Giving space for play

This past week the mayor of Seattle visited my son’s preschool. This meant that he got all of 5 seconds of screen time sitting and listening to the mayor read a story.I was excited to see him on TV. I also noticed that in half of the clips, he had his special lovey toy with him, and was quite actively bouncing it off of his best friend sitting next to him.
While I know my son and his friend would both think it is funny, there was a part of me that panicked, thinking, "oh no, the world is going to see my son bashing some other kid in the shoulder with this toy on regional television!"
But then I thought about it more; they editor of that news story had deliberately picked that shot. They had been in the classroom for at least half an hour, filming the kids the whole time. Of all the cute or silly footage they could have chosen to help compliment their news story, they picked that one. The moment of little kids being kids together, playing and having fun together while also having a story read to them and learning. THAT right there is an endorsement – to me anyway – that the news crew saw that interaction and felt the same way I did – that these were obviously two friends just being friends together, bouncy stuffed animals and all.
It’s important for all of us to remember to give space for play. Even me.


PARK(ing) Day Showcases the Power of Public Space

I missed this year’s event in my city, so bummed! Seattle usually puts on quite the event!


On Friday, September 21, landscape architects and designers around the world participated in the 14th annual PARK(ing) Day to demonstrate the power of public space. PARK(ing) Day helps the public see the difference a designed space, even one as small as a metered parking spot, can make in their community.

The Landscape Architecture Bureau (LAB) in Washington, D.C. gave passersby an opportunity to simply relax and read on a Friday afternoon.

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anthropology · behavior · creativity · design · environment · happiness · play · work

Bring More Joy To Your Workspace, Yes You!

adult chill computer connection
Photo by on

I wanted to share this great article from IDEO alum and design Ingrid Fetell Lee about the importance of having a joyful work environment, and what you as an individual can do about it!

She starts with all the important reasons why joyful work spaces are needed:

…Research shows that feeling joy at work not only increases our wellbeing, but also our performance across the spectrum. Joy increases our working memory and cognitive flexibility, which in turn leads to better problem-solving. Take doctors, for example: Those who have been primed to feel joyful make a correct diagnosis earlier than those in a neutral mindset. Joyful businesspeople consider a wider range of scenarios and make more accurate decisions. Joyful negotiators are more likely to achieve win-win agreements. And it turns out it’s infectious: Joyful leaders spread positivity to their teams, increasing rates of effort and cooperation; and when salespeople exhibit joy, customers respond by spending more time in a store, giving higher satisfaction ratings, and expressing a greater likelihood to return.

Read her full article for her easy-to-implement tips for bringing joy into your workspace.

Full disclosure, right after reading this I did an audit of my desk at work and found I had already implemented a couple of these, including based on the same research she cites, but I missed a couple I am definitely going to add! 🙂



52 Ways to Ignite Your Creative Spark

As the long summer days start to shorten and the weather starts to cool, I have been focusing more on being mindful in everything I do and taking time for myself. Something that can seem so simple is in fact REALLY HARD for most folks.
The good news is taking 20 minutes, or even 5, is often enough to reset. For some people that means working out, doing yoga, meditating, or some physical practice. I’ve been trying to get physical for 30 minutes three times a week.
For some people, including me, it means using that time to get creative, or letting their creativity get sparked by others.
In the past I have also found journaling super helpful, and there are some great guides online and many different ways to do it.
A new product, A Few Minutes of Design, offers lots of great mini-creativity projects to keep that spark going all year!


A Few Minutes of Design / Princeton Architectural Press

The mission of the Creative Education Trust in London is to empower kids through creativity and design thinking. Partnering with Princeton Architectural Press, they created A Few Minutes of Design, which offers 52 activities to encourage inventiveness. This well-crafted little packet of fun may work just as well for inspiring creativity among children and young adults as it does for rekindling the spark of a semi-burnt-out designer confronting endless deadlines.

The trust believes “creativity is the ability to find connections between the things we know and to turn these connections into new ideas and action. The academic arts and the sciences, practical subjects and life skills all need creativity. Creativity is highly valued by employers. With knowledge, skills, and creativity, every young individual is equipped to succeed in the knowledge economy of the 21st century.”

To appeal to as broad…

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How Play Can Modernize Cities

There has been a lot of focus recently about designing and updating cities through technology, rethinking old infrastructures, and so on. IDEO put out some of its own ideas, and the one that stuck out for me the most (no surprise), was Nazlican Gosku’s take on the value of play in a city’s ecosystem:

Play! In the last year, I have started chasing and capturing playful moments in the streets— from graffiti, to a group of kids playing in the water from a broken pipe, to lovers dancing on a street corner. This journey of capturing playfulness in the streets made me more aware and even obsessed with the idea of how we can design the right conditions for playfulness in the city. Why playfulness? Because playing means engaging, engagement brings care. If we are more caring and careful about the streets of the cities we live in, we might build stronger connections for healthier communities. Being playful on the streets requires courage, builds trust, allows for discovery, create communities. Playfulness is fundamental to our social nature, so it’s a useful framework for thinking through how we can build stronger cities and communities.

Thank you Ms. Gosku! So much yes in this!

