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blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

You may be familiar with the current trend of pop-up dinners, where a chef selects a non-traditional venue and creates a one-time, pre-fixe meal considered special for one reason or another. One of Buffalo’s first pop-ups was a Peruvian fundraiser for Martha Sosa—there have been very few others—but the fad has reached epic proportions in more progressive cities like New York City.

Fortunately, the “pop-up” nature of these dinners is a strategy easily transferable to other subjects—like the “Pop-Up Park” project of landscape architect Joy Kuebler, principal architect Catherine Faust, the Tinkering School of Buffalo founder Melissa Leopard and environmental advocate Marika Frankenstein.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, the fifth Pop-Up Park will be constructed at the intersection of Prime and Hanover streets at Canalside Buffalo in the shadows of the First Niagara Center (see photo at the bottom for location).

Joy Kuebler

It’s free for all to attend, and 30 or more kids between the ages of 8 and 18 are expected, and 10 to 15 B Team Buffalo volunteers are expected—but walk-up volunteers are welcomed with open arms.

The mission of the Pop-Up Park organizers is simple: inspire a renaissance of “play” that encourages kids to learn how to use tools under supervision—and then enjoy the creations—without extreme overreactions to modern-day safety concerns. No child has been injured through the previous four pop-up parks.

“We’re trying to circumvent the 30-year-olds who don’t know how to use drills or put two pipes together,” Kuebler explained. “If we keep emphasizing technology over tangible skills, then we’ll be without plumbers in a few years—and no one wants to live in a world without plumbers.”

Here’s a video of Kuebler explaining the child-focused initiative at TEDxBuffalo last winter with video of the first-ever park on Dupont on Buffalo’s East Side. You’ll be surprised and impressed by the creative intuition of our local youth, especially under the guidance of volunteers who push kids to be open-minded rather than rigid in their thinking:


While we’ve been conditioned to wince when imagining children hammering nails or maneuvering a saw, Kuebler has realized that children embrace the chance to be responsible and absorb the fundamentals of simple household tasks.

“Even the eyes of the volunteers got really big at first,” Kuebler admitted, “and many of them asked, ‘We’re really giving tools to kids?’” That’s exactly the point.

Instead of purchasing materials brand-new from Home Depot, the Pop-Up Park organizers reuse old materials such as families’ unused plywood scraps, long-loved screwdrivers from dusty basements and tools donated by sponsors/businesses like Riverfront Millwork and the Spicer Group—and it makes no difference if wood is an unusual triangle or hexagon.

“We deal with odd-shaped objects all the time,” Kuebler added, “and it really opens the doors of creativity.

“When [many] adults begin projects, they start and end with rectangles. For kids, there are no preconceived notions [or expectations] of that—and it’s rare when they take an oddly-shaped scrap of wood and turn it into something with four sides.”

When Saturday’s Pop-Up Park reaches its conclusion, the materials will be given to sustainable businesses like the Foundry (Rusted Grain) or Buffalo ReUse.

Essentially, Kuebler, Faust, Leopard and Frankenstein want to highlight the ingenuity of children, flipping the notion that children are ill-prepared or incapable of completing a difficult task on its head. After all, Kuebler noted that her father—when he was 10-years-old regularly caught and skinned muskrats. How many fifth-graders do you think could do that in 2013?

“There’s a divergence in what we think children’s capabilities are and what they actually can do,” Kuebler ardently claimed. “[Pop-Up Parks] give kids a chance to do things that they’re built for.”

(Header photo courtesy of Pop-Up Park’s photographer Greg Meadows.)

TAGGED: b team buffalo, canalside, catherine faust, downtown, joy kuebler, marika frankenstein, melissa leopard, pop-up park, reuse, the foundry

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