Playable City Award 2016/17

tokyo metroThe 2016/17 Playable City Award is now open for applications, an international call for ideas with a specific focus on journeys. As cities grow and populations increase, how we get from A to B affects a city’s liveability, well-being, and economic development. Transport and mobility is a key concern of cities across the world:

  • The average commute time in Lagos is four hours
  • The Tokyo railway system carries 40 million people a day
  • Bristol residents spend an average 127 hours each year stuck in traffic
  • More than 600 cities worldwide have a bike-sharing program.

From bus rapid transit systems to driverless cars, city bikes to traffic jams – transport infrastructure and efficiency is a key investment area of the smart city. But, how people feel about their journey, how they use the time and how they connect with others, is often overlooked. A Playable City approach to urban journeying will start new conversations, imagine new futures and make new connections – person to person, person to city.

The theme is broad and open to interpretation: a winning idea might address waiting, navigation, location or transit. It might connect people on public transport, use city bike infrastructure or explore transition situations – from physical crossings to transport interchanges.

From Bristol to Bangalore, Mexico City to Sao Paulo, cities across the world have articulated demand for Playable City projects which explore mobility. We will select a strong and surprising winning idea with the ability to scale, capitalising on global interest in Playable City to build a project with international potential.


The 2016/17 Award will be split into two stages:

  • The successful idea will be awarded a £30,000 Research and Development commission to thoroughly develop and test a prototype.
  • Using the growing international Playable City network of cities, partners and funders we will then take the prototype to final product and create a global roll out plan for the winning idea.

The award will be open to artists, designers, architects, technologists and creative practitioners who can demonstrate a history of delivering high quality, innovative practice.  By definition any application will need to demonstrate a universality to allow it to make sense and deliver impact in a wide range of city environments.

Closing date for applications is 5th September – full details here:

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Japan (Tokyo, Kyoto, Takamatsu, Naoshima, Hiroshima, Hakone)

japanTrains / Food / Art – a fairly accurate summation of an amazing two weeks in a country I find endlessly interesting and stimulating.

Echoed in the surreal discordant karaoke in the mountains: “for a minute there, I lost myself…”

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Sao Paulo

ccspTo Sao Paulo for the first time – and given the timing, an opportunity to compare and contrast self-imposed economic crises. The very strong European heritage in Sao Paulo – e.g. Italian and German migration (plus incidentally a significant Japanese community) – gave rise to series of discussions regarding the wisdom of Brexit from the perspective of a country, Brazil, which regards itself as a product of migration.

We were presenting Playable City at a panel and workshop as part of the Brazilian Independent Games Festival’s social impact strand.

The core concept of the project seems to chime well with a Brazilian interest in architecture and urban space, a more radical collectivist idea of public intervention, and a public policy desire to drive creative economy impacts in the city.

During the (massively oversubscribed) workshop some themes which emerged were familiar from other cities, for example perception of safety or people flows, where others were very much a product of a sprawling mega-city: identity and belonging in a diverse city, scale as a challenge in connecting the citizens.

What was interesting was how the participants – architects, artists, designers, city government, development agencies – immediately understood the concept and generated positive and practical responses.

Partly this is an understanding built on an existing and very active public art scene – from graffiti to LED covered multi-story buildings. A couple of great examples:

Luana Geiger’s Piscina no Minhocao – a temporary swimming pool on a flyover
Guto Requena’s Light Creature – a responsive building which interestingly was hacked to turn it from red to blue via the public app as a political statement during a protest.

A more simple intervention was at the BIG venue, the Centro Cultural Sao Paulo, where the glass was semi-mirrored and groups of kids practiced dance routines day and night throughout the public spaces in a totally unstructured but energising way.

And the final positive thought is a memory of the Santo Forte nightclub, where a DJ in a peacock kaftan played samba throughout the night to a beatifically smiling crowd, swaying rhythmically – one of the happiest rooms I think I’ve ever been in (sounds like this).

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sheffieldA theme across a couple of sessions at DocFest in Sheffield, including the panel on US Trends that I chaired, was the impact of platform on content and how the means of delivery affects length, style, presentation and more.

