I took a couple of weeks off, but I am now getting back in to taking little toys out into the world and taking pictures of them in unique environments, creating little vignettes in the wild.
I’ve upped my game a bit and am going to start leaving them out for people to find. The tricky thing, and that adds to the fun, is there’s no way to control how long these toys will stay put before people notice and decide they want to play with them themselves. This one was placed somewhere near Pioneer Square.
A million times yes! This article focuses on one of my biggest pet peeves and challenges as a play advocate; play not being taken seriously.
The author, Hilary O’Shaughnessy, and also the producer of the Playable City Award, discusses her play competition and the usual rub of people asking whether this is really all “worth it.” I’m quoting over half of her article, but she very eloquently covers an entire blog post I was planning on writing (I will still write it, I promise):
Amongst the usual squeals of anticipation [around the competition], there are questions about the value of these ideas to the “real” world. Fun is all well and good – but surely fun is the stuff we get to when the grown up work of building hospitals and roads is done with? When we’ve fixed the economy, let’s play. Cities are full of problems, why are we not fixing them first?
Herein lies the real issue. When we see play simply as fun, a whimsy for those of us lucky enough to have the time to engage in it, we underestimate the transformative power of play and it’s role in our lives.
Fixing problems, making our living and working spaces more livable and resilient, designing better cities, starts at every level with the people that Iive in those cities. Increasingly we are realising that our cities are designed for exclusivity, so it makes sense that we don’t feel part of shaping the future. This is revealed in the language we use to describe our relationships to the services and organisations that our cites are made of. We want them to fix it, they don’t want us to have a say, they give money to them to exclude us: the language is divisive and separating, and that’s the problem. Even the descriptions of the projects fail to deliver what they promise, because a playable city is experienced, not described.
The idea of what our cities should mean, how public money is spent, what we imagine as good for us and who is involved in designing them, is only ever addressed when we have a complaint or we feel excluded. We talk to the city council when the road is road is torn up or the lights won’t come on. We complain that our voices are unheard, but we never seize opportunities to speak, fearing that if we do we will be ignored or shouted down by the loudest ones.
This feeling of separation cannot be undone overnight. We need new approaches, new tools, and new ways to talk to one another about how to live together in cities.
Conversations about the future, about how we want to live, have to begin from a level playing field, and crucially that level playing field may not be where we expect. Play is a leveler: when we play, we play as humans, first. Traditional status markers like wealth, celebrity, or qualifications are not really much use when invited to dance with your shadow or conduct lights like a demi-god.
Addressing problems and finding solutions that work for us all begin with inviting everyone into conversation. Play as unexpected interventions in familiar places act as invitations to connect, an offer to begin to talk about those parts of our cities that we feel excluded from. To new eyes and ears, some projects can seem esoteric – but that is because we have become numbed to dull public announcements, badly designed flyers and clunky websites which act as information dumps that no-one reads, let alone takes as an invitation to work together. Yet, this is important stuff: we need to talk about the kind of future we want or it be will be decided for us while we look the other way.
This past week I got to travel to Chicago. I wanted my daughter to feel more connected to where I was, so I brought one of her toys; a toy bunny she has had since she was an infant and already has a habit of going on interesting adventures (My friend still had this bunny as her profile pic for at least a year).
I also wanted to bring Bunny because it is fun, and a little daring as a grownup, to bring a toy to a "grown up" restaurant and sightseeing.
On a walk today I found a couple of plastic containers on the side of the road, and decided they made quite good shadow boxes for found objects.
I just grabbed the closest pretty or interesting things I could find next to the box, so these aren’t my best work, but I figure that’s sort of the point; just be playful with that which falls in your lap. Or on the side of the road.
Sitting on a bench at a bus stop or in the park, most people tend to focus on their smartphones or a book rather than whoever’s sitting next to them. But a new bench is designed to instantly connect strangers in a moment of play: When you sit down, the bench transforms into a makeshift merry-go-round.
It makes sense that this would be developed in Seattle, where it is wet a good portion of the year.
Like a new modern version of invisible ink, superhydrophobic coatings can also be used to create hidden street art that stays invisible until it gets wet. Peregrine Chuch, a Seattle-based street artist, created a series of public works of street art called Rainworks using the same sort of hydrophobic coatings that we saw being used in Germany to combat public urination.
Church creates the artwork spontaneously because he has been assured by the city authorities that what he is doing is legal – the coating is non-toxic, non-permanent, only sometimes visible, and his works don’t advertise anything. He says that, depending on how much the sidewalk in question is used, his pieces may last between 4 months and a year, but are most vivid within the first few weeks of application.
His works are diverse, and range from artistic drawings to fun and motivational messages to a hop-scotch game that can only be played when it’s wet.
More and more office spaces are trying to become more playful, offering employees a way to destress and/or get more creative. Usually that takes the form of having ping pong tables or video game consoles set up for breaks, but more and more offices are adding slides, swing sets, picnic tables, or other more active and engaging apparatus. They are also bringing in more greenery for workers.
This office may be the most fun in Britain as it comes kitted out with a giant helter skelter slide, a tree house and even a pub.
The unique workplace also boasts a pool table, a putting green, a giant swing and a cinema.
Office designers Space & Solutions were tasked with turning a former pub in Southampton into the home for IT company, Peer 1 Hosting.
‘If you don’t feel comfortable sitting at a desk you can sit on a picnic bench. The reality is that you can do your work from anywhere.’
The article points out that some people may find all this fun a little distracting to actually work around. Some kinds of play are probably great at cutting stress but may be more of a time suck than creativity inducer. I’m curious what readers think. Are you one of those people who does their best work sitting on a couch, or heck, a swing? Do you prefer quiet and focus without any noise? Do you have a toy or plant on your desk you fiddle with when you’re trying to think or just need to destress?
Another question; do you actually use the toys and playful apparatus in the office? The office I currently work in has a ping pong and air hockey table, but only two people ever use the ping pong table, and I have only seen the air hockey table turned on once for a promo video.
A boy slides down a metal beam in Manila, Philippines, on April 23.
According to new census data, the Philippines has failed to make headway in cutting rampant poverty, with more than one in four citizens deemed poor despite the country’s economic growth. However, seeing children play is a good sign for the country’s overall well being of its citizens, since play tends not to occur unless all essential needs have been met (food, shelter, safety).