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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Playful New World: 10 Ideas to Innovate Cities for Playability

Photo by Matthias Ripp (Flickr)

The word "playability" is joyously abuzz in the play world right now. Play is a natural, boundless way to learn and grow, so it's no wonder that families are seeking more playable places. Playability is about building environments that are fun and spontaneous. These innovations brighten life in a flash and invite everyone to let loose and play. So, how exactly does playability unfold?

It begins with us! Parents, children and educators are putting their imaginations to work. Play advocates from all over the world are building playgrounds, rallying for recess, and promoting play. We need playability now; the constant lure of devices threatens the health of generations to come. With environments that encourage whimsy and exploration, kids and adults will be more in tune with their surroundings and each other. This benefits the health of the society as a whole! Where do we begin? Well, some cities have already leaped into it!

Here are 10 current and hopeful ideas for playability in cities:

  1. Dancing Street Lights: Would you ignore the do-not-walk symbol at crosswalks if it busted out slick dance moves? With dance lessons from passing pedestrians, the red light figure promoted safety with sashaying hips. How could you not giggle at that? In fact, the developers reported that 81 percent more people obeyed the dancing dude and stopped. Plus, the "dance instructors" enjoyed a burst of playful exercise.
  2. Bristol Brilliance: Bristol, England is bursting with playability! From 300ft water slides over main shopping streets to talking street objects to play-friendly street closures, residents are rediscovering their city and the joy it offers! The minds behind these efforts seek to connect rushed families with playfulness. They believe "people, hospitality and openness" are the key to a Playable City.
  3. Sensational Subways: The morning commute doesn't have to be so brutal and drab! There's so much potential for playability here. What if there were slides next to some stairs in subway stations to zip you to your connection faster? How about a game of hopscotch for the kids as you wait for your ride? I do so love the smörgåsbord of artwork in the NYC subways; it's literally buried treasure!
  4. Enhance it With Art: Enough gray! Banish the blues with color and culture. Just like a home is the canvas to the family's imagination, a city's visuals should blossom from the creativity of its inhabitants. Public art (PDF) can spark conversation, encourage smiles, and ease tension. In essence, it makes the city seem truly alive. I love the idea of kids being involved in creating murals that expand each year!
  5. Swing and Wait: Nothing announces bus stop like a big, climbable "BUS" structure! It provides shelter and an easygoing sense of novelty. Let's explore this route further. What about swings under awnings? Monkey bars? As long as everything is a safe distance from the road, these ideas could transform a passive waiting space into a playable experience!
  6. Rainbow Brick Road: I've been toying with this idea forever! What about bright, educational pathways from the schools to local playgrounds? Quotes, maps, animals, alphabets, languages, literature, hopscotch, puzzles - so many delightful possibilities! Even better, students can play an active role in creating the walkable murals. Anything that unites play, learning, culture, exercise, and art is a win-win-win!
  7. Spice Up the Center of Town: How much do you know about your local history? I believe that every town should have a freely accessible cultural hub of some sort. This third place can also serve as a community builder, play-maker, fitness maker, and farmer's market! Murals can grace the walls, offering insight into local heritage. Does your town have such a place?
  8. Maximize Space: Lack of space dominates most big cities, but that just means we need to think outside of the box. Check out this pink and orange pool noodle alleyway. I want to leap like a majestic gazelle through that! This project breathed life and cheer into a unsavory space. What about transforming an alley into a ping pong court? Imagine the wild ricochets!
  9. More Playgrounds: Of course! Do your kids have a fun, safe place to play? Where there's a will to play, there's a way! Organizations like KaBOOM! offer grants to build and enhance play spaces.
  10. Playful Public Seating: Phew, I'm pooped from all that playing! Why don't we have a seat? Let's skip the mundane bench. Playful public seating is the way to go, don't you think? Hammocks, swings, planter benches, and funky shapes add all visual quirkiness.

I know that many of these ideas are easier said than done, but they ARE happening! It all begins with a dream and a go-getter attitude. What ideas do you have? Please share in the comments. Let's talk play!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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