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May 1 2021 Film /

TSA Playlist | May: Urban Parks 🌳


Parks play a vital role in our cities — one that has become ever more apparent in the last year as city-dwellers have turned to our local parks for connection, community, and respite.

As spring blooms around us, this month’s playlist brings together shorts, films and documentaries exploring urban parks across North America and the role they play within society. Included in the list are local Toronto gems, from a wildlife refuge right in our own front yard to a neighbourhood park shaped by its community. Our playlist also examines how different users and communities experience these urban spaces, and how sometimes these experiences are at odds with their original design and local authorities. Last but not least, we take a whirlwind tour across the USA to visit 10 iconic parks and learn more about one of North America’s most renowned landscape architects.

So come out, stay in, and explore the great (urban) outdoors with us!

Accidental Wilderness: The Leslie Street Spit
2020 | 44 min | Trailer

Accidental Wilderness, a documentary within the critically acclaimed series The Nature of Things, tells the story of an unusual Canadian wilderness right within Canada’s largest city: Tommy Thompson park also known as the Leslie Street Spit. The documentary tells the story of how this man-made 1950s breakwater initially conceived to protect Toronto’s bustling shoreline has become home to five distinct ecosystems and a dizzying array of animal life. The film explores the park throughout all four seasons and includes interviews with those helping protect this emerging wilderness while touching upon the conflict between human and animal needs. 

Watch it on CBC Gem


Citizen Z
2004 | 11 min 

This short documentary focuses on Toronto’s Dufferin Grove Park – home to a playground, ice rinks, an organic farmer’s market, a theatre troupe and numerous cultural activities. But when city inspectors raid the park on Christmas Eve and discover huge puppets, a baking oven and kitchen sharing the park’s dedicated Zamboni building, the flourishing neighbourhood group is threatened with evacuation.

Watch it on NFB


Claiming Open Spaces
1996 | 1 hr 49 min | Trailer 

“Austin Allen’s documentary takes a controversial stance: that African American’s conception of open space is different from that of the mostly white civic authorities who have closed public parks in recent years, denying blacks a vital gathering place… In building his case, Allen creates a fascinating history of Black America.”

–The East Bay Express

Produced and directed by Austin Allen, an associate professor at Louisiana State University, Claiming Open Spaces explores is a documentary on the perception of parks, in cities such as New Orleans and Detroit, from the cultural perspective of the African Americans who use them. The film asks us to consider the meaning of parks and open spaces in our communities and whose voices are left out in the planning process. Claiming Open Spaces is both a critical examination of the design and histories of American urban open space, as well as a celebration of leisure, recreation and resistance.

Watch it on Youtube


10 Parks that Changed America
2016 | 56 min | Trailer 

In a whirlwind tour across the United States, 10 That Changed America host Geoffrey Bear explores 10 unique parks to learn more about the ideas and values behind their design. Parks featured in the film include the squares of Savannah, Georgia, Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, Cambridge’s Mt. Auburn Cemetery, New York’s famed Central Park and the High Line, Chicago’s Neighbourhood Parks, San Atonio’s River Walk, Overton Park in Memphis, and Seattle’s Freeway Park and Gas Works Park.

Watch on PBS


Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America
2014 | 56 min | Trailer 

This documentary chronicles the life and landscapes of Frederick Law Olmstead, one of the best known landscape architects in American history. A believer that parks were both a work of art and a necessity of urban life, Olmsted was famous for co-designing many well-known urban parks with his senior partner Calvert Vaux including Central Park in New York City, as well as Montréal’s Mount Royal Park Boston’s Emerald Necklace. With beautiful cinematography and compelling commentary, this film presents the biography of a man whose parks and preservation are now an essential part of many American cities.

Watch on PBS


Reimagining Lincoln Center and the High Line
2012 | 55 min | Trailer 

Through interviews, beautiful cinematography and commentary from the architects, this documentary captures the story of Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s unique process in reimagining the public identities of two major New York City urban spaces —- the revitalization and expansion of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and the repurposing of once derelict High Line railroad tracks into a unique elevated park.

Watch on Kanopy


About the TSA Playlist

The TSA Playlist is a monthly curated list of free online films touching upon issues of architecture, the built environment and design. Our thematic lists do more than just entertain; they inspire us, enrich us, and challenge our perspectives helping bring the conversation of the built environment to new audiences and encourage conversation and debate.

Have a suggestion of a film or theme you would like to see featured? Let us know at tsa@torontosocietyofarchitects.ca

Be sure to also check out the past editions of the TSA Playlist


January | Community

March | Home

A large-scale excavation with machinery at a distanceth

April | Earth Day


June | Outdoors

July | O Canada


September | Community Shorts

How to access the Playlist

Our TSA Playlist films are available free of charge for online screening through a number of streaming services in the Greater Toronto Area and beyond including Kanopy, TVO, CBC Gem, and Hoopla. Our monthly list includes viewing links on platforms available in the region. Some of these streaming services might require you to have a free library or university card to access the service. See list below for where these streaming services are available.

Kanopy is currently available through the following library systems and universities in southern Ontario: Toronto PL, Hamilton PL, Oshawa PL (until July 3), Stratford PL, Newmarket PL, Whitby PL, London PL, Guelph PL, University of Toronto, Ryerson University, University of Waterloo, George Brown College, Seneca College, Centennial College and Sheridan College. If you don’t see your library listed, you can verify if your library has made Kanopy available here. Got a university card instead? You can check if your university has made Kanopy available here.

Hoopla is currently available through the following library systems and universities in southern Ontario: Toronto PL, Barrie PL, Kingston PL, Mississauga PL, Kitchener PL, Niagara Falls PL, Peterborough PL and Orillia PL.