  • If we are playing with something, we are engaging and care about it, or will care about it more.
  • Humans use play as the framework for our social structures, both in hunter-gatherer groups and on the children’s playfield.
  • Play builds trust and community.
  • It therefore also develops “buy-in” from communities who are more willing to invest in their cities.

Play NEEDS to be part of community planning, whether it is a small community or a huge metropolis!



Trolls Invade Morton Arboretum

What a fun, creative art installation in a public park. I also love that folks are allowed to (gently) play with the trolls, as so often public art and sculptures are not meant to be played with.


Rocky Bardur trolls dislikes cars / Thomas Dambo

Trolls live in caves, rocks, or mountains. They live long lives, are very strong, but are known to be slow and somewhat dim-witted. They aren’t fond of humans and have even been known to eat a few.

In Morton Arboretum in northern Illinois, six wooden trolls have taken over, thanks to the inventive Danish artist Thomas Dambo. Each is about 30-feet-tall, except for a reclining one that is 60-feet long, and made of recycled wood. These installations are part of Troll Hunt, an inspired exhibition that will take families on nature walks in search of these dangerous creatures.

Troll snack / Thomas Dambo

Troll snack / Thomas Dambo

Visitors can take a hike along a 6-7 mile route through the 1,700-acre arboretum to find all six trolls, drive or bike to them, or take a “troll tram ride.” There’s a…

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ASLA Launches New Guide to Transportation

People often focus so much on improving specific sites, but there has also been renewed interest on HOW we get there. And not just an Uber vs driving yourself.
There is also an expectation from some city planners that people should just start biking/walking/etc. w/o the supported infrastructure. Let me tell you buster; it ain’t gonna happen! So it’s good to see the ASLA start to address this need at least in principle.


ASLA 2009 Professional Award of Excellence. Buffalo Bayou Promenade, Houston, Texas. SWA Group / Tom Fox

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has launched a new guide to transportation, with in-depth sections on how to plan and design more sustainable regional, urban, neighborhood, and street transportation systems.

Transportation infrastructure is a significant part of the landscape. The original social network, it connects us to families and friends, jobs and businesses, education and recreation, and is a vital part of the public realm. However, conventional, car-centric approaches to transportation have contributed to negative outcomes for people and the environment:

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A Cost-Effective Way to Treat Depression: Greening Vacant Lots

This is yet another great example of how adding some intentional green can go a long way in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression in urban areas. From the article:
“In many low-income communities, vacant and dilapidated spaces are “unavoidable conditions that residents encounter every day, making the very existence of these spaces a constant source of stress.” Furthermore, these neighborhoods with vacant lots, trash, and “lack of quality infrastructure such as sidewalks and parks, are associated with depression and are factors that that may explain the persistent prevalence of mental illness.”

Conversely, neighborhoods that feel cared for — that are well-maintained, free of trash and run-down lots, and offer access to green spaces — are associated with “improved mental health outcomes, including less depression, anxiety, and stress.””

Personally, I would love to see a study about the different effects and impacts of having community gardens or community involvement in the development of the green spaces vs. an independent team coming in to a space and cleaning it up. There is value in both approaches, for sure.


Before: An empty lot in Philadelphia / JAMA Open Network

After: A Green lot in Philadelphia / JAMA Open Network

A tree, some grass, a low wooden fence, regular maintenance. With these basic elements, an unloved, vacant lot can be transformed from being a visual blight and drain on a community into a powerful booster of mental health.

According to a new study by five doctors at the University of Pennsylvania, residents of low-income communities in Philadelphia who saw their vacant lots greened by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society experienced “significant decreases” in feelings of depression and worthlessness. And this positive change happened at a cost of just $1,500 per lot.

For lead author Dr. Eugenia South and her co-authors, this is a clear indication that the physical environment impacts our mental health. And planning and design offers a cost-effective way to fight mental illness in light of the sky-rocketing costs…

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New Study: Technology Undermines the Restorative Benefits of Nature

Fascinating finding of outdoor time vs. unplugged time


Laptop user in a park / istockphoto

We experience “soft fascination” with nature when we sit on a park bench and let our mind wander, taking in the trees and flowers, noticing birds and squirrels, feeling the breeze. This gentle decompression in nature is actually critical to helping us restore our ability to pay attention. We need breaks where our minds can just go slack and subconsciously take in the complexity of the natural world. Researchers are still trying to figure out the ideal “dose” of this green medicine, but benefits have been seen with just 10 minutes.

New research argues those breaks in nature only help if we put down our laptops and other devices. A recent study published in Environment and Behavior contends that using laptops, smartphones, and other technologies while sitting on that park bench undoes all the good attention-boosting benefits of nature.

Attention is…

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REBLOG The problem with turning urban challenges into games

Tech companies like gamifying civic problems—but they often reward the wrong things

By Alissa Walker@awalkerinLA Originally published: Jul 20, 2018 on Curbed

Very nice editorial by Alissa Walker about the dangers of gamification and making sure you’re rewarding the right stuff, whether it’s for urban design, medicine, or school.

She also offers some possible solutions that tech developers could put into practice.

I agree with her in that I think technology companies that are dealing with public data – mapping, restaurant hours, parks and beaches – have at least some responsibility to optimize those spaces rather than optimize for themselves and their company’s goals and bottom line. It doesn’t have to be an either/or, there are ways that all parties can win.

Read Alissa’s full article