Does the 'Playable City' Improve the 'Smart City'?

Conceived as a counterpoint to the "smart city," the "playable city" would think beyond efficiency and utility in applying technology to the urban experience.
June 30, 2014, 5am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow introduces the "Playable City Award," as sponsored by a UK-based cultural organization called Watershed: "The goal of the award is to encourage use of technology to foster an engaging and playful urban environment. According to Watershed’s website, 'A Playable City is a city where people, hospitality and openness are key, enabling its residents and visitors to reconfigure and rewrite its services, places and stories.'"

The winner of last year’s award, "Hello Lamp Post," devised a system enabling Bristol residents to send text messages to inanimate objects throughout the city — not just lampposts but also park benches, billboards, and so on. 

This year’s winner, "Shadowing," will use infrared cameras to capture images of moving shadows on Bristol’s sidewalks, and then project them back on the ground to mingle with the figures and shadows that pass by later.

Tuhus-Dubrow expresses some skepticism that data and technology can overcome the drawbacks of the "smart city." "Sure, these projects might be briefly diverting, but they seem unrelated to the really magical moments at the heart of urban experience, because those are, by definition, serendipitous, not engineered," she writes. But she also allows that Watershed is continuing to refine the experiment, rather than advance a dogma.

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Published on Tuesday, June 24, 2014 in Next City
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