Interactive signposts and pedestrian crossing parties: it's this year's Playable Cities shortlist

Make Your Rhythm. Image: Nushin Samavaki & Elham Souri.

The 2016 Playable City Award shortlist has been revealed – and this year, the theme is “journeys”.

 “Certainly from our international work – in Japan, Nigeria, Brazil and so on,” explains Hilary O’Shaughnessy, the award’s producer, “we have noticed that movement and