February 15, 2015
LO Canada Blooms exercise garden also has a social conscience
Landscape Ontario Otium Outdoor Exercise Garden will be upfront and centre at Canada Blooms this year.
By Shawn Gallaugher

Landscape Ontario’s Otium Outdoor Exercise Garden at Canada Blooms will demonstrate several levels of social responsibility.

First, the garden will promote outdoor exercise to increase physical health and wellbeing.

Secondly, the otium concept rethinks the way our society exercises by taking exercise outdoors and reconnecting people with the landscape.

Thirdly, the LO Otium will demonstrate how physical fitness can be accessible and affordable to all, and reach people of lower socio-economic status, who tend to have poor health and greater issues with depression and obesity.

The Otium Concept is a garden that is designed with a form of boot camp style exercises. These are performed in the landscape to strengthen one’s health, wellbeing, and connection to nature. The concept is unique, in that the landscape features of the garden are used as exercise equipment. For instance, retaining walls are used for stepping, jumping and balancing, while paving patterns in patios and walkways are used as markers for cardio exercises. Overhead structures, such as arbors and gazebos, contain bars and brackets to support various suspension training systems to lift one’s body weight.

Contemplative areas in the garden also provide opportunities for stretching, yoga, and meditation. One of the interesting features of the LO Otium is that it includes an area in which those confined to a wheelchair, or with a disability, may work out. The warm-up program includes arm circles and swings, shoulder and neck rotations and shoulder leans. The cardio aspect involves push sprints across the sports court and chair transfers from the wheelchair to the bench, as fast as possible. Strength training involves the use of bands and flexibility is improved with wheelchair yoga. The garden design is programmed to accommodate a range of exercises that can be undertaken by people of all fitness levels.

The Otium outdoor exercise concept has the potential to shift the way our society exercises and reconnects people with the outdoors. Within our society, when we think of exercising, we tend to think of performing a physical activity in an indoor environment such as a gym. The business structure of a gym is designed to sell memberships and get people through their doors and into interior environments they have created. When you exercise outdoors, however, a major shift is encouraging awareness and appreciation of the outdoor environment.

The Landscape Ontario Otium Outdoor Exercise Garden will be re-purposed after Canada Blooms, with the exercise components moved to the Toronto neighborhood of St. James Town.
side view sketch of an outdoor exercise gardenLO’s exercise garden reinforces a central concept of Green for Life, the benefits of healthy outdoor living, and builds on our Come Alive Outside garden presented at the 2014 festival.
The largest high-rise community in Canada, St. James Town is one of the most densely populated areas in North America, with 37,000 people living in 19 residential towers in less than one square kilometre. The community is a gateway for many new Canadians. It is a typical transitional neighbourhood, where people new to the city settle for a few years and then move on when they are established.

The apartments lack appeal, are poorly constructed, and there is a lack of amenities to support the density of the population. The average income, at $22,000, is one of the lowest in the city. There are approximately 64 different languages spoken in the community, with the ten most common being Tagalog, Tamil, Chinese, Mandarin, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Serbian, Bengali and Urdu.

Community Matters Toronto is an optimistic group of St. James Town neighbours helping people build networks and share knowledge and skills. The offer from LO to share components of the Otium with this community is a timely endeavour. As of January 16, 2015, the Canadian Government announced the development of a community-based chronic disease prevention initiative for St. James Town to address unhealthy eating, physical inactivity, and smoking.

In discussion with the community, regarding how the LO Otium could be adapted to St. James Town, some inspiring feedback was given by residents. One community member stated, “I would like to walk in a space that reminds me of back home, of the gardens, parks, and the outdoor spaces.” This feedback became a revelation of what the LO Otium could be at Canada Blooms and how the garden could be adapted to the neighbourhood of St. James Town.

The list of common sports, popular in the countries of origin among the people living in St. James Town, includes basketball, soccer, baseball, cricket, racquet sports, volleyball and rugby. From here, various sports were combined that have similar training programs and exercise circuits were developed by Nikolai Whyte, a fitness consultant for Shawn Gallaugher Design.

With this information, the LO Canada Blooms garden was designed to accommodate training programs for sports both featured in the Pan Am Games, and represented by the culture of St. James Town. After the show, residents will be able to exercise for sports that are familiar to their heritage and be reminded of home.

Another social component of the garden is that it shares space with the Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF). The mission of this organization is to conserve and inspire the conservation of Canada’s wildlife and habitat. CWF also has an initiative, ‘Wild about Gardening,’ which informs people about creating gardens that are wildlife friendly. The program increases young people’s awareness of the environment and wildlife habitat by encouraging young people to enjoy and appreciate environments where they play.

The LO Otium design is in tune with the current social landscape, while promoting outdoor exercise to increase the health and wellbeing of people. At the same time, while the garden shares space with the Canadian Wildlife Federation, visitors will learn appreciation for the environment. Once Canada Blooms is all over, the Otium Outdoor Exercise Garden will have a life beyond Canada Blooms by supporting the culturally diverse neighbourhood of St. James Town.

Visit the Landscape Ontario Otium Outdoor Exercise Garden at Canada Blooms from Mar. 13 to 22, at the Direct Energy Centre, to experience the social movement of outdoor exercise.