Do you want to live in a city that designs for its children, elderly, and all in between? A city that is vibrant, spontaneous and adventurous? A Playful City is a project exploring and responding to the need for more inclusive, child-friendly, and playful spaces in Dublin City. We spoke to Marisa Denker to find out more about the project and upcoming conference!


PH: Tell us a little bit about what A Playful City is all about.

Marisa: A Playful City is a project exploring and responding to the need for a more sustainable, engaging, and inclusive Dublin. We are going about this in a people-first, bottom-up way and have been doing a variety of public consultations to understand what people want in their city.

Our vision is a city where the streets and public spaces engage and interact with its people – of all ages and abilities. We knew it would require a joined up approach, so we are bringing together a range of voices that have never before been in one room – from architects to NGOs to gamers to policy makers, designers, businesses, academics, human rights advocates, city planners and many more.

The findings from this will shape our international conference Design Meets Play this October 17th. The ideas developed will feed into the design and implementation of playful interventions in Dublin in Spring 2018!

PH: Where did the idea come from?

Marisa: A Playful City is designed and produced by Connect the Dots & Upon a Tree. We decided to combine our expertise to make it happen. Connect the Dots is a start-up that specialises in designing user-driven events to engage stakeholders to make an impact and Upon a Tree designs sustainable play spaces for children and adults.

From our launch event in the early spring, many people have joined in and helped to further shape our vision, including our sponsor KLM along with partners Science Gallery, UCD – Geography Department, Sean Harrington Architects, Leave No Trace, Waterways Ireland, UNICEF, Early Childhood Ireland, Early Learning Initiative (National College Ireland), GoCar, Henry J Lyons Architects, Recreate, Outsider Magazine, Totally Dublin, StreetFeast, Joined Up, and Institute of Designers Ireland.

PH: Why are playful spaces important in cities?

Marisa: Cities can be daunting places, flows of people speedily usher through the many concrete avenues that criss cross it. Some find themselves constantly drowned out by the consuming hum of daily life within it. Adults and children alike can find themselves lost within the urban environment. We wish to make Dublin a more child friendly city and more playful for all.

Bringing the character and creativity that Dublin is famed for to life on its streets through interesting design can only provide a space which encourages children to interact with their surroundings and hopefully inspire imaginations both young and old. Dublin can be a canvas which allows its inhabitants to be thoughtful and creative and at the same time help strengthen communities. Incorporating such an attitude, we feel, can only help develop Dublin into a more interesting and inclusive city all round.

PH: What are some great examples of playful spaces?

Marisa: One of our keynote speakers and Turner Prize winner, Assemble Collective has co-designed amazing playful spaces – from an open air cinema under a bridge to a slide in a city centre! Another of our speakers, Robert Kennedy, founded Baltic Street Adventure Playground. We’ve also seen the likes of coloured crosswalks, pop up scrabble, swings in a bus stop and so many more!

We also learned recently of Dominic Street Playground right in our own backyard – designed with and for the youth (with the help of two of our speakers, 6th year Joe Lyons and South Dublin County Council Laurence Colleran.) Check out our Pinterest here for even more of our inspiration:


PH: Tell us a little about your upcoming conference.

Marisa: We’ll be taking over Point Village on October 17th for Design Meets Play to discuss and make an impact together around the serious business of play. The top 5 reasons people should attend are:

  1. The People

Our aim at A Playful City is for a diverse group of stakeholders to converge and help make our vision a reality within Dublin. Attending the Design meets Play conference means you will have the opportunity to not only meet, but to meaningfully engage with and learn from stakeholders never all in the same room before – hailing from diverse sectors spanning design to academia to sustainability to architecture to urban planning to children’s rights, and more.

  1. The Conversation

We have 20 speakers of all ages and from all over the world discussing their unique views on the world of play, all of which are authorities in their own field. Discussions will cover a host of topics ranging from; children in the city; play and psychology; engagement, architecture, design and the right to play to name just a few of the conversations that will take place on the day.

Speaker highlights include:

  • Turner Prize Winner, Assemble Collective (Amica Dall)
  • President of European Network of Child-Friendly Cities (Adrian Voce)
  • Children’s Rights Advocate and Researcher (Jackie Bourke)
  • Director of Play Scotland (Marguerite Hunter Blair)
  • Head of Interventions of Superuse Studios in the Netherlands (Jos de Krieger)
  • Baltic Street Adventure Playground (Robert Kennedy)
  • Professor of Land Use Planning and Urban Studies (Marketta Kyatta)
  • UNICEF youth representative (Diana Oprea)
  1. The Experience

Unlike most conferences where audiences are passive observers, the Design meets Play experience will be one of interaction. It will be an adventure, with audience participation throughout, ranging from questions to bright ideas, a host workshops, city walks and interactive panels. We want to ignite those brain receptors and get our audience learning, understanding and creating playfully.

  1. The Space

On the day we will apply our vision of playful city  to the Point Village. It will be transformed into a spontaneous and vibrant space – its curious corners scenes of inspiration.  This alternative conference experience with its popcorn drain pipes and candyfloss clouds will help you to unlock your inner child and imagine the city differently.

  1. The Output

The Design meets Play conference will also differ to other conferences as the end of the day is merely just the beginning. With your help we will have a people-led, bottom-up vision to make Dublin more playful. We will take the learnings shared during the day to ‘hack’ play and develop and implement prototypes for temporary interventions in proposed sites in Dublin with the potential to scale.

 PH: If we can’t make the conference how else can we take part?

Marisa:  There are two main ways you can take part:21167315_538341006513362_905196589483743367_o

1 – Submit to our Play in Dublin competition: In September, A Playful City will host an open design competition ‘Play in Dublin’ in association with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, where entrants of any age from Dublin will be invited to come up with ideas for a playful installation to be brought to life in the city centre. The design should be visually impactful, respect the environment and appeal to people of all ages and abilities.  Winners will get to see their idea come to life and win a free trip with KLM!

2 –Participate in our public consultations: As part of our consultation stage, we’re putting on Ireland’s first A Playful Street event on September 13th, turning Sheriff Street into a playful street for the day. Featured at it will be our mobile pop-up consultation device, created by Sean Harrington Architects. It looks like a box on wheels at first and then opens and expands to create unique spaces for creative public consultation mechanisms. It’ll be popping up again at the end of September by Hanover Quay – keep an eye on our social media / website for when!

PH: Finally, how can we keep up to date with A Playful City?

Marisa: You can keep up to date with A Playful City via, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

You can purchase tickets for the Playful City International Conference here.

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