Part of the festival highlighted new VR content and a couple of examples in that exhibition illuminated the point in a much more fundamental way than just title and immediacy.

We Wait by Aardman Animations & BBC Connected Studio placed the “viewer” in a group of Syrian refugees about to attempt a sea crossing – I put “viewer” in inverted commas as it felt very much like an experience. Whilst a scripted piece it used sound design and direction to exploit the affordances of the VR environment, moving your focus and surprising you.

The person waiting after me asked whether it was necessary to wear the lifejacket provided when you were about to immerse yourself in VR mask & headphones, in my opinion that physical prop did feel important in countering the sometimes slightly uncomfortable isolation of VR. An interestingly subtle effect.

By contrast a film called Home, the story of a migrant in the Calais Jungle shot in 360 gave you great access and a personal view, but the format added little. In fact the often raised POV, disembodied narration and VR headset combined to create a more dislocating experience.

That said, it was still another example of the multitude of films which embody DocFest itself – a gathering of committed and passionate filmmakers seeking to tell both ordinary and extraordinary human stories in engaging and affecting ways.

And another classy hotel window view for my collection.

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stockholmA sparkling couple of days in Stockholm with a series of meetings across the city giving a real sense of a fast growing creative technology cluster.

This was most effectively demonstrated by the latest annual Games Developer Index published by Dataspelsbranschen (the Swedish Games Industry association) – its statistics show hockey stick growth in turnover (39% CAGR) and employment. Key to this growth are tent pole businesses like King and Mojang, but they are not the only contributors as the ecosystem fills out across console, PC and mobile platforms, and investment from exits and IPO’s follow back into smaller companies.

A factor noted here and repeated in another games / vfx business was a flexibility in workflows and collaborations across multiple territories, plus a clear focus on export revenues – an international profile as a core fundamental to growing a Swedish base.

My visit coincided with the early stages of Eurovision, and the strapline of Come Together visible across Stockholm felt like a positive cultural statement at a time of fracture.

(although it did mean that I had Spiritualized in my head all week – not very Europop)

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Los Angeles / Philadelphia / New York

NYC subwayOften when I return from these trips I try to summarize a theme – I think the best I can come up with here is “monetizing social distribution”.

Across a series of meetings – especially on the West Coast – there was a clear trajectory in evidence, the accelerating growth and corporate investment in businesses which source their content and IP from the social and online worlds as a start point.

The rapid establishment of MCN networks, building communities of creators and cross-selling IP to a highly engaged digital audience, is now a scale market segment. And one which is now selling its content back into traditional media formats (books TV, film) but with the advantages of a connected, committed audience already in place.

Two companies I met cited c.5Bn YouTube views per month across their MCN networks, although there was an interesting distinction in that one was keeping its creator community small and seeking to improve content coherence through subject focus and production support (quality over quantity, channel over breadth). As an aside this company also showed the “with hindsight blindingly obvious” innovation of shooting and editing “portrait” for full screen mobile social distribution.

On the East Coast another company continued the main theme, albeit related to still images. Their platform seeking to connect brand imagery to promotion / sale opportunities but specifically following those images outside of any controlled company digital presence to the myriad of social shares by across multiple platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Pinterest etc).

The emergence of fast growing media tech companies in Los Angeles has created a very different dynamic to recent trips there, the geographic focus shifting to Santa Monica and the rapidly changing Downtown areas away from Hollywood etc. In fact the only meeting in Studio City was with a major studio now wrestling with how to establish an effective open innovation platform, recognising the need for external input as they seek to keep pace with the evolution of audience behaviour (and which feels like a threat as an incumbent).

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waterfallA gap in blogging rather than activity so a quick update after a week in Wales to reset myself….

Playable City Lagos – huge energy from the group of participants, both Lagosians and UK visitors (write up to come). A nice article on The Guardian site ahead of the programme:

Playable City Tokyo – latest activity was the installation of Shadowing:

Positive conversations continuing with Dublin, Mexico City, Austin, Porto and more. Next stops to present Playable City, Dublin and Sao Paulo in June.

Next destinations for UKTI, Los Angeles and NYC this week. Then Stockholm next month.

