Watershed started Playable City, putting people and play at the heart of the Future City

Shadowing, winner of the Playable City Award 2014

This global movement of playful city interventions uses innovative technology to connect people to each other and the places they live and work – and it began right here in Bristol, at Watershed.

Playable City® puts people and play at the heart of the Future City, using technology to connect people to each other and the places they live and work – and it began right here in Bristol, at Watershed.

What exactly is a Playable City project? It’s all about connection, community and people –empowering people to reconfigure their city’s services, places and stories to animate the city, to bring joy, to interact, to surprise and to entertain.

It started in 2012 when we produced a series of commissions in Guimarães, Portugal, to explore the idea of ‘openness’ in city development. Clare Reddington, our Creative Director, explains:

"In Portugal we discovered a thirst from people to make sure the future of cities is about liveability as well as efficiency, so we wanted to carry on with this area of work – and at this time we were looking to produce a nationally significant award for artists working with digital tools"

And so, in 2013, the Playable City Award was born. The award has been so successful internationally that Bristol is now referred to as the world’s first Playable City.

The international Playable City Award, now in its third year, attracts a huge range of ideas and attention – capturing the imagination of cities, practitioners and citizens across the world. The award challenges artists, designers, architects, technologists and creative practitioners from all over the world to invite people to be playful in public spaces, engaging them with their environment and each other in new ways.

The winner of the first Award was Hello Lamp Post, which saw over 4,000 people strike up conversations with Bristol’s lamp posts, phone boxes and bus stops via text messages. With last year’s winner Shadowing, residents and visitors hunted out the secret locations of eight ‘enchanted’ street lights, playing, dancing and shaping their shadows in all corners of the city. Bristolians embraced the Shadowing experience and the feedback has been nothing short of amazing:

"This used to be a mugging area, but the light has brought people out to play. The muggers don’t come anymore"

In addition to the Award, Playable City is expanding to include a global network of labs, commissions, workshops and an international biennial conference. Previous winners are going on to bring playfulness to other cities across the world – Hello Lamp Post Austin launched last week. The Award will once again open for entries later this month – what treats lie in store in our third year? We can’t wait to get stuck in and share the projects with you, the people who play…

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Image credit: Farrows Creative