Why not here and now?
Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds set out to answer exactly those questions when it came to converting denuded, under-utilized urban property into something more meaningful; a catalyst for community development, natural spaces that bring new purpose to our urban environments and optimize for the full spectrum human experience.
Living Streets was originally a proof-of-concept project first implemented in 2012 when Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds partnered with ING Direct, the Canadian Wildlife Federation, Parks Canada and the Robert Bateman Foundation to present the month-long “Celebrate Yonge” initiative. This involved transforming a crowded, concrete strip of Yonge Street in Toronto into a green oasis of trees, boulders, logs, grass, and soil. It also featured a 30-seat amphitheatre built into the naturescape, 3 patios and a cedar fort.
Leveraging the success of our flagship install, TD Friends of the Environment Foundation reached out to Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds in celebration of their 25th anniversary to promote “going green” across Canada; transforming otherwise sterile urban environments in downtown Surrey, Calgary, Toronto, Hamilton, Laval & Halifax into interactive, lush, living parkscapes that offer their communities a place to thrive and the connection to nature that today’s urban environments so sorely lack.
Through a growing multitude of pop–up parks and urban nature play exhibits, the program has blossomed into a streamlined initiative, uniting urban communities with nature, placemaking opportunities and programming spaces as well as additional capacity and seating for residents and business patrons alike. The initiative aims to promote traffic calming, optimize the corridor for all modes of transportation (biking, walking, running, etc.), connect all members of the community to an interactive green space that is absent, and offer greater flexibility for what would otherwise be a space with very little meaningful impact on the surrounding community.
The benefits of this transformation resonate at an environmental level as well, where even small changes can produce a profound impact locally. Today’s modern cities are often 20–30 degrees warmer than their surrounding environment due the urban heat island effect which occurs when natural land cover is replaced with dense concentrations of pavement, buildings, and other surfaces that absorb and retain heat. Local temperature profiles receive instant relief when trees, vegetation and natural surfaces are added to provide shade, deflect radiation from the sun, and release moisture into the atmosphere. Overland flow is also an environmental concern facing modern urban environments. As cities are paved with non-porous surfaces, rainwater is able to circumvent the water table and travels directly to our lakes and tributaries without being processed through soils and natural vegetation. This leads to a surplus of minerals and nutrients, like phosphorus and nitrate, wreaking havoc on local ecosystems through eutrophication, algae blooms and unprecedented bacterial growth. Even the localized addition of green space offers to fortify the riparian buffer and help to correct for the imbalance.
The Living Streets initiative is designed to demonstrate the ease with which we might the unlock community–building capacity in our urban spaces. The full value of these spaces has been overlooked in the interest of streamlining singular efficiencies rather than approaching the holistic potential of a place. Where human geography, cultural development and accessibility intersect with the overwhelmingly positive impact of nature returning to our communities, there lies a more universal solution for us to capitalize on the human and environmental potential for our urban spaces. It is our mission to leverage this program as a catalyst for change; demonstrating the ease with which our approach to converting, or future development of our urban geographies, may experience a paradigm shift to encompass the holistic potential for our spaces.
So we pose the question once more; why not here, and why not now?