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?”
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.
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.
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.
Taking over the subway with post-it notes!
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.
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.
Play with city signs and spread the love.
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.
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.