architecture · community · creativity · environment · health · learning · play · youtube

Switzerland Opens its first Parkour Park – YouTube

The sport of Parkour is usually focused on finding your own path in non-planned environments. But having a space designated specifically for exploration is great for both beginners and veterans alike to practice seeing routes and trying new skills.

Traceurs and play advocates all over the world have been trying to start up parkour parks in various cities, so this is really exciting to see another one finally come to fruition after the hard work of local citizens. Well done!

Switzerland finally got their first Parkour park. The past 2 years the team “Parkour Luzern” was planning so hard to realize this project and finally Joel helped them to design and build the park. Jesse, Guilaume and Joel went there for training and now we are proud to put out the first video from this awesome location.

Grandstand Parkour Park

via Free-Z at Switzerland’s first Parkour Park – YouTube.

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. 🙂

anthropology · behavior · health · learning · mental health · psychology

I will be speaking on play this Friday, July 20, in Seattle at Parkour Visions

Me showing my serious anthropologist side.

Hi everyone. Just a little self-promotion, plus some promotion for a great organization:

I have been asked to speak this Friday, July 20, at 7:20 pm about play and parkour, at the 3rd annual Parkour Summit hosted by Parkour Visions in Seattle, WA.

As some of you know,  I received my MA in Anthropology this past winter, which focused on play and parkour. My play research has included studies of human-gorilla interaction at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, the primary physical play behaviors found in all primates (including traceurs), and how traceurs redefine and interact with space in new and creative ways.

Full disclosure, I have also been an advisory board member for the Pacific Northwest Parkour Association (the nonprofit behind Parkour Visions) since 2006, when it was having board meetings in my kitchen and I would feed all the board members banana coconut pancakes.

I have been asked by Parkour Visions to discuss my findings about parkour and play, why play is vitally important across the human lifespan for physical and mental health, what human play looks like, and how parkour reflects and answers the need for lifelong play.

There will also be lots of other great speakers talking about how movement plays into health in other ways than just strong muscles, including gut health, mental health, and long life, and ways to incorporate movement and play into ones lives. See a list of speakers here. The talks will be after a community dinner, so if you’re interested you can also bring $5 or a plate of something healthy (think fruit or meat) starting at 5pm, and mingle with the speakers before the talk.

The summit also includes an invitational competition of some of the best traceurs in the world, which is free to the public, on Saturday morning, so if you can’t come to the talk please come by and check out these amazing athletes. There are lots of other events taking place, so check out the itinerary and see if there’s something that sparks your interest.

I look forward to seeing you there!

behavior · environment · Nature

Movement study using Parkour athletes reveals orangutans’ climbing secrets

English: dave 59 took it myself at the Orang r...
Orangutan at the Orang rehabilitation centre, Buket Lawang ,Sumatra. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My M.A. thesis was on parkour, and how traceurs’ movement compared similarly to other primate movement behaviors, particularly the great apes. Now, a researcher in the U.K. has used traceurs to demonstrated how orangutans can move efficiently and effectively through the trees. Never would have thought of that, awesome!

From Io9:

Orangutans spend their lives swinging in trees and eating fruit… a fruit-based diet like the one orangutans prefer won’t provide much raw energy, while choosing to live up in the trees instead of padding about on the ground really should require a lot of it. To solve this apparent paradox, Dr. Lewis Halsey and his team at the University of Roehampton enlisted some expert practitioners of parkour to simulate orangutan movements in a controlled environment.

…According to the researchers, the orangutans’ secret is to use the natural moment of the trees to keep their own energy costs down. Here the primates’ extra mass is actually a benefit, allowing them to make their tree sway back and forth until it’s close enough to the next tree to move on. It’s not necessarily going to be the quickest way to move about, but it is energy-efficient, saving about 90% of the energy it would take to climb down one tree and up the next one.

It’s also considerably safer than going to the ground — as the researchers point out, the orangutans of Sumatra share their environment with tigers, which means any time spent out of the trees is time spent courting death.

From the BBC:

The results could help explain how orangutans are likely to be affected as their forest environment is cut down.

“We wanted to measure the energy expenditure as they moved through the trees,” he told BBC Nature, “so we put a mask on [the athletes] to measure their oxygen consumption.”

For one particularly precarious-looking test, the team designed a tall pole that mimicked the flexibility of a tree. The participants then used this to recreate a “tree-sway manoeuvre”.

“This is something the orangutans use to cross gaps,” said Dr Coward. “They sway [the tree] backwards and forwards until they’re able to get across.”

The team found that this method of moving from tree-to-tree used just one tenth of the energy that it cost to climb down and back up.

“As their environment is affected by humans cutting down trees, they are coming across more gaps and those gaps are bigger and more expensive.”

Dr Coward added that, for Sumatran orangutans, climbing down was not an option.

What a great study that not only demonstrates how a sport based on play can help researchers understand other primate behaviors, but it also helps promote conversation for orangutans. 🙂

behavior · creativity · environment · happiness · play · youtube

My thesis, summed up in a two-minute video

After working for literally YEARS on my Master’s thesis (I’m still SO excited that I graduated this past quarter and am an official M.A.), I come across this video, which pretty much sums up my years of work in two and a half minutes. It showcases two students from Parkour Visions in Seattle, WA, explaining why they like parkour, mostly because it lets them play again. Upon seeing this I had two thoughts: “well done” and “dang!”

My parkour buddies also showed me this video recently, which in approximately 9 minutes explains the whole reason I wanted to do my thesis in the first place. The video is actually a pitch for funding a documentary called “Seriously!” which interviews a lot of play experts on the subject of play, including many people I cited in my thesis, and why play is important for our survival. In this case, my reaction was wanting to send it to my thesis advisers and scream: “See? See?!”


Anyway, it is a very nice video, so enjoy:

behavior · creativity · health · youtube

30 minutes of play a day!

*edit*: NOW with working YouTube link. Thanks for NOT telling me, people, gosh! 😛

In case you’re still trying to come up with a new year’s resolution, or even if you think you’ve got your goals for 2012 all set, you might want to make room for one more.

Ryan Ford, the man behind the DemonDrills workouts on YouTube and owner of Apex Movement, a Parkour and Crossfit gym in Colorado, makes a very convincing argument for just how easy it is to incorporate 30 minutes of fun exercise, i.e. play, into your day:

You’d be amazed at how easy it is to add a little play into your day, and how quickly that play adds up. It also helps get the creative juices flowing and helps you see the world in new ways, so it’s also good brain exercise.

behavior · happiness · health · play

Growth of playful fitness for grown-ups

Adults are starting to turn fitness back into play. Image via Wikipedia

I have noticed a growing trend in fitness. Rather than taking Spin classes or training to run marathons, or even heavy weight lifting, many adults are starting to pay to play. They are buying gym memberships or punch cards for classes that offer an hour of having fun! Many classes that incorporate dance, parkour, or toys like hula hoops or trampolines, are starting to become very popular all over the United States.

The majority of these classes are geared towards women. Jazzercise has had a resurgence in popularity the past couple of years, while new fitness classes like Zumba or HoopDance are starting to surface. There are also trampolining classes offered in some places. Below are descriptions of some of these classes for those of you like me who had no idea what these classes were exactly, (thanks to Vibe Dance Studio and Sky High Sport for descriptions):

Zumba: This Adult Fitness class features easy-to-follow routines of interval training sessions where fast and slow Latin rhythms and resistance training are combined to tone and sculpt your body while burning fat. Add some Latin flavor and international zest into the mix and you’ve got a Zumba class!

HoopDance: This fun, low impact Adult Fitness class will tone the entire body while using a hula hoop on and off the body. You will explore dancing while hooping and linking moves together to create a feeling a flow. This class will build coordination, body awareness, and is great for any fitness level. You laugh and smile while learning a new skill and burning calories.

AIRobics, or trampolining: AIRobics is low impact fat burning exercise that improves balance and coordination and it is fun and energizing! The workout consists of moves from many different workout activities, and it incorporates some moves that can only be done on a trampoline.

For men, there are also options:  rock climbing has been around in the U.S. since the mid to late 70s, and  gyms geared towards those athletes opened up soon after. More recently sports like Parkour or Freerunning are also being offered in gym or class settings. Interestingly, at least anecdotally it seems that women are more likely to try these “manly” sports in the safe confines of a gym and with a coach’s guidance.

Adult recreational sports are also gaining popularity, from rugby and soccer to even roller derby.

Why the sudden increase in playful classes and gym offerings?

I suspect it’s because we adults are super stressed out (according to the American Psychological Association, Three quarters of Americans experience physical and psychological symptoms related to stress in a given month) and don’t get enough time to play and relax, but know we need to workout and at least attempt to stay healthy. Rather than do the traditional workout activities like running or lifting weights, which some find relaxing while others just find it tedious or stressful or even painful, I think many adults figure if they’re going to devote what little time they have to working out, it might as well be FUN!

What are your thoughts, experiences, attitudes towards fitness? Have you discovered other fun sports teams or classes that people wouldn’t usually think of as fitness-focused?

community · Social

Building communities through online tools

It used to be considered sketchy to combine our online and offline worlds. With programs like Meetup and Foursquare, however, those days are long gone.

Lisa Gansky an author, instigator & entrepreneur, wrote a book about it, The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing. She also wrote an article for Boing Boing about 100k Garages “a Mesh-web-enabled sharing-platform that pairs people who want to make things (Makers) with digital fabrication tools (Fabbers).

“Many projects are small businesses that sell unique items. But 100k Garages, a team-up of ShopBot Tools and Ponoko, uses grass roots enterprise and ingenuity to help get us back in action — to modernize our public infrastructure, develop energy-saving alternatives, or simply produce great new products for our homes and businesses. There are already thousands of ShopBot CNC tools in garages and small shops across the country, ready to locally fabricate the components needed to address our energy and environmental challenges and to locally produce items needed to enhance daily living, work, and business.”

There are other non-business examples too; the sport Parkour spread internationally thanks to YouTube and online forums. People donated to the Haiti Earthquake relief fund in record numbers because they could do it via text message. People have Meetups and Tweet ups all the time. Foursquare is based entirely on allowing people know virtually where you are physically. However, security and safety are still a major concern, and some people still feel odd sharing these kinds of details online where anyone can access them, not just the community members they intended.

How do online communities translate into interactions in the real world and vice versa? What has your experience been with the navigation of having specific communities that exist both online and in-person? Does one seem more real than the other? Comment below.