A Debrief | Parks & Play: A Conversation for All Ages
By Michael Halicki, Park Pride’s Executive Director
Last week, a record crowd of 420+ park enthusiasts attended the 15th Annual Parks and Greenspace Conference at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Our theme this year, Parks and Play: A Conversation for All Ages, is an important and timely discussion as the population of our region continues to grow. As such, 11 breakout sessions plus six featured speaker presentations covered a wide range of angles on this topic, from inclusive play design, to equal access to play for all ethnicities and all abilities, to active play demonstrations. For a rich sense of the conference, I encourage you to view the full program and scan through available presentations on our website and view photos on Facebook or Flickr. What follows is a brief outline of ten presentations I had the pleasure of experiencing:
- James Siegel, CEO of KaBOOM! was passionate about the power of play to benefit the whole child. He focused on the need for play that goes beyond playgrounds and addressed the lack of play equity in our cities. “One of the biggest challenges that we face in underserved communities,” he explained, “is that the safest things for kids to do is to go home from school and sit on the couch.” Siegal challenged the audience to not “settle for solutions that only benefit a privileged few.”
- Barbara Tulipane, President and CEO of the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), set the stage for parks as places where the play happens. “It’s hard to walk by someone in a park and not say ‘hello,’” she said, stressing the social importance of parks. In addition, she gave a ringing endorsement for Park Pride as the model for park improvement and community engagement that should be replicated in other areas.
- Tracy McLendon, Vice President of Programs and Art Fix, Chief Operating Officer of the Atlanta Botanical Garden (ABG), gave a sneak peek of the renovations at the Children’s Garden and explained the research conducted to inform the design decisions to make the Garden experience better for kids and adults. ABG is a national leader among botanical gardens, being one of the first in the country to construct a Children’s Garden. The renovation is slated to be completed this summer – we encourage you to check it out with your families!
- Wandi Steward of Keeping It Wild! and Carolyn Hartfield of Older People with Active Lifestyles (OPAL) discussed “Breaking the Color Barrier in the Great Outdoors.” Steward explained how people of color aren’t typically included in the traditional idea of an “outdoor experience” for many, and that Keeping It Wild! works to change that notion by providing inclusive outdoor opportunities for individuals of all ethnicities. Hartfield discussed how leading trips into the wilderness helped her to overcome anxieties and build confidence. In the wilderness, she explained, “You’ll discover things about YOU you never knew.”
- Park Pride honored seven community champions with the 2016 Inspiration Awards. These awards recognize leaders who inspire others to improve public parks and raise awareness about critical, relevant issues. This year’s award recipients include: Linda Bain from Sandy Springs Conservancy; Pauline Drake from Friends of Jennie Drake Park; Cynthia Gentry of Play Atlanta; Atlanta park advocate Esther Stokes; recently retired DeKalb County Greenspace Manager Dave Butler; Ellenwood community advocate Ronald Johnson; and Karl Schultz with Friends of Frazier-Rowe Park. Each Inspiration Award winner received a one-of-a-kind, locally produced piece of art created specially by A.B. Lovell and Mark A. Wentz of Americoglass.
- Alex Gilliam, Founder of Public Workshop, taught us to expect more of the public in our engagement efforts. He disclosed that the level of passion and dedication required to engage the public is far beyond what is generally anticipated. Alex discussed how building with our hands in a space that you’re working to impact is a far more productive community engagement tactic than a public meeting. In his words, “If I interact with the world, I can know it.”
- Ingrid Kanics, President of Kanics Inclusive Design Services, discussed the principles of universal design and creating play environments that are accessible to all.
- Cynthia Gentry, Founding Director of Play Atlanta, affirmed her role as Atlanta’s play expert as she focused on the importance of self-directed free play as part of a healthy balance of all types of play for children.
- Robin Moore, Director of the Natural Learning Initiative, used statistics to illustrate the importance of play and emphasized that “play is a child’s right.” He showed how the movable parts theory applies to natural play environments too, and that often the most used parts of natural playgrounds aren’t always the most high-cost amenities.
- Chantelle Rytter’s presentation about civic play and the Atlanta BeltLine Lantern Parade was the conference highlight for many. She proclaimed that “Creative play is a natural proclivity!” and “The lovability of our public spaces is up to us.”
In 2017, The Parks and Greenspace Conference will focus on Connecting with Parks; we know this topic will generate an abundance of ideas and conversations. Let us know if there is a particular conversation you’re interested in having under this theme on our website, and we look forward to seeing you in 2017!