Cities and play
Cities are writing and much has been written about them. Calvino, for instance, described some cities for us by using sensory experience in a construct of abstractions. In his stories of cites, they become a game board where we can choose our adventures and roles. But outside the literary world, seldom does reality allow us to choose. We arrive and the place has been pre-shaped by our determining structures and circumstances. Some models draw inspiration from fables and take their notion of play to amusement parks. In their striving to serve, they innocently preconize that play is regulated and isolated from urban go-ings on. Even so, literature whispers to us that play is a means of transforming cities into gentle places.
How can we describe playful cities? Some urban intervention takes narration as its starting point and moves into action by taking elements from the city that can serve to create playful areas and, through the lens of play, transform them. One example can be found in Latin America. In 2013 the Laboratorio para la ciudad de México (Laboratory for Mexico City) was established as a vehicle for the local government and the community to work together in social and urban regeneration. The laboratory is a creative, experimental area in Mexico City’s government and develops projects in five different thematic areas. One of them is known as the “Ciudad Lúdica” (Playful City), and explores the possibilities for transforming public space, including the childhood perspective, in projects promoting play as a tool for social cohesion and enhancement of public space.
If play is innovation and creativity, why not have urban toys in cities? This is the enthusiastic premise for revitalising that the Laboratorio para la ciudad de México and the Autoridad Centro HIstórico (Historical Centre Authority) brought to life by means of a participative study done through workshops with children in areas of the city suffering from various problems, particularly safety. The areas included were the Parque de la Equidad, the Plaza Santa Catarina and the Plaza Loreto. With all of the necessary figures on what children needed and wanted in the area, in July 2017 a competition was opened for “Urban Toys”. There were three proposals selected. The “Parque de monstrous” (Monster Park) by the Bandada! studio proposed transforming the park’s hostile image by using structures in the form of monsters breathing life into new activities. “Polerama” by the OOMO studio put forward a scaffolding-like structure from which swings hang. “Aros” by the PALMA studio used two concentric ramps to integrate and provide a new function for a fountain. The proposals will be built as prototypes and remain for three months so that their impact on their surroundings can be analysed. Visits to Aros and Polerama have been possible since April, and as of July the Parque de Monstruos will also be visitable.
Play is a tool for teaching. It contributes to social integration, and it fosters the revitalisation of areas where other activities and problems may be prevalent. Another important issue that architect Dolores Ruiz touches upon in her article “Marionetas II” is the need for play move beyond the classroom and retake the city. The right to play calls for integrating a childhood perspective into urban planning. But governments must make children’s rights focus on social, economic and urban spheres. This challenge means, among other things, that governments must exercise governance jointly with citizens, technical experts, and the public and private sectors alike in order to make cities kind, creative, inclusive and playful.