“During the past year in Bristol you could have plunged down a 300ft water slide on one of the city’s main shopping streets, had a text messageconversation with a lamppost, let your children play outside during a temporary street closure, or played a zombie chase game around the city centre.
All good fun, you might or might not think. But the people behind these and other similar projects believe they add up to much more than a good laugh. Next week, many of them are meeting for a conference at Bristol’s Watershed on Making the City Playable.
Although their work is in many ways disparate, three key ideas bring them together. First, that cities create problems of living that can only be addressed by collective action. Second, the sense that the well-being of communities cannot be left to local authorities; citizens need to take control of their own surroundings. Third, an optimism that we can do more than just tackle problems one by one. By encouraging public activities that actively bring joy, we can create a happier, more cohesive urban future.
The Playable City movement can be seen as a creative response to the coldness and anonymity of the urban environment, which technology threatens to make even worse. Conference organiser Clare Reddingtontold me of her despair over visions of “smart cities” where technology aims to remove all the friction from our movements, guiding us by smart phone to exactly where we want to be. For Reddington, this is “over-planned” and all about “how fast you can get from one place to another”. It’s also a vision tailored for tech geeks rather than the whole community. She recalls a workshop in Europe’s then Capital of Culture – Guimarães in Portugal – in which the older people feared being left increasingly alone and cut off in a world in which “everything is going to be mediated by a screen”…