Around the world our cities face a plethora of challenges. Environmental issues such as air pollution and litter are stubborn problems, then there’s the uncertainty of an increasingly unstable climate. With populations growing social issues are heightened including cultural tensions, class divisions, and crime. But we’re not all packing it in to retreat to the country. Quite the opposite - in 2030, six out of ten people on Earth will be city dwellers.

But the future of our cities doesn’t have to look gloomy. Plenty of places around the world are discovering playful ways of connecting with each other, reimagining city life and tackling urban issues. 

One such example is in Mexico City. In the heart of this megalopolis a forwards-thinking city government lab () has sprung up. Their work focuses on two lines of action: civic innovation and urban creativity. 

Hubbub was delighted to be invited to the launch of their research and experimental area called Cuidad Ludica (Playful City). Over a 2 day conference, 10 professionals shared their thoughts on how play and playfulness could be used to develop cities and societies.

1) Play to connect communities

‘Our distant relatives, the bonobos, play to build trust and resolve conflict in their communities’ says Primatologist Isabel Behncke Izquierdo. It seems like the desire to feel connected is deeply embedded into our DNA. In Bristol Playable City projects have enabled people to feel better connected to their city and each other. Would you text street furniture to learn about your local area (hellolampost) or dance with others people’s shadows on well trodden city paths (shadowing)?          

2) Play as a learning tool

The children’s charity Humara Bachpan are constantly looking for creative ways of facilitating play in India’s slum areas, knowing it’s essential for learning and development. Constructed play in the form of games can also be an effective learning tool. Interactive digital games at MIT Media Lab teach new skills and also simulate scenarios which can enable young people to learn how to deal with ethical dilemmas.            

3) Play to address urban issues

Increasingly playful ways are being use to nudge behaviour change in cities. Neat Streets looked at playful ways to tackle littering in central London using interventions ranging from voting bins to flash mobs. Other urban issues are also being tackled playfully across the globe.  In Colombia the Mayor introduced traffic mimes to playfully ridicule drivers who were driving badly, in Rotterdam 10,000 eyes were installed to reduce crime rates, and in Denmark an installation called Nuage Vert (green cloud) was a playful way of making people think about their electricity use.

With urban growth and urban challenges, we need to nurture play, imagination and creativity. I left Mexico City convinced that by encouraging playfulness in our cities, we can create a more cohesive, more engaged and more hopeful urban future.

The conference Exploraciones para una Megalópolis N.° 004: Ciudad Lúdica was recorded. Listen to all 10 speaker’s here: