“Playable” cities are the next frontier of public space – Streetsblog New York City

If anything has come out of the past year and a half of the pandemic, it’s the recognition that cities need to dedicate more public space for people to walk, exercise and just breathe in order to promote public health and welfare. The pandemic has forced us into isolation, showing the general public how much we value and need physical and social connections through spontaneous interactions, and robbed us of moments that once provided us with structured play, such as organized sports. Open streets and outdoor dining were two responses to the need for sociability and opened the door to new uses of streets and sidewalks.

Ryan swanson
Ryan swanson

However, we need to go further in order to make our cities healthier and happier: as the founder of The Urban Conga, a design studio that works with communities to weave play spaces into the fabric of our cities, I thinks we are at a crucial time when we can start investing in creating opportunities for urban play.

Play, you say? Yes, play.

Just like sociability, nutrition, and exercise, play is a necessary, universal, and lifelong part of the human experience and helps us discover, explore, and empathize with others. And it can be a powerful tool in bridging the gaps and creating more equitable spaces in our built environment.

Many cities are beginning to understand the value of creating an ecosystem of inclusive “play spaces” as part of their urban infrastructure. Everyday public facilities – such as park benches, bus stops, lampposts, fountains, or a number of other props – could become ‘PLAY’, open play platforms offering games. inclusive, stimulating and creative outlets for a common connection.

“Why sit down when we can play?” A musical public park bench in Tampa, Florida allows for a variety of social interactions. The bank contains two octaves of notes that can be played with mallets attached. Photo: La Conga Urbaine

New Yorkers may be familiar with some of the ephemeral play spaces the city has erected within them – for example, the light-up swings that appeared for a while last year on Broadway between 37th and 38th Streets. Likewise, our company’s Oscillation musical sculptures, which emit sound as people pass by (see photo above), delighted New Yorkers for about a month and a half when they appeared in downtown Manhattan. ‘last year. But for those unfamiliar with the concept, photos of other examples created by my public space business that also serves as an urban play location are sprinkled throughout this article.

Communities (those that have clustered around open streets are a good example) often develop play activities and interventions spontaneously, but any truly effective movement to incorporate play into our public spaces would need the support of our city leaders. , stakeholders and decision-makers.

"Ripple," a permanent facility in Rochester, NY, acts as a catalyst to break down social barriers.  Inspired by the flowing movement of the Genesee River, which flows through the city center, the room contains 1,200 reflective pieces that can be rotated.  Photo: Savannah Lauren
“Ripple”, a permanent facility in Rochester, acts as a catalyst to break down social barriers. Inspired by the flowing movement of the Genesee River, which flows through the city center, the room contains 1,200 reflective pieces that can be rotated. Photo: Savannah Lauren

Now, I’m not saying that every bench should be musical or that there should be a slide next to every staircase, but we should see play as an essential part of improving our urban fabric. Change will not happen without top investment.

"Tangled," in Miami, Florida, allows residents and visitors to learn and share the history, stories, and music of Haitian culture outside of the Little Haiti Cultural Complex.  The three aluminum drums, formed from traditional Haitian drums from the Rada Battery, were painted with historical monuments by Haitian artist Serge Toussaint.  Photo: Christopher Brinkman
“Entangled” in Miami allows residents and visitors to learn and share the history, stories and music of Haitian culture outside of the Little Haiti Cultural Complex. The three aluminum drums, formed from traditional Haitian drums from the Rada Battery, were painted with historical monuments by Haitian artist Serge Toussaint. Photo: Christopher Brickman

To some, the idea of ​​”playing everywhere” may seem like supporters are pushing to make our cities theme parks, but that’s only because our society has conditioned us to see gambling as a personal activity and has neglected it. its beneficial effect on the health, identity, social and economic value of our cities and communities. The idea that we need outdoor play spaces that can be used by people of all ages is too often missing from discussions of urban infrastructure development, public space design and city change. Yet open streets, parks and spontaneous play facilities are key elements in creating healthier, more equitable, social and economic cities and neighborhoods.

In order to create a more playable city, the community must drive the agenda. We cannot prescribe a way to create a ‘playable city’, but we can develop open experiences that not only represent the identity of the community, but allow others to engage and add their own identity to the community. ‘space. A “playable city” is adaptable and contextual to its changing environment.

"The Hangout" is a permanent space created with members of the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans.  At a school bus stop, the facility encourages social interaction, creativity, exploration and open learning.  When touched, the tops of each cylinder play different sounds and light up.  Photo: Michael Flanagan
“The Hangout” is a permanent space created with members of New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. At a school bus stop, the facility encourages social interaction, creativity, exploration and open learning. When touched, the tops of each cylinder play different sounds and light up. Photo: Michael Flanagan

As New Yorkers contemplate new forms of urban space management, they might consider how play spaces can add fun to their cityscape. As Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute of Play once said, “When enough people elevate gambling to the status it deserves in our lives, we will find a better world. “

Ryan Swanson (@ Rswan801) is the executive creative director of @TheUrbanConga, a multidisciplinary design studio focused on creating more playable cities.



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