The End Of Play
From ball pits to broken places, Amsterdam to Stilwater, we spent August examining states of play in cities all over the world. Here’s what we found out.
PHOTOS - Alexander Christie
When we began August’s editorial theme, Play, we loved the thought of the games people play in cities, real or imagined: stepping on cracks, banging on railings, skating outside shopping centres. But we also ran into issues: when and how do we draw the distinctions between what is truly play and what merely shares the same label? You play a musical instrument, but is something really play if you need years of skill in order to achieve it? Slowly, we began to differentiate.
Games designer Holly Gramazio taught us that people are more open to play than you’d think: put a few coloured lines on the ground, and see what happens. Citizens become players, jumping from pigment to pigment, from shape to shape.
We encourage children to play, but we have very fixed ideas about where and how. Hundreds of lookalike playgrounds sprung up after architect Van Eyck’s designs revolutionised outdoor play, but that doesn’t mean they were untouchable. As Darran Anderson explains, playgrounds are constantly under threat by the traffic lobby, along with the ever-changing health and safety laws that bind as well as protect.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “It is a happy talent to know how to play.” But, naturally, that happy talent can quickly dissolve when tragedy and destruction lay a city to waste. As a survivor of the Christchurch earthquakes, Janina Matthewson wrote about why play is so central to healing after a disaster leaves a city shell-shocked, and why the survivors of the Grenfell blaze need it so badly now.
We explored play in White City, by taking a look at the much-protested Irvin Funfair on Shepherd’s Bush Green, and the creation of the 'campus' effect at the newly renovated Bridget Joyce Square. We also played with play on a cultural level, looking at how video games capture cityscapes and how, in film, the art of the steal makes it so you can either "play or be played".
As the subject opened itself up, it became clear to us that play isn’t just a word to describe our more childish impulses, nor is it something we should be expected to grow out of, or filter into something that’s profitable or tangible. Mischief, creativity, exuberance, silliness: the elements that make up play are the very features that make us quintessentially human. It's part of our humanity. It's our job to celebrate it, our duty to protect the spaces where it happens, and our privilege to jump in the ball pit.
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