the playable city

tokyo stairs charlieA thread of blogs past (trust me) is in some ways the uneven push / pull between technology and users – where the innovation envisaged or imposed by the tech in many of cases outweighs the user experience in importance. And whilst there are multiple exceptions to this, and the universal get out of “give them what they don’t know they want”, we seem to have a digital world littered with functions over functionality.

Nowhere is this more visible at present than the world of the internet of things and the smart city, practically more high tech sales slogans than defined and desirable technology step changes.

In 2012 I worked with Watershed on the Open City strand of the European Capital of Culture programme in Guimaraes, Portugal. One of the core tenets of our commissions was a more “user centred” approach to the city of the future – a philosophy which Watershed turned into the Playable City concept.

In the intervening period this concept has gained traction and through a series of competitions and commissions – also extending to South East Asia and Brazil – has generated a new approach to the concept of the technology driven smart city; one where the citizens define, describe and inhabit these interactions (and there is no better exemplar of the internet of things than Hello Lamp Post, the first Playable City award and nominated for a Design Museum award).

Importantly this approach, driven by culture rather than technology, still raises the key questions which underlie the smart city premise – identity, permission, privacy, control, surveillance – but in an accessible, playful, format.

The second Playable City award is in development now – Shadowing will give memory to Bristol’s city lights, enabling them to record and play back the shadows of those who pass underneath.

Over the next couple of months I will be working with Watershed and British Council to define and extend the Playable City concept, with the intention of forming a network of international Playable Cities during 2015.

More on this to follow, but drop me a line if you’d have something to add to the consultation – whether partnership, technology or insight.

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