anthropology · architecture · behavior · community

Parkour and Preserving Playful Spaces

People who practice parkour, called traceurs or tracers, often get a bad rap by city officials, saying they are disturbing or damaging public property. But in fact, often traceurs are some of the most vocal activists for preserving and protecting their environments. Take this story from The Atlantic, for example:

On warm days, when office-tower émigrés can enjoy their lunches next to its calming water features, Calgary’s Century Gardens Park serves as a popular daytime downtown retreat.

But at 38 years-old, the Brutalist public space is starting to show its age. The color of its odd concrete features has faded to a dreary ash, the foliage is overgrown, and the water pumps are failing. Angular slabs create both barriers to pedestrian access and places for miscreants to hide—city park staff complain of finding evidence of overnight drinking and drug use.

The city is itching to overhaul Century Gardens, though how much of the park might survive the process remains to be seen. Early proposals range from sprucing up the existing park and keeping it mostly intact to completely razing it and building a new park from scratch. The park’s age and need for refurbishment has given the city the opportunity to address its magnetism for social disorder, as well as apply a more contemporary approach to urban design.In the meantime Calgary’s parkour community—for whom the park’s structures are perfectly suited—have allied themselves with a local heritage group to try to save it.”Century Gardens is one of the coolest locations around for parkour. Not just in Calgary, but Canada-wide, and internationally,” says Steve Nagy, editor of the Calgary-based parkour magazine Breathe and co-owner of a local parkour gym. The Netherlands-based MunkiMotion parkour group also included it in their YouTube series, “Best Parkour Spots in the World”

more via The Calgary Park Thats United Historic Preservationists and Parkour Athletes – Brandon Beasley – The Atlantic Cities.

This group of traceurs is banding together with a preservationist group in Calgary to save the park. It’s a great example of two seemingly incompatible groups joining forces to preserve an urban space.

I think this kind of collaboration can and should be done more often.

In many peoples’ eyes these older parks, structures, or abandoned lots are just seen as wasted space, or maybe even dangerous, and certainly many old playgrounds don’t meet current safety codes. But for traceurs, or any adults that likes to climb or jump around, these spaces offer endless playful opportunities. I believe traceurs are some of the best urban playground spotters, and they know a good playground or playful space when they see it. Preserving or adjusting these spaces, rather than tearing them down and starting from scratch, is a viable alternative that can appease all parties involved.

I am glad The Atlantic is looking at this challenge over balancing use of space by different groups in urban environments.

Juliet Vong, President of HBB Landscape Architecture, Tyson Cecka, Executive Director of Parkour Visions, and I proposed a session about this topic for the annual meeting for the American Society of Landscape Architects. Sadly, it was turned down, I believe primarily because we didn’t explain what parkour was well enough to the panel. Hopefully next year we’ll be accepted, because I STILL think this is an important topic that needs to be explored more, and we are happy to come chat about it with your school, company, or conference. Just ping me. 🙂

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