Building)
Saturday, May 5, 10 a.m.

Picasso once said that every child is an artist. It’s a famous quote, with a famous conundrum: “The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Certainly, there’s a distinction between a kid’s approach to the world and that of an adult, a fundamental divide in daily life and how we approach it. It’s what led architect David Butterworth to plan Toronto: City as Urban Playground, a Jane’s Walk targeted at children aged 5–12 and centred around one of the city’s least likely play spaces—the financial district.

Butterworth, the father of two young children, conceived of the tour while considering the design approaches of downtown landmarks. “If you look at any of the spaces in downtown Toronto, they are specifically designed with a child’s perspective in mind,” he explains, citing the invitingly climbable cow statues outside of TD Centre as an example of public art whose charm lies in its knack for teasing out childlike impulses in its viewers.

Children don’t want to simply observe a place the way adults do. “They want to know, ‘What can I do in it? What can I use, what can I play with?’” Design, from a kid’s perspective, is all about interaction—the ability to infuse a space with character and connectivity.

It’s also about creating reference points. “When children see a space, they don’t see space,” says Butterworth.“They start going, ‘Man with an umbrella.’ ‘Pigeons.’ ‘Tall post.’ What they’re recognizing is things that they understand…not the big picture. They’re recognizing something that they establish as a control point.”

Butterworth hopes his walk will join those elements of mental map-making with a sense of accessibility, highlighting the everyday playfulness of urban architecture and design through some of the downtown core’s most familiar locales—the Royal York Hotel, Brookfield Place, the Flatiron building, and the PATH system among them. It’s part education, part experiment.

“Kids, as they get older, 12 or 13, invent a way to play,” he says. “They’re challenging themselves to do something with the space, they’re trying to be creative. A kid at five, six years old, they just want to run around, kick a football.” By targeting children from both ends of this developmental spectrum—and, of course, their parents—Butterworth’s tour aims to draw attention to the breadth of spatial interaction.

“We’ve got a couple of fun things, theories, that we’re going to test on this little walk—doing it in spaces that we think are going to engage [the walkers] and make them think at the same time.”