Evaluating what works
Play Everywhere is a new concept, so in addition to our experience creating dozens of Play Everywhere projects, we wanted to evaluate what works. What key ingredients foster play and culture change? We called on the international experts on people and public spaces, Gehl, to help us answer this question.
Using a multi-method approach, Gehl studied the projects to understand who visits, what they do when visiting, how they feel and how design impacts activity. Data was collected and reported by each winning project via intercept questionnaires and spatial assessments. Additionally, Gehl visited nine sites to conduct more in-depth on-site observations, design analysis and interviews with stakeholders.
Communities across the U.S. are thrilled to have more Play Everywhere opportunities and are positive about even the smallest investments— like a fresh coat of paint— into spaces they use every day, such as a bus station in Lexington, KY, or step streets in the South Bronx. Not all the projects saw dramatic increases in play-activity, due to locations in places with little pedestrian foot traffic or separate from natural kid routes or hubs.
Whether there was a lot of play or not in the short term, the projects— just by being installed— began to foster culture and mindset change. By locating in places where people had not experienced play before, the Play Everywhere projects demonstrated the potential of existing public spaces, such as an exercise trail alongside a light rail, to provide more opportunity for kids and families. They showed that small (under $50,000) and quick (in less than 3 months) investments can create long-term platforms for communities to come together and reimagine the potential of their city spaces.
Highlights from the findings revealed:
- Kids were active, with 70% of survey respondents reporting that the projects increased the amount of time their kids spent playing that day.
- Kids were learning, with 82% of survey respondents reporting the projects gave their kids a chance to learn or experience something new.
- Visitors were making new connections, with two out of three respondents saying they met someone new at the Play Everywhere project, and that when they did, they were more likely to stay longer.
- Shade and greenery facilitate interaction! When people could sit or stand in shade, rates of social interaction with someone new jumped to 75%, compared to 60%.
- Play was integrated into everyday spaces and into the daily routines of kids and families, with most visitors (81%) reporting that they lived nearby and 60% report 'stumbling upon' the project, indicating it was close to their daily routes and routines.
- Visitors felt safe, with 90% saying they felt safe from both vehicular traffic and crime.
When we examine these findings, four key ingredients for creating a successful Play Everywhere project rise to the top. These include:
- Locating near existing kid hubs.
The projects that were close to existing walking routes or near to where kids and families live and study had more spontaneous use. This is not to say that all projects need this, but it's important for each to be intentional about the purpose of the project. It is key to determine whether it fosters play along-the-way or acts as a destination play area, separate from existing kid and family hubs, but with the potential to be programmed to support play.
- Bringing kids into the process early and often.
Finding creative ways to get kids involved in idea generation, design or implementation can help ensure installations respond to demand and generate buy-in and pride of place. Many organizations creating Play Everywhere projects are small and may not have the capacity to lead their own in-depth engagement process. If this is the case, organization with existing kid-networks, such as Boys and Girls Clubs and YMCAs, can be invited to partner to help gather insights on types of play that are popular or desired in the area.
- Prioritizing interactive design.
Play Everywhere projects are designed for easy interaction, as daily routine, such as waiting for the bus or for an appointment with a city agency. Yet if the project is too straightforward it won't excite or inspire a sense of curiosity and imagination, or challenge kids to try something new. Static elements, such as murals and art installations, are great additions to public space, but shouldn't be relied on as a primary play feature as there are limited ways to interact with them.
- Communicating it's okay to play.
Creating play in atypical locations (sidewalks, bus terminals, stairwells) is new to those of us more familiar with designated play areas, such as playgrounds. Intuitive design and clear signage ensures kids and their caretakers know that this is a safe place for play. Helping people understand what's happening and that yes, they can be playful, will contribute to greater use.
Making a project more inviting to play
We also found that a mix of 4 spatial and social conditions make projects more inviting to play.
Opportunities for new experiences
Safety from crime and traffic
Shade and comfort
Opportunities for social interaction
There is no single magic formula for a great Play Everywhere space, yet there is a combination of unique factors that influence how playful a place is. Elements related to Life - what kids and people do and their behavior; Space - the location and context around it; and Installation - the quality and design of the Play Everywhere project, each contribute to making a successful project.
Evaluates if the project had an inclusive development process that incorporated feedback from kids and the core audiences.
Evaluates if the project facilitates play, especially play that fosters imagination and creativity.
Evaluates if the project meets needs articulated by the community, for play or other amenities.
Evaluates if the project is close to places where kids live, study or pass by.
Evaluates if the project provides shade, seating or other amenities for caretakers, especially if the site is more of a destination place than a Play Everywhere place.
Evaluates how programming is used and whether the project is used to activate the public space with activities.
Evaluates the flexibility of the space/installation for different visitors.
Evaluates if kids are the prime audience or if the project is tied to a larger urban design initiative not directly connected to play.
Evaluates the quality and upkeep of the installation.