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Playful Technologies for Urban Economic Development

The Art of Building a City got me thinking of play and economic development. The article makes the case (using my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan as an example) for public art as a driver of economic development. Could playful technologies do the same?

I’m thinking of installations like the Crown Fountain in Chicago’s new Millennium Park. This fountain is a shallow splash pool bookended by two giant video walls showing a rotating collection of faces. Every so often a face will pucker up and spit a stream of water into the splash pool. It’s incredibly fun and draws people’s attention for long periods of time. People come from all over to cool down and play with the video walls.

Step one in economic development is drawing people to a given area. In urban settings, green spaces and public art have a certain capacity to accomplish this. Couldn’t a playful technology be an excellent capstone to the construction of public spaces? The answer is yes (but I just might be biased).

Imagine if cities hired imagineers to design their public spaces to complement the artists, landscape architects, and urban planners already employed.

To get more of a flavor for what I’m talking about check out the following two installations, imagine parks and city squares having these sorts of technologies, and then go “ooooh” and “ahhhhh”:

  1. Temporary video installation in London’s Trafalgar Square
    A large installation of lights, cameras, and projectors places video of other people in the shadows of passersby.
  2. Hand from Above (scroll down to see video of the awesomosity)
    “Inspired by Land of the Giants and Goliath, the project aims to remind us of mythical stories by mischievously unleashing a giant hand from the BBC Big Screen. Passers are playfully transformed being tickled, stretched, flicked or removed entirely in real-time by a giant deity.

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