(photo credit: Jakob la Cour)

Plastic bags were sticked around their heads with different colors of tapes, some of them had capes behind their back. They were the participants of the workshop “Urban Consensus Play” by Jakob la Cour during the CounterPlay Festival ‘17. They were asked to challenge the consensus of the ownership of public space by wearing DIY masks and invading the city as if they owned the space. They provoked the passersby, they broke the rules and norms; Meanwhile, the “normal” citizens just stared at them weirdly and awkwardly. This little social experience challenges the boundary of ownership. Why did people stare at the participants and feel uncomfortable? Is it because they are acting abnormal compared to what people ought to act in the society?


Nowadays, people are too busy looking at their smartphones and they tend to take their city for granted. As a matter of fact, they forget to be playful in their busy everyday life. This issue was brought to focus at the “Playful City Roundtable” held during CounterPlay Festival ‘17.

Play is a fundamental part of being human – it is a form of expression. Therefore, we should break the norm and make our city into a playful city.

Where to start?

To make our city a playful city, the first step is to get people involved. When we live together with other people in a city, we have the responsibility to make room for everyone to live in it. For example, we have the responsibility to park our bikes so that they do not disturb others; We have the responsibility to buy bus tickets when we take the bus. When we have responsibility, we also have ownership of the public spaces in the city. For instance, we can sit on the bench in a park freely without permission; We can take a photo of the beautiful sunset near the harbour without license. These activities can be done because we have ownership of our own city. Yet, people tend to take these small incidents for granted and do not realise that they have responsibility and ownership of their own city. Thus, they may not be as involved as we imagined.

To maintain the engagement of citizens’ ownership of their city, we should increase their interest in the city. In the roundtable, it was mentioned that the municipality could invite citizens to participate in projects and let them become part of these projects. By this, citizens will feel more engaged in the facilities in the city and will be willing to co-create and transform the space they  live in.

When people start having a sense of engagement and ownership of the city, we can start planning the future for a more playful city. Most cities already have several playgrounds around, which encourage both children and adults to enjoy each other’s company and get the best of it through playing. Other than playgrounds, we, as citizens, can intervene and challenge the surroundings and institutions by the power of play. Slow down and notice the small details around us. Things are already there, we tend to pay less attention to them in our busy digitally-saturated everyday life.

Look around instead of looking at your phone!

In addition, the municipality may consider building changeable or transient installations around the city with multifunctional features. Features can be a combination of the field of health and play, or a creative and sustainable installation with learning purpose behind.

Challenges to the playful city

There are always two sides to a story, though, and there will often be a downside of all these new ideas and plans to make a city more playful. There will always be rules that stop us and hold us back from play, which will affect the development of a playful city. Besides, people take these activities and installations differently, both positively and negatively. This leads to the question of tolerance, where we have to find the balance between freedom and system. At the same time, budget and responsibility also play a major role in the development of playful city.

As a whole, to create and develop a playful city is an ongoing process, which involves different stakeholders from all segments, including the people who live in the city.

Sometimes, we simply need to be provocative and use the power of play to challenge the norms around us.


In the next few posts here on the blog, we’ll share some of the perspectives on the playful city that emerged at the recent CounterPlay festival in Leeds, UK.

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Lydia Choi


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