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Blog

6 Reasons to Play More

May 23 2017

I’ve always been intrigued by what makes city life so charming. Having spent most of my life as an urbanite, I’ve come to realize that what captivates me most is the playfulness I see around me. Just as we can find inspiration by writing or reading about what interests us, I decided to find inspiration through observation. I wondered “How does play affect how we behave in cities? What are the social and physical effects of play in urban design? If we played more in cities, would we be happier? Fall in love more often?”

Nazli Play Image 3

Snow in NYC!

I decided to frame my questions into City Play Project—100 days to observe, create, and capture playful moments in the city. Sometimes I found playfulness in the street cats of Istanbul, or a serendipitous moment of two strangers dancing in the West Village, or even a painted mural in East London.

Once I started my 100-day project, lots of friends—even friends of friends—started making and sending me images of playful interventions from all over the world—Florence, Istanbul, Paris, London, New York, Tokyo, and San Francisco. The most wonderful part about it was seeing how each person defined playfulness. Comparing all the differences helped me find some universal truths. Here are six things I learned from the project.

1. Playing in the city makes you notice things in a completely different way

Once you start looking for playfulness, you see things differently. It’s almost like adopting a traveler’s mindset. A type of pavement or a trash can suddenly look more interesting. You realize that you can be more playful with everything—even your own shadow.

2. It’s contagious

When you play in streets, others play with you. One moment can inspire a movement—just like the sticky notes in the New York subway. Sometimes, you just need to find a way to give others permission to join you in changing the city around you.

Nazli Play Image 1

Taking over the subway with post-it notes!

3. Playing alone is harder than playing with others

People are terrified by empty spaces, public humiliation, and interacting with strangers in the street. Being silly alone is hard, and being silly with strangers is even harder. Often, we need encouragement from friends to start playing. The person who goes first makes it easier for the rest to be more playful.

4. It brings intimacy, trust, and love

Playfulness brings people closer. If you are brave enough to play with strangers, you can build trust in an instant, unspoken way. People who have never met before can play together. It helps you see the child in others and initiate creative collisions. It creates intimacy, and all that magic leads—or might lead—to love.

Nazli Play Image 4

Play with city signs and spread the love.

5. Playfulness builds confidence

Allowing yourself to be more playful when you are walking down the street brings more confidence. You become more comfortable with your surroundings, and in how you interact with people, even—strangers. You stop asking for permission to do things, you just do them. A playful mindset allows you to try things, step up, express your thoughts in a physical way without being shy about it.

6. A framework can help encourage it

Constraints may seem like the last thing we should think about when we play, but they can actually spark playfulness. Constraints aren’t always restrictive—especially at an urban scale. The limitations of a cul-de-sac or the weather can push people to unique ways of playing. Sometimes it’s the boundaries that makes us embrace playfulness.

Want to join me in observing playfulness in cities? I challenge you to do the same! Tag your photos with @cityplayproject.

  • Nazlican Goksu

    Design Researcher, IDEO San Francisco
    Nazlican is a Design Researcher particularly interested in systemic challenges, especially those that involve urban design. She finds inspiration from cities and public randomness. Born and raised in Turkey, she now calls 4 different cities "home."