Saturday, March 21, 2009

I Believe in Kindness: June Callwood Park

(Readers outside Canada may not know the work of activist and journalist June Callwood. Please click here to read about this gracious, generous and inspiring woman.)

A new park in Toronto to honour the memory of June Callwood is scheduled for completion in 2011. Before she died in 2007, Callwood knew that such a memorial was in the works, and she requested that the park be made with young children in mind. She loved babies: "I think that they're so perfect… They're just full of God, if God is your goodness and your decency and your capacity for affection." She believed in children: "Most people will do anything to help a child and that's the way the human race is meant to be. We're meant to be a tribe. And when it works, it just makes your heart leap." She was spiritual but not religious: "I am missing a formal religion, but I am not without a theology, and my theology is that kindness is a divinity in motion."

The international design competition for the park was awarded to the architecture and landscape design firm "gh3". The the result is a proposal so beautifully, brilliantly appropriate that it moved me to tears. Partners Pat Hansen and Diana Gerrard give credit to architecture student Joel Di Giacomo (remember that name!) for the idea which became the conceptual key to the design.

"The design starts with a simple desire: to physically embody June Callwood's voice in an intensified urban forest."

To achieve this, a digital voiceprint was made from a vocal sample taken from the last interview Ms. Callwood granted before her death. Responding to a question about her religious beliefs, Ms. Callwood said, "I believe in kindness."

This voiceprint provided the "map" for the park, which will be situated on a narrow and neglected greensward adjacent to old Fort York. The voiceprint itself will be physically rendered in granite strips, and the spaces between intensely planted with trees. The park is divided into 6 evocative zones, each engaging different aspects of a child's sense of play: imagination, contemplation, movement and exploration.

The elements include a Puddle Plaza , a bright pink rubber Puzzle Garden, a shiny, curvy stainless steel Maze, a Pink Field (also of rubber), Tree Strip Gardens, and Ephemeral Pools.

The Puzzle Plaza, perfect for climbing, jumping and balancing.

The Maze, and the granite strips which record the voiceprint.

The Pink Field.

Park benches will be translucent and contain LEDs with motion detectors, lighting up when someone sits down, and glowing at night.

The Ephemeral Pools will have a geo-thermal heating system to create a low-lying fairyland mist in winter, and providing an above-freezing micro-climate.

Absolute perfection.

(related post: Play is Child's Work)


  1. This is so pretty! Toronto right?
    Toronto needs more parks and public spaces for greenery and hanging out downtown. I'm happy to see such a positive idea.