Rob Hughes writes about the Playful City project, a new initiative exploring and responding to the need for more inclusive, child-friendly, and playful spaces in Ireland's cities.

Today for most, cities provide the backdrop to our lives. The urban environment has over the years provided its inhabitant’s spaces to learn; live and ultimately develop. It is this complex mix that provides our cities and their communities their identities.

Public space has been relinquished in the name of economic growth. The knock-on effect of this has been the fracturing of the communities that reside within Dublin city.

However, in the globalised world that we find ourselves in today, the urban environment has become a hub for the commerce and business that drive our economies. Within Dublin, the cranes have once again become a permanent fixture across our skyline, busily erecting the manifestations of an economy that is rising from the ashes of the global financial crisis. But as the sleek office buildings and apartments go up, our city has increasingly begun to fall under the shadow of these private spaces. Public space has been relinquished in the name of economic growth. The knock-on effect of this has been the fracturing of the communities that reside within Dublin city. These communal areas are important scenes for social interaction, and provided the foundations for many communities to flourish. Their decline proves to only have a negative impact on our city and tend to affect those that need it most within our society.

At A Playful City, we're recognising the growing impact this lack of space is having upon our communities and more specifically children. Within Dublin, we want to carve out interesting areas to live, work and play. We look at the spaces between the spaces within Dublin – the laneways, the paths, the streets and create important social spaces through small scale, low-fi but highly impactful playful design. Re-imagining Dublin through this playful lens provides purposeful, unique and inclusive nodes for the communities that inhabit them, and only adds to the health and happiness of our city. Children within this playful environment are afforded spaces which allow them to explore and understand the world that they find themselves within. Such places provide positive scenes for social interaction within communities and help build a more inclusive, culturally aware and socially accepting Dublin for all ages and abilities.

In realising our vision for a playful Dublin we recognise that it can only come to fruition with the help of the people of Dublin. That is why we have adopted a grass roots approach to making Dublin playful. Over the summer, we have been pounding the streets, consulting the public and gathering the views of many stakeholders. Next up is the Design meets Play conference and hackathon on the 17th October. This conference will explore key themes of interest identified via the public consultations. The format will consist of over 20 speakers, interactive panels, workshops, and city walks. While at the hackathon in the evening, we will take the learning’s shared during the day and from the public consultations to ‘hack’ play and develop prototypes for temporary interventions in Dublin.

All this hard work will culminate in the first of what we hope to be many installations throughout Dublin. In spring of 2018, we will be creating two playful interventions in Grand Canal and Spencer Docks, and showcasing what can be done with a little imagination. A Playful City has been gathering momentum with numerous stakeholders throughout Ireland realizing the benefits such a project can have on our cities. As such, 2018 looks bright in terms of building upon our vision for making our cities playful. We are working hard on developing A Playful City even further with a number of interesting discussions taking place about making Dublin more playful.

So watch this (playful) space!  

Find out more information on the Design meets Play Conference and the Playful City project here, and follow the progress of the project on Facebook and Twitter.