Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Playable City

    Playable Cities: the city that plays together, stays together

    Forget about smart cities, Playable City ideas – like Bristol’s water slide or its temporary play streets – are a human response to the coldness and anonymity of the urban environment

    Luke Jerram's crowdfunded Park and Slide project temporarily transformed Park Street in Bristol into a giant water slide
    Luke Jerram’s crowdfunded Park and Slide project temporarily transformed Park Street in Bristol into a 95-metre water slide open to the public
    During the past year in Bristol you could have plunged down a 300ft water slide on one of the city’s main shopping streets, had a text message conversation with a lamppost, let your children play outside during a temporary street closure, or played a zombie chase game around the city centre.
    All good fun, you might or might not think. But the people behind these and other similar projects believe they add up to much more than a good laugh. Next week, many of them are meeting for a conference at Bristol’s Watershed on Making the City Playable.
    Although their work is in many ways disparate, three key ideas bring them together. First, that cities create problems of living that can only be addressed by collective action. Second, the sense that the well-being of communities cannot be left to local authorities; citizens need to take control of their own surroundings. Third, an optimism that we can do more than just tackle problems one by one. By encouraging public activities that actively bring joy, we can create a happier, more cohesive urban future.
    The Playable City movement can be seen as a creative response to the coldness and anonymity of the urban environment, which technology threatens to make even worse. Conference organiser Clare Reddington told me of her despair over visions of “smart cities” where technology aims to remove all the friction from our movements, guiding us by smart phone to exactly where we want to be. For Reddington, this is “over-planned” and all about “how fast you can get from one place to another”. It’s also a vision tailored for tech geeks rather than the whole community. She recalls a workshop in Europe’s then Capital of Culture – Guimarães in Portugal – in which the older people feared being left increasingly alone and cut off in a world in which “everything is going to be mediated by a screen”.

    Candy Chang's Before I Die … interactive public art project.
    Candy Chang’s Before I Die … interactive public art project. Photograph: Randy Duchaine/Alamy
    Play might appear to be a rather frivolous response to this, but in its broad sense it simply means any kind of enjoyable activity which is not a functional means to an end. In cities, people are often completely wrapped up in what they have to do, where they need to get to next. It is no accident that many film-makers and artists have represented cities as machines in which people scurry around like lab rats. Play is about interrupting the utilitarian efficiency of the urban environment and getting people to think about what actually makes us human.
    This is not an idea confined to quirky eccentrics in the south west of England. The playable city meme has travelled to Sweden, Texas, Japan and China. There was also a recent playable city conference in Brazil, in which urban planner and policy-maker Claudio Marinho participated. He told me that for him the notion of the playable city arises from the need for “an affectionate re-appropriation of public places to get back city-centre life from our bunker-high-rise isolation.” In Brazil, he sees high-rise apartments behind walls “creating non-place neighbourhoods”, a place being a “space with meaning, history, narratives”.
    Similarly, Usman Haque’s interest in playable cities is “motivated by exploring how people relate to each other and their spaces around them; how they express their agency and take ownership of their environments, and the structures of participation through which they collaborate with neighbours to take ownership of their environments collectively.” For instance, his permanent installation in Bradford’s City Park sees fountains and lights respond to the movement of the people around the space. By trial and error they can learn how to choreograph them.
    Only by giving citizens the ability to creatively shape their own environment can their agency and ownership develop. “I’m interested in how the designer of a system can best support ordinary people’s creativity,” says Haque, “by being neither too prescriptive, and therefore unable to accommodate the unplanned, nor too unspecified, and therefore giving no firm take-off points, for people to contribute meaningfully.”

