Just came back from the ‘Remediating Urban Space: Exploring Design Responses‘ symposium at the Plymouth University in Plymouth, UK. Thanks to the organizing committee: Alessandro Aurigi, Katharine Willis, Mike Phillips, and Gianni Corino!
In the morning I gave a little talk about the ways in which play can aid in strengthening citizen engagement with the urban environment. This is the abstract I submitted, which is the basis for the talk and to-be-written paper:
Playing for ownership: digital media and urban design
Michiel de Lange | Remediating Urban Space Symposium, 6 June 2012, Plymouth University
With a smartphone in the pocket one never needs to feel alone or lost. Mobile devices and locative apps often are geared to simplifying and personalizing urban life and to eliminate moments of friction. Moreover, many mobile apps and services provide solutions to relatively simple problems like finding the proverbial nearest Italian restaurant or parking spot. Attractive as this may seem, it neglects a basic tenet of urban life. Cities, with their high number and densities of heterogenous inhabitants, require individuals to not only devise avoidance strategies but also to cooperate in order to collectively solve complex issues. For this, encounters and tensions are a necessity. How then can these same media technologies be deployed to help create livable and lively cities by engaging citizens with the city and other people?
Central in this paper is the notion of ownership. Ownership is taken as the extent to which people feel involved with their urban environment and fellow urbanites, and have the power to act on collective issues. Since the rise of the modern city, play in various guises has been a central element in our understanding of urban culture. Digital media technologies further contribute to this legacy of playful urbanism. Media projects that aim to strengthen ownership frequently make use of play principles. This is with good reason: games take place in a rule-, time-, and space-bound setting in which players can safely test out strategies for collective action with uncertain outcomes.
This contribution explores multiple ways in which play and games can strengthen ownership by engaging urbanites with their environment and each other. First, games are used in simulations or actual planning processes of physical environments. Second, in what can be called DIY urbanism games are used to give people the agency to act on urban issues. Third, games may stimulate playful encounters with other people and places. And games help to foster a poetic ‘sense of place’ among urbanites. In the concluding section it is proposed that the tripartite ontology of play as object, algorithm and action offers a fruitful perspective on the changing role of urban designers in shaping the future of the media city.