Play as a Recovery Strategy (Part One)

Play Talk

For decades, artists, designers, and planners have turned to play to better understand our environments and each other. Over the course of the Spring/Summer 2021 season, The Bentway will explore the history of play and its role in shaping decisions about public space through the Playing in Public exhibition and programs.

As we look to the future, we must consider the ways that COVID has altered our cities and the necessity of play for urban recovery. With long-running lockdowns in place at various times throughout the past year, opportunities for recreation and play have become critical to maintaining mental and physical health during an uncertain time.

As cities across the globe call for a “summer of play”, this two-part panel discussion, co-presented with World Urban Parks & 8 80 Cities, and featuring speakers for whom play is a core component of their work, we will explore the benefits of recreation as a tool for recovery and ask what play can teach us about building more resilient cities, public spaces, and communities.

Our first talk focuses on how COVID has impacted play for all ages and the strategies that have been employed to mitigate the negative effects of lockdowns over the last year. From virtual recreation activities to craft kit deliveries and distanced team-building, our speakers share their insights into the ways we stayed playful during the height of the pandemic.

We are pleased to include Jen DeMelo (KABOOM!), Luis Serrano (FUNdamentals of Play), Melissa Mongiat (Daily tous les jours), and Janie Romoff (Parks, Forestry and Recreation, the City of Toronto), as well as Amanda O’Rourke (World Urban Parks & 8 80 Cities) as moderator for this discussion.

The second part of this series will explore how play has shaped the design of our cities over time and what play-based spaces reveal about shifting political, social and cultural values. Panelists will reflect on play’s critical role in learning and development for all ages, and speculate on the ways the pandemic will re-shape play-based design and engagement in the years to come.

Watch Now


Jen DeMelo

Jen DeMelo is the Director of Special Projects at KABOOM! and has been committed to ensuring that every kid has equitable access to high-quality and safe play opportunities for over 15 years. In her current role, Jen creates innovative program solutions that are responsive and meet the varying needs of kids and communities. Her experience stems from leading over 300 play infrastructure projects across North America, managing programs totaling over 20 million in grant dollars, and through creating innovative kid-centered programs during her tenure at KABOOM!

Janie Romoff

As General Manager for Parks, Forestry and Recreation (PFR), Janie oversees a division that provides an enormous variety of opportunities for Torontonians of all ages, genders, and abilities to play. PFR not only provides the spaces and facilities where Toronto plays – it also delivers a variety of play-related programs including camps, sports, arts, swimming, skate, and after-school recreation care programs.

Luis Serrano

Luis Serrano is a passionate workshop facilitator, team builder, motivational speaker & life coach. He has studied positive psychology, performed improv for over eight years, and facilitated hundreds of workshops as the CFO (Chief Fun Officer) of FUNdamentals of Play. He started FUNdamentals of Play to help teams and individuals maximize their potential through the power of PLAY by focusing on the things that matter: emotional intelligence, workplace wellness & creating joyful experiences.

Melissa Mongiat

Melissa Mongiat co-founded the art and design studio Daily tous les jours with Mouna Andraos in 2010. Daily leads an emergent field of practice combining technology, storytelling, performance and placemaking. Based in Montreal, their work has been presented in more than 40 cities around the world. On a mission to reinvent living together for the 21st century, the studio earned numerous international recognitions, including the UNESCO Creative Cities Design Award for Young Talents, Knight Cities Challenge Award for Civic Innovation, Fast Company Innovation by Design Award, Americans for the Arts Public Art Network Award.

Prior to Daily tous les jours, Melissa was based in London where she worked on a series of large-scale public interactive installations and co-founded Central Saint Martins’ research unit on responsive environments. Collaborations included the Southbank Centre, Philharmonia, Arup Foresight, and led to her selection by Wallpaper* magazine as one of the world’s ten breakthrough designers.


Amanda O’Rourke

Amanda O’Rourke is the Executive Director of 8 80 Cities. Over 13 years she has driven the successful growth of the international non-profit through strategic planning, partnership development, and team building. Amanda has led diverse equitable mobility and public space projects in cities and towns across North America, Europe, and Australia. She enjoys working collaboratively with city governments and community partners to make it easier for people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds to walk, bike, take transit, and build social connection and sense of belonging in public spaces. Amanda is also the Co-Chair of the Children, Play, and Nature Committee for World Urban Parks and is passionate about harnessing the power of play in creating healthy and inclusive communities.

Play Talks is in partnership with