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Play #5

Imagine The Possible

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Any livable future city needs to be a place of delight, discovery, play, and pleasure in serendipitous encounter. When future smart cities are imagined by corporations, however, urban experience often gets relegated to responsive and frictionless infrastructure. For smart cities to be truly citizen focused, developers, civil society, and government need to incorporate opportunities for play and creativity as a means of imagining the future city.


Play in this context is distinct from “gamification” or “funification,” where games are used as a motivator for participation (in the best case) or a means of placating publics (in the worst case). Here, play means to foreground social interaction in smart design. As smart becomes a dominant frame for the future city, it will take effort to move the conversation beyond the purely rational and cognitive. It is essential to ensure that "smart" is broad enough to include all the things that make life in cities tolerable, and even desirable. The High Line in New York City is smart infrastructure. The whimsical repurposing of parking spaces into mini-parks, as takes place during the international art event Park(ing) Day, is smart infrastructure. Public art and creative placemaking is part of this play, but the play should not be mischaracterized as “more public art.” Instead, it is the deliberate design of creative and playful encounters as a means of imagining the smart city.

Action Ideas

  • Include creative placemaking in smart city projects.
  • Experiment with new, immersive forms of storytelling, sourced from citizens, to evolve the definition of smart.
  • Tap into popular culture to provide opportunities for play and delight in the city.