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portoA welcome return to Porto for the first time since the Open City Guimaraes project in 2012 – a beautiful city and now one with a clear shared sense of new possibility.

My visit included a session at UPTEC and a tour of UPTEC PINC, two of the four incubators established by the University of Porto to support new business development in the city – in these iterations focused on Tech and Creative Industries.

Meeting businesses in both buildings there was a feeling of optimism and potential (where 4 years ago creating new start ups felt like a necessary path to avoid youth unemployment) and clearly some of the positive public intervention which has transformed Lisbon’s sector is replicated here.

Added to that the downtown area which had felt abandoned in parts previously now has a new vibrancy – there was a marked shift.

One thing still puzzles. The food and wine in northern Portugal is particularly great (octopus, black pork, douro wines, port), yet the dish recommended by all as the Porto speciality, the Francesinha, is a weird spicy fried steak sandwich covered in melted cheese, egg and served in a tomato sauce – never again….

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Berlin – layers

eberswalderTo Berlinale, my first film festival for a while, and I was reminded of the multiple layers of an event like this.

Tilda Swinton and Joel Coen were on my plane over, traveling to provide red carpet glamour at the opening premiere; beyond the glitz to an entirely separate strata, the Film Market where hundreds of films – some made, some just ideas – hopefully seek finance and distribution; and then to the dreams of the filmmakers and producers attending, some experienced, but many more less so, looking for that crucial break. This was reinforced when I bumped into an old friend at the airport on the way back, heading for the BAFTA’s (he won) and then to the Oscars – hard work and a run of great docs allowing him to shift layers.

Interestingly much of the Market was organised as country pavilions, a reinforcement that there is a generally understood policy layer which values the “soft cultural” impact of films and which adds public stimulus in the shape of tax reliefs and/or support investment. The German market saw the release of 226 German films last year, which took advantage of access to 16 federal and regional film funds to the extent that on average 40% of budget was public finance (prior to any additional EU co-pro relationships which could also bring in other “local” incentive).

In Berlin history feels remarkably close to the surface and so in a gap I investigated another layer.

On my office wall is a large grey piece of concrete, picked up at Eberswalde Strasse on the night 8/9th November 1989 by a BBC cameraman and given to my Dad. This was the site of one of the first breaches of the Berlin Wall as it fell.

A short ride on the U2 from my hotel, the brick lines below show the route of the Wall. But the mundanity of the scene at Eberswalde Strasse today belies world-changing events still less than 30 years ago.

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Mumbai / Bangalore


To Mumbai and Bangalore for UKTI to stage a couple of panel / networking sessions focused on “creative meets tech”.

With an increasingly global view, production processes within the creative industries are now often internationally distributed – and there is evidence of an existing UK / India axis. In addition the emergence of new platforms, for example online, mobile and social media, creates new market opportunity and direct consumer relationships for creative businesses.

Our events focused on the impacts of digital across production, distribution and audience engagement – looking for the next collaborative commercial opportunities between UK & India.

Across the two panels three interesting themes emerged:

Brand not channel – Particularly highlighted by BBC Worldwide was this important distinction. Content owners now thinking of IP as a marketing brand which requires multiple coherent touchpoints rather than a defined channel delivery.

Content Velocity – A strategy phrase from Adobe, but one which describes a new imperative, in the necessity for constant refresh and renewal of available content for audiences across a range of targeted platforms.

“in the next room” – Technicolour highlighted the seamless delivery of VFX services between MPC & The Mill in London and the Bangalore team (with Oscar nominations for The Martian and The Revenant). But Tata Elxsi made an interesting distinction in that their linked design services also have to build in a cultural awareness of user experience – so whilst the collaboration is seamless, the same product should not be expected to work at each end without localization.

Over the week the impression of a strong potential for productive UK / India relationships was reinforced with some very strong businesses looking for an expanded European footprint, and a home market which is exploding as the access to web services and smart devices grows exponentially.

The gif above is of the amazing lunch at Mavalli Tiffin Rooms in Bangalore. An old local institution with a very cheap fixed menu and communal tables. Lunch is served en masse with spectacular efficiency by a team of waiters ladling extraordinary food onto your tray from gleaming metal buckets.

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