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Sunday 9 December 2018

Dublin – a city at play

Big Slide from MR Assemble (Assemble Studio)
Big Slide from MR Assemble (Assemble Studio)

Cities can be daunting places, flows of people speedily usher through the many concrete avenues that criss-cross it. Some find themselves constantly drowned out by the consuming hum of daily life within it.

This consequence of urban life can indeed have an impact on many that dwell in it. Adults and children alike can find themselves lost within the urban environment. Dublin in this regard is no similar to any other major city. People busily shuffle from A to B sometimes too busy to dwell on what is around them or more importantly who is around them.

The child’s place within this environment can for many be an afterthought, with communities lacking any real space to interact and grow. It is an increasing fact of the 21st Century that cities are becoming the realm of the private. Large swathes of land are taken up by office, retail and apartment blocks. Sterile and imposing they can help induce this social anxiety within a city and hinder the development of any real community presence which should be a foundation within any city.

An important part of any city is its functionality. Roads, homes and the infrastructure which make up a city are of course all vital. However, if a city is merely viewed through this functional lens we can find ourselves caught up within a transient space with little or no thought given to those communities that call it their home. Its effects can be most damaging on younger generations especially. Increasingly our youth are not afforded spaces to call their own, safe city spaces that allow them to grow and develop.

Furthermore the increasing lack of effective communal spaces within cities has a knock on effect on entire communities. Less communal spaces within cities allow for disjointed and disenfranchised communities. Thus, communities become less engaged, as what should be the foundational base of communities, a purposeful communal space which engages all ages, is consistently eroded away.

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Spirit of Play - images courtesy of National Trust

However, it is not all doom and gloom in respect to urban life. Cities can be wonderful spaces, where people and cultures meet forming new and interesting ideas. An incubator of creativity, the urban environment can be a canvas for so much more than sleek shopping districts or gated communities. Used correctly the spaces dotted throughout our urban landscape can be realised into an expression of the communities that surround them. Spaces need not lie idle or become absorbed into the private domain. With a little imagination they can evolve to meet the needs of its community.

The development of impactful, spontaneous and most importantly interesting environments only helps to encourage interaction with its inhabitants. In terms of younger generations these inclusive areas help to inspire and impact upon the children that traverse them. A city that incorporates thoughtful spaces which allow children to express themselves can be beneficial to a wider community. Play need not be just for the young and cities which incorporate such a mindset can develop into a more vibrant happier space for all who inhabit it. 

It is this vision that forms the main tenet of A Playful City. We wish to make Dublin a more child friendly city and more playful for all. Bringing the character and creativity that Dublin is famed for to life on its streets through interesting design can only provide a space which encourages children to interact with their surroundings and hopefully inspire imaginations both young and old. Dublin can be a canvas which allows its inhabitants to be thoughtful and creative and at the same time help strengthen communities. Incorporating such an attitude, we feel, can only help develop Dublin into a more interesting and inclusive city all round. 

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Baltic Street Adventure Playground from MR Assemble (Assemble Studio)

To do so we seek to bring a diverse range of key stakeholders together to create playful, uplifting moments in the spaces between the spaces in the city – the lane-ways, the paths, the streets – through small scale, low-fi but high impact playful interventions. Our vision is to re-imagine these spaces into purposeful unique spaces for the communities that inhabit them and provide scenes of adventure and exploration in nooks and crannies that form our streets.

To do this we have a cunning plan. Our first step is a public consultation stage that will take place through multiple avenues including:

• Designed by some of Dublin’s top street artists, Interactive Street Art installations will be dotted around the city. Raising awareness on children’s rights to play these popups give a different dimension to traditional surveys and will provide an interesting dimension when asking the public their thoughts on how Dublin can be more playful.

• Street Discussions with members of the public will be taking place around the city. Getting the views of the ordinary person on the street in terms of making our city more playful is extremely important.

• A Playful Street; On the 13th September Lwr Sherriff Street in the North Inner City will be closed to allow children to play out on the street safely, allowing the local community to take part in creating their own creative play space. This event has been organised over a few months in close and continuous consultation with the community from this area. In time, A Playful City wish to build a toolkit to guide and support communities all over the country in creating their own A Playful Street. At the core of this first A Playful Street is a groundbreaking mobile consultation device designed and built by Sean Harrington Architects.

The insights gathered from these varied consultations will feed into the next stages.This insight will enable us to understand; what play means to people in Dublin, what key challenges there are, what aspects of play in a city people want to learn more about and what playful interventions are wanted and needed in the city.

In September, A Playful City will host an open design competition ‘Play in Dublin’ in association with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, where entrants of any age from Dublin will be invited to come up with ideas for a playful installation to be brought to life in the city centre. The design should be visually impactful, respect the environment and appeal to people of all ages and abilities. KLM, as the global leader for corporate social responsibility in the airline industry is excited to have the opportunity to engage with the local community and help make Dublin a more playful city. 

Next, on October 17th, we will host A Playful City conference and hackathon – ‘Design Meets Play.’ The conference will explore key themes of interest identified via the public consultations. The format will consist of interactive panels, workshops, and city walks. Speakers include: Adrian Voce, Dr. Jackie Bourke, Amica Dall (Assemble), Marguerite Hunter Blair (Play Scotland), Elger Blitz (Carve), Aoife Cooling (Google), Robert Kennedy (Baltic Street Adventure Playground).

At the hackathon in the evening, we will take the learnings shared during the day and from the consultations to ‘hack’ play and develop prototypes for temporary interventions in proposed identified locations in Dublin. These interventions will then be implemented in Spring 2018.


Our plan? To continue to grow A Playful City year on year.

You can find further information at www.aplayfulcity.com or you can contact us at playfulcity@gmail.com

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