We want to create a pop-up adventure playground and transitory community-created art installation to animate Rabbit Hill Natural Area for #DIYCity Day. Won't you help us use the ideas of tactical urbanism to create a family-friendly suburban event?
Who: We're an as-yet-unnamed collective of artists looking for collaborators and volunteers to make this thing happen. We are passionate about creating a series of pop-up play places in both urban and suburban neighborhoods that activate underused or lost public spaces and create feelings of community connectedness. We see Highest Point as the first installation in a series.
What: Highest Point Pop-Up Playground will be a pop-up adventure playground, transitory community-created art installation, and textile art installation in the parkland surrounding the highest point in Edmonton, a glacial kame called Rabbit Hill. It will be paired with temporary wayfinding and interpretative signs along the paths that help people explore the area while informing them about the kame's cultural and natural history, and a temporary Heart Garden (in collaboration with Reconciliation In Solidarity Edmonton). We plan to use wayfinding, art, and playhouse creation to help foster connection with the natural and material history of the place. We hope to reclaim the kame's historical importance as a site with thousands of years of Indigenous use, and foster social investment in the kame with the nature reserve as a focal point.
When: June 21st 2015 (#DIYCity and National Aboriginal Day), 10am to 6pm (the link is our Facebook event page)
Where: The highest point in Edmonton, at 716m, is at the southern end of parkland on a glacial kame called Rabbit Hill in the suburban Magrath neighborhood in southwest Edmonton. You can see the recently-built playground at the northern base of the kame, a grassy area that will probably be used to enlarge the playground on the west, and an area with a couple of benches and a picnic table on the east, on Google Streetview from the intersection of Magrath Road and Magrath Boulevard. Just uphill of the playground is a bowl-shaped grassy area (ideal for the pop-up playground made of recyclables and our other planned activities) at the base of a steep slope the local kids like to use for tobogganing in winter. At the top of the hill is the wooded area set aside as a nature reserve, with gravel or grass walking paths around its perimeter and a dirt trail running through it.
The park has several other names: Magrath Park or Magrath Heights Park, which properly refer to the playground area, and the Southwest Highland Natural Area (SW86) or Rabbit Hill Natural Area, which refer to the ecologically unique area maintained as a municipal reserve at the top of the kame. (The number of official names the space has had is itself a reflection of the loss of its historical significance.)
The City of Edmonton explains at this link, and in detail in this report (PDF, pages 7-8), the ecological significance of Southwest Highland / Rabbit Hill Natural Area due to its proximity to Whitemud Creek Ravine, its creation by glacial deposition, and its partial clearance during agricultural use. That natural history can easily be incorporated into our educational pop-up playground activites and wayfinding signage.
After settlement by mainly German and Ukrainian immigrants in the 1890s, the first school and church in the area were built within a mile of Rabbit Hill and took their names from it. The area was converted to farmland, with coal mining near Whitemud Creek Ravine to the south of Rabbit Hill. The post-settlement history of the area will also be incorporated into the educational pop-up playground activites and wayfinding signage.
Nearby developers (see Larch Park's Larch Sanctuary website and page 8 of their interpretive program (PDF)) and archaeologist Heinz Pyszczyk (subscription required) have quietly noted Rabbit Hill's Indigenous significance as a lookout point and intermittent camping site, for perhaps as long as 12,000 years. Rabbit Hill Natural Area may hold archaeological sites on its crown, which hasn't been excavated, and has already yielded thousands of artifacts from its slopes during pre-development excavation. This long history of Indigenous use seems not to be widely known.
Since last summer, someone has built a slightly-damaged tipi in an aspen grove on the crown of Rabbit Hill. It's not clear from the site whether city permission was sought for this structure (it seems unlikely).
However, given the deep history of Indigenous use of Rabbit Hill, we will also be working long-term for the creation of a Rabbit Hill Advisory Council with local aboriginal and Metis groups. The Advisory Council may discuss creation of a permanent structure or art installation as a focal point for ceremony, education, and reconciliation; installation of permanent signage including the Cree and Blackfoot name(s) for Rabbit Hill; and/or other projects that will promote knowledge and understanding of Rabbit Hill's significance.
Why: By creating a common focus (creative play) in an unusual setting, barriers between community members can be dissolved in a low-stakes but intentional way, and neighborhood identity can be discovered. In newly built suburban neighborhoods, this process can be especially helpful in giving community members a sense of belonging and engagement that we hope will encourage civic identity and involvement.
This site is also rich with aboriginal history and significance that has gone practically unacknowledged to date, so we see a unique opportunity to reclaim and celebrate that significance as an important step toward reconciliation.