Playground makes a natural impression

To paraphrase a famous adage: Empire’s are not built in a day. City parks, however, can be.

In the heart of Leslieville, McCleary playground recently received a rather drastic facelift thanks to some innovative planning, a generous $300,000 donation and upwards of 500 hardworking volunteers.

The park became Toronto’s first “Natural Playground,” a term coined by Adam Bienenstock, president and designer of Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds.  Over the years Bienenstock, of Dundas, Ont. has brought his vision of public space to municipalities across the globe.

“Its important to foster a child’s connection with nature,” Bienenstock said. “I was lucky enough to grow up in an environment where I was outside, experiencing nature from sun up until sundown – most kids today don’t get that opportunity.”

Today, Bienenstock uses his company to build beautiful public spaces that blur the lines between form and function, the natural and the manufactured.

His playgrounds use natural materials such as boulders for climbing, fallen logs and stumps for seating and tables, slides embedded into the sides of rolling hills and plenty of soft organic materials on the ground to keep things safe.

The project was put together in one day care of financial institution ING Direct. The bank donated the $300,000 necessary to make the park a reality but, even more importantly they closed down the majority of their offices in Toronto for the day so 500 of their employees, clad in orange t-shirts, could put it all together, one tarp full of sod at a time.

ING employees Jacqueline Bolton and Kate Johnston were bussed in from their North York headquarters at 9:30 a.m. to begin work. To keep things running smoothly the army of workers was broken up into teams – 25 in all.

“The whole thing came together in about a week and a half,” Johnston said “Everyone was really excited to get involved.”

Not everyone got to make the trek south to enjoy the sunshine though.

“A few people had to stay back to keep things running, and our Ottawa office is picking up a lot of the slack,” Bolton said. “But we’ll do the same for them when they get out into the community.”

With a 4:30 p.m. finish, there wasn’t much time for talk. As much as people were enjoying themselves there was a very real transformation taking place. Just one day ago this was a derelict patch of grass at the corner of Queen and McGee, it is now a full-blown community accomplishment.