URBACT Network Playful Paradigm: Making European Cities Playful

The Playful Paradigm network is sharing the results of the transfer journey involving eight European municipalities, which tested how the use of games could be relevant for promoting urban development and social cohesion, in order to making their cities more inclusive, healthy and sustainable. The final publication sums up two years of insights, do’s, don’ts and case studies arose during the Playful Paradigm journey towards transferring and adapting the Good Practice defined by the City of Udine.

URBACT Networks: shared knowledge, better cities

URBACT is the most important EU co-funded programme promoting the creation of network of cities, working together at European level and with residents and stakeholders at local level to create integrated urban strategies. European cities are dealing with similar challenges: the promotion of healthy lifestyles, the innovative use of public space, the promotion of social, economic and environmental sustainability. Tackling these challenges through collaborative schemes promoting the transfer of resources and know-how among cities is one of the priorities shared by the European Territorial Cooperation programmes, such as URBACT.

Among the different types of networks co-funded by URBACT, the Transfer Networks were particularly successful in promoting the active involvement of policy makers, practitioners, public agencies, private sector and civil society, at local, national and international level, with the objective of replicating and adapting good practices emerged at European level and carefully selected by the programme.

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The Playful Paradigm Network

The Playful Paradigm is one of the Transfer Networks funded by URBACT: it adapted and reused the good practice developed in Udine (Italy) – awarded with the label of Good Practice city by URBACT in 2017 – in other 7 European cities, to foster a sustainable integrated urban development through games and playful activities.

After two years, in 2021, the Playful Paradigm Network, with the Municipality of Udine as a Lead Partner, in partnership with the Municipalities of Cork (Ireland), Esplugues de Llobregat (Spain), Katowice (Poland), Klaipeda (Lithuania), Larissa (Greece), Novigrad (Croatia) and Viana do Castelo (Portugal), has reached the last stage of its journey and it’s moving towards the sharing period.

Udine’s Playful Paradigm: what is this all about?

Udine is located in North-Eastern Italy, part of the Autonomous Region of Friuli Venezia Giulia. With a population of almost 100.000 inhabitants on a 56 km² area, Udine is undergoing a constant demographic ageing trend and a decline in birth rate. The Municipality of Udine fostered the introduction of a playful approach as part of the solution to the problems connected to ageing population and lack of attractiveness of the urban context.

Udine faced these challenges with a middle-out method, boosting the impact of traditional top-down actions by capitalizing on spontaneous bottom-up initiatives and acting as a catalyst, social broker and mediator of a broader societal engagement. The City established annual playful events to nurture the citizens’ engagement in collective activities, implemented a structured calendar of initiatives to stimulate an active lifestyle among the elders and provided a toolbox of healthy games replacing gambling games (such as slot machines previously installed in local cafeterias and tobacco shops) in public establishment to challenge gambling addiction.

All these initiatives were later translated into modules, concrete activities for the partner cities to adapt and put into practice, in order to be included in the city’s development strategy. The Udine’s good practice was then divided into modules reflecting the main actions implemented at local level: street games and gamification events, involvement of schools in playing activities, the Ludobus, the annual program of games events and activities, the Toy Library, playful projects for local communities.

How the cities implemented the Playful Paradigm – 3 Examples

Based on the principles of adaptation, transfer and reuse of the good practice, the framework of the URBACT Transfer Network helped the cities to choose and adapt the modules better adapting to their characteristics and ambitions.

1. Novigrad (HR)

Novigrad has only 4345 inhabitants but a strong community life was key for making playful activities a relevant factor for social growth. The city upgraded the existing Playful corners making them part of an integrated strategy fostering the use of games and the interaction among people of all the age groups. During the first lockdown, the stakeholders reunited in the URBACT Local Group collected a set of classic social games and created branded wooden games as domino, ludo, memory and puzzle which were then distributed to local families.

2. Katowice (PL)

Katowice turned a section of its Public Library into a Board Games Library, where residents can borrow hundreds of cards and board games with a system similar to the one previously used for borrowing books. The reuse of this relevant cultural infrastructure was carried out in collaboration with the stakeholders of the URBACT Local Group, who helped the city to create a system to bring playful activities in every residents’ home. In the framework of the Playful Paradigm activities, Katowice created also its own board game called “The Last Trial” that was distributed to local libraries and residents also as a way to promote local creative businesses after the pandemic.

3. Viana do Castelo (PT)

Viana do Castelo involved schools in playful activities, organizing athletic and nautical activities to promote active lifestyle for kids. Gamification activities and events and annual programs of games and events were organized by the city and are part of the cultural programme of the city. The city organized also many playful activities for the local seniors community, promoting active ageing and better quality of life. Storytelling and theatre activities for kids were also broadcasted on social media during the pandemic, in order to promote playful and cultural activities at home.

The knowledge produced by Playful Paradigm

The Transfer Network Playful Paradigm produced a final publication with transfer stories, articles and thematic focus produced by the project experts and the partner cities. The publication is available on the URBACT website and is part of the wealth of knowledge produced by the programme on sustainable urban development.

What next? Towards the creation of the European Capital of Play

The activities of the URBACT Transfer Network are officially closed but will continue at national level until the end of September 2021 with local and national events of dissemination.

The final meeting of the network , held digitally on 20-21 April, raised the attention on the role of playful activities in cities and drafted important recommendations in the Manifesto of the Playful Paradigm. The document calls for enhancing the use of urban games at local level through an integrated urban strategy and aims at becoming an useful tool to be matched with integrated local policies on social inclusion and sustainability in European cities.

The proposal of creating an European Capital of Play emerged by the dialogue among the cities of Playful Paradigm and the active commitment of their elected representatives, who are going to discuss with the European institutions (such as the Committee of the Regions and the European Commission) in order to create this official acknowledgment for cities active in promoting playful activities as part of their strategies of sustainable development. This model will be also connected to the New European Bauhaus and proposed by Udine among the ideas to implement a renewed model connecting design and sustainability for wellbeing of citizens.

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Text Credit: Creaa Snc/URBACT