    Paolo Cirio's Street Ghosts featured life-sized pictures of people found on Google's Street View printed and posted at the same spot where they were taken
    Paolo Cirio’s Street Ghosts featured life-sized pictures of people found on Google’s Street View printed and posted at the same spot where they were taken
    For the playable city to thrive, it requires cooperation from local authorities, something that Reddington says is very forthcoming in Bristol which “has a unique set of permission structures that enables this stuff to happy really easily”. There are very clear incentives for councils to come on board. Since Rome, legislators have acknowledged that a thriving metropolis requires bread and circuses, more than just the bare essentials. Many of the playable city ideas provide very cheap ways of doing this.
    Artist Luke Jerram’s “park and slide” water slide was crowdfunded, so the council only needed to close the street. His similarly low-budget “Play Me, I’m Yours” project has seen 1,300 pianos installed in public spaces in 45 cities around the world.
    All councils have to do to allow street play is to create a statutory instrument like Bristol’s Temporary Play Street Order and make it easy to obtain. A straightforward form needs to be completed six weeks before the first closure, and roads can be closed as often as once a week for a maximum of three hours, as long as residents are allowed vehicular access. Once granted, a TPS order is valid for 12 months. Volunteer parents take care of the rest.
    Shadowing, the winner of the 2014 Playable City award, has a budget of £30,000, which is not a lot for a city-wide arts initiative. From 11 September Jonathan Chomko and Matthew Rosier’s creation “will give memory to eight of Bristol’s city lights, enabling them to record and play back the shadows of those who pass underneath”.
    Many of these projects might sound like rather contrived and artificial ways of dealing with the problems of atomised urban living. That is for a good reason. Cities are in a sense artificial, and if they have a natural form at all, it is a cold and alienating one. It requires self-conscious, artificial interventions to disrupt this.

    2.8 Hours Later - Slingshot's live gaming event
    2.8 Hours Later - a city-wide zombie chase game that regularly takes places in Sheffield and London
    There is, however, nothing unnatural about the objective, particularly when it affects children. “Over the past few generations, the idea of the whole city being a child’s playground has been lost and outside play is now generally restricted to designated times and places and managed by adults,” says Playing Out’s director Alice Ferguson. “The ability to ‘play out’ independently, to discover one’s own city and develop skills, resilience and self-reliance cannot be replaced by this type of ‘managed’ play.”
    It’s hard to object to anything which is, as Reddington says, about “connection, community and people”, which in Marinho’s words aims to “make cities new and renewed with landscape (urban memories), texture (human scale) and affection (place appropriation).” But does it really work? Objective assessment is inherently difficult, since it is not as though the desired outcomes are easily quantifiable. Nonetheless, Watershed is working with the University of the West of England to get a PhD researcher to work on how to qualitatively assess the benefits of playable projects.
    Some ideas are bound to be better than others. But the value of the playable city idea can easily be seen if it is placed in its context, as very much part of a broader movement aimed at softening the edges of the urban environment and engaging people more with each other and their surroundings. There are now around 50 “incredible edible” towns and cities in Britain, which grow fruit and vegetables in public spaces for everyone to share. Bristol-based Playing Out is a pivotal member of a community of groups nationwide which strive to open up roads to pedestrians. All of these initiatives aim to give a more human, friendly face to our concrete and tarmac world. Behind them all is a simple maxim that rings true: the city that plays together, stays together.


    Wednesday, September 10, 2014

    Manhattans Outdoor Reading Rooms

    We're creating a list of Manhattan's Outdoor Reading Rooms, if you know of a location not listed, contact us at wtgichelsea (at)

    Park Chelsea Associated Units

    Dias y Flores Community Garden 13th Street between Ave A and B

     NYC Dreamcenter at Elliott Chelsea Houses
     (also Harlem has a site in Harlem)

    Theresas Park 39th st Btw 9th/10th Ave

    Oasis Community Garden
    52ns St off 10th Ave

    Outdoor Reading Room for the Homeless 28th St 9th Ave
    (part of the Relief Bus , travels  to 5 locations in Manhattan and NJ)

     Fulton Senior Center
    17th St 9th Ave

    Revolutionary Books 26th St 7th Ave

    Asher Levy Recreation Center 23rd St, Ave B

    Police Athletic League 52nd St 10th Ave

    Other Manhattan Outdoor Reading Rooms

    Harlem Success Garden

    Bennett Park, Washington Heights

    Bryant Park Reading Room

    Rockefeller Park, Battery Park City

    Pen Writers  Little Free Libraries

    Tuesday, September 9, 2014

    Bird Feeders for Readers: Outdoor Reading Rooms for Manhattan Residents

    Quality bird feeder
     This is a bird feeder. It contains food. It  both attracts birds and provides nourishment for them. link

     This is a bird feeder for readers. . It contains books and magazines.  It's both attracts readers and provides intellectual nourishment for them.

    Bird Feeders for Readers are a really low cost way(about $40) of  helping to activating our public spaces. To create one:

     We take a Rubbermaid All Access  storage bin  ($17)...

    add dividers (about $15)

    Tape corrugated plastic to top *so rain does not collect)  , add logo ($8)

    ...and a bunch of children's books and possibly  magazines for adults

     then we put them together and place them in a public space with seating


    and if we are successful we get something that looks like this...

    Poster on community garden fence letting public know about reader

    Bird Feeders for Readers are a lot like Little Free Libraries, the difference being Little Free Libraries work on the Take a Book/Leave a Book principal . Bird Feeders for Readers childrens books and magazines for adults  are not meant to circulate, they are meant to be read while you are at a park and returned when you leave.

    Note: All access organizers are not UV protected. They will be good for at least a year, if your outdoor library is working well at that time, consider replacing this with a more permanent unit

     Some of the Benefits of Outdoor Reading Rooms:

    Lack of Libraries and Bookstores
    There used to be a lot of bookstores in our neighborhoods where people could go to browse books and read magazines. There aren't a lot of these anymore.

    Our neighborhoods do still have libraries, but there aren't a great number of these. And besides when the weather is good, wouldn't you rather be reading outdoors?

    Studies have shown that  "Giving Children Access to Print Materials Improves Reading Performance"  link     and " the first step any literacy campaign needs to take is to make sure children have access to plenty of books." link

     This map shows the libraries of community board 4. There are just 2, for a rather large area. Ain't many bookstores anymore here either. Outdoor reading rooms in our public spaces can help fill the gap of access to print reading materials.

    Lack of  Adult Activities in Neighborhood Parks

     Many of Manhattan's  neighborhoods lack a sufficient quantity of green spaces. But beyond a lack of open space there is even a greater problem with our public spaces. As it turns out many  of Manhattans public spaces offer their adult  users little more then a bench to sit on.

                                    This is an example of a neighborhood park offers adults a place to sit and little else

    Alternative to Food Recreation
    The major activity offering of  our Dept of Transportation Plazas and Parks Dept. Conservancy Parks seems to be offering people something to eat.

    The yellow dots are "food recreation"  locations in parks, plazas, and privately owned public spaces. The green dots are activities recreation in the same area.There are 17 food vendors in these spaces. Only 3 spaces in this same area offer active recreation.

    Hey,  food is great, but offering only "food recreation" as an activity in our public spaces helps to fuel our obesity crisis.

    see also:  Manhattans Outdoor Reading Rooms

    Midtown Manhattan's Active Recreation Exclusion Zone

    Thursday, September 4, 2014

    Bird Feeders

    Little Free Library books are meant to be taken, they are a   success  when  person takes care of unit (constant restocking)

    Little Free Library  PEN Writes Union -Failures -no one restocks library

    Great designs-no books   when i visited

    Penn South Laundry room Book/ Magazine Recycling -There is no one keeper of the units , tenants have the responsibility to  restock themselves and constantly do so

    Bird Feeders for Readers are not meant to be Libraries they are Outdoor Reading Rooms -no taking of books

    Why have Outdoor Reading Rooms

    Lack of Libraries in many neighborhoods

    Lack of Bookstores
      The number of bookstores in Manhattan fell drastically between 2000 and 2012,plummeting by almost 30 percent. Even large chains like Barnes & Noble, once painted as the enemy of independent bookstores, have not been immune to the industry’s woes. Borders, which had five outlets in Manhattan, declared bankruptcy in 2011. Several Barnes & Nobles have closed throughout the city in recent years.  NYT

    Literacy stuff

    Research consistently shows that children who live in low-income neighborhoods have little access to reading material in their public libraries, in their schools, and at home. After investigating access to reading material in different neighborhoods, Neuman and Celano (2001) concluded that that " ... children in middle-income neighborhoods were likely to be deluged with a wide variety of reading materials. However, children from poor neighborhoods would have to aggressively and persistently seek them out" (p. 15).
    If more access leads to more reading, and if more reading leads to better reading, writing, spelling, grammar, and a larger vocabulary (for overwhelming evidence, see Krashen, 2004), this means that the first step any literacy campaign needs to take is to make sure children have access to plenty of books. link

    Bryant Park-Stocking outdoor reading room partially  through magazine subscriptions

     Bryant Park 300-500 users a day.

    Magazine subscriptions

    Under $5.00
    $5 to $10

    -Either each locations gets to choose  $50 in magazines
    or 2 locationswill  get to choose $100 of magazines

    -To get magazines someone(s) at garden  must volunteer to receive magazines and bring to garden
    -ask garden keepers if willing to do, gardens that say yes get magazines

    Extra storage to add books if needed

     Larger Unit for one location

    Specialized Bird Feeders
    Comic Books

    Networking Public spaces with Unified Public Space maps

    Park  East Harlem