Webinar wrap: Creating MOVEment Spaces at school through placemaking

To get our European School Sport Day (ESSD) national coordinators ready and inspired to promote the creation of active spaces in schools, ISCA and the Hungarian School Sport Federation hosted a webinar featuring influential placemakers from Europe and the US on 15 June. The webinar, ‘Creating MOVEment Spaces at School through Placemaking’, showcased how the focus topic of this year’s ESSD can come to life and how teachers can be empowered to take the lead.

Presenter Sam Balto, a Physical Education teacher from Boston, Massachusetts, made his leap into urban design by advocating safe routes to school and raising a $1 million grant for his awareness-raising signs at pedestrian crossings. Then, during the long lockdowns in the US, he didn’t sit back and prepare for his school to reopen as usual, he started to reimagine the big asphalt car parks surrounding his school as traffic gardens.

With permission to spray paint some colour and life onto these spaces, he got busy and grabbed a couple of friends to help him paint the murals.

“These traffic gardens cost me maybe $50 to spray paint and the return on investment for $50, you know, you can’t beat it,” he says. “And it’s temporary, so you can modify it. During Covid I wasn’t really able to get much children and community input, but the goal is, as we start opening more and coming together more, we can take it to the next level and make it more permanent.”

With regular school schedules and PE disrupted for months, Balto’s project helped the local children feel a connection to their school even though it was closed. “When you paint these traffic gardens, children automatically show up,” he notes.

The Traffic Garden Project is now being rolled out in Portland, Oregon. But that wasn’t his only lockdown MOVE. Balto also used tactical urbanism to close off his own street and draw physically distanced family squares where he could lead PE classes regularly from March to June 2020 with local families.

Find the potential around your school and go for it

Balto’s peer-to-peer advice for the webinar participants, or school teachers who watch his presentation afterwards, is to try to answer the question:

“How do we leverage a school’s assets to serve the school and the community in general?”

First, it can involve looking at the spaces on the school grounds themselves. Then you can also think broader. In her presentation, Associate Partner at STIPO and Board Member at Placemaking Europe Vivian Doumpa, from Greece, introduced the placemaking concept of the power of 10, which, when applied to the school setting, also shows how transforming spaces at schools can create more activities for the whole community.

“How can we have 10 places to go inside every neighbourhood?” Doumpa starts her example with a hypothetical question, then suggests: “It can be a food market, a playground or a school, and within each of these places, let’s take the school, how can we have 10 [more] things to do? If you take it from the outside to the inside you’ll see this dynamic. But what if we were to plan 10 things inside the school and go all the way up? Wouldn’t our cities be way more interesting and way more interactive?”

Balto and Doumpa both urge teachers to feel confident to step in and give their schools a revamp with whatever resources they have, as well as an understanding of what is needed to make school spaces safer and more attractive for exercise and play.

These actions can respond to an important need raised by the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions to help children cope with their after effects, Balto adds.

“The pandemic has clearly shown how creating spaces for children directly impacts their wellness, but also their ability to be physically active and to develop those skills.”

Alongside the use of existing school spaces and the activities done in those spaces, teachers and school staff can also consider how they can create more space around their school or link to other places in the community. He gave examples of reclaiming space around schools from Barcelona, Milan, the UK and Boston.

“A school is a community space,” he says. “It’s a place to connect. [School] plazas are a really cool idea, after being apart for so long, to bring people together in a really meaningful way and schools, I believe, do have a role in that. That is something I think schools should be focusing on, because it is part of children’s wellness – when communities are more connected, students feel safer.”

Transform your school space into a MOVEment Space

You can watch the full webinar below and if you’re interested in creating your own MOVEment Spaces in or around your school, you can also gain inspiration from our new toolkit, which was previewed by ISCA’s NowWeMOVE Campaign Manager Laska Nenova during the webinar.

Download the toolkit here and our full range of European School Sport Day resources here.

By Rachel Payne, ISCA