P for Play

P for Play

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot. They put all the trees in the tree museum and they charged the people a dollar and a half just to see them’

Joni Mitchell

During the residency I was struck by the smallest unit/agent of change we could make, to punctuate the everyday somnambulist, playfully, and remind people of their commons, their dreams, hopes and creativity. We don’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone. And even then we don’t know how to permission ourselves to reclaim our time and space. 12 years ago millions of pounds were invested in children’s play by the English Government, now there are no funds at all.

My practice is playful provocation, and I’m part of a wonderfully generous and generative fellowship of people who care deeply about children’s rights to play, to have a voice, to be heard, and to have sufficient  freedom, time and space to roam, to explore and discover*. Additionally the belief that play is connecting of all ages, cultures and socio economic backgrounds, yet is not equal, is one of social and economic justice. Some children have more time, space and support to wander & play than others, some hear more birdsong, have healthier lungs and will live longer.

There is much evidence that car related behaviours have reduced the time and roaming distances for children growing up today. (Tim Gill ‘Urban Playground, How Child Friendly Planning and Design can save cities).

A No Ball Games mentality pervades, but evoking memories of childhood, of fun, of derring do, cheekily can connect people empathetically about the present and future freedoms afforded to children. The impacts of this are rooted in mounting empirical evidence of worsening mental and physical health, as well as a decreasing independence, and an aversion to learning how explore, be connected to your neighbourhood, 

At first I considered a Carbon Tax, taxing the source of the problem of the worlds worst carbon criminals *(Thanks Ross Atkin) which brought together the notion of the petrol pump and the ability to round up your bill with spare change. The idea would link pennies and pounds accrued to a hyper local trust based model of dispensing of funds towards more playfulness & creativity within the area of the petrol station. Ideally this would be something a great many petrol stations would get on board with, not just one brand. BP, Shell, Texaco, Morrisons, Asda, Sainsbury’s as well as any small independents. 

Then as the residency developed a conversation between the very well respected Penny Wilson, ‘Play Worker and Unicorn Saviour’ and Sam Griffiths about chalk playful prompts, and resulted in Sam making a wonderful P for Play Sign which acts as a playful ‘disruption’ and does what it says on the tin. Reclaim car parking spaces for play, creativity and ideas germinated by the local community, definitely with those at the margins at the fore in terms of ideas/voice and sway. This further complements the excellent work of Bristol based street play movement Playing Out who have been supporting people to close their streets for play, for a good decade.

Connecting the dots, whilst humming Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi, and musing on urban acupuncture, pilots, plots, our commons, making space for joy, joy being about universal social equity, and pondering a previous idea i’d pitched to a couple of Smart City Folk (no harm in bricolage/combinatorial stuff, recycling of ideas in different contexts right?) I searched for parking meters, looking at how we might ask people to do Pennies for Play or A Tap Dance, both at the car driver level as well as the NCP, Q-Park, Parkepeida level & ideally local authorities. Car parking & funds is such an interesting economic model to explore. 

My previous research had unearthed the  Beautiful Ideas Company, who created a seed funding model for hyperlocal social businesses from revenues they had generated from running a match day car park in Liverpool over a period of 5 years. I’ve been very inspired by this and the people running it, in terms of seed funding and supporting ideas and people to flourish.

Relationships and funds

Can we generate monies from current car driving to connect drivers to lovely small playful, creative low carbon acts at a local level. Can we develop a relationship which means they not only want to support these green shoots, but to experience and enjoy them too. Like a Spacehive or British Playmap of Little LowCar Bon Acts (sorry been punning since I joined the residency, maybe we can reward the donors with bad dad jokes in return for their pennies and pounds?).

How about this? The parking meter as a beacon of playful provocation.  This emerged during Covid as a way to distribute funds to local non profits.

It Interrupts the daily grind. It’s a portal to play, to imagine our worlds differently. By creating a digital relationship with the donor, maybe a bit like Hello Lamppost. Something funny, more rewarding, but not too rewarding. I’m loathe to go down the ‘change your behaviour’ route as a in your face finger pointy polemic. However I am keen to raise consciousness and make the ways in which we create more space for greening, growing, playing, creating and flourishing in such ways which are IRRESISTIBLE* (Thanks Fraser Stewart), a portal that a great many would wish to shimmy through. 

I asked via the social bubbles I frequent the following question:

‘What would you direct the monies towards if we did something like this parking meter, what is your dream scenario?’

Most agreed that the funds should be sparks, ‘disturbances’ (Wendy Russell, Stuart Lester), hyperlocal, light touch and trust based, working with existing connected communities/associations. Some indicated deeper embedded relationship based processes, like play rangers, or artist/makers supported to develop with the communities they are situated within. 

Determining the scope of the funds would be a potential consideration, is play and place making intrinsically low carbon, high dwell, highly irresistible to walking, day dreaming, dawdling, dancing, skipping, jumping, being in a state of flow, feeling connected, able to tackle uncertainty, navigate the future together? My hunch is that the answer is yes. But perhaps some funds could stimulate specific inventiveness, circular economy approaches, sharing and collaboration?

Emma Bearman

Emma Bearman is Chief of Play Galaxy Division of Playful Anwwhere CIC. Physically based in the Northern Hemisphere, mentally her head is in the clouds. Tangible assets include a fleet of refurbished shipping containers called Playboxes, Wonder Geodomes and too much lego. Her favourite weapon of choice, other than a provocative tongue, is a stick of pavement chalk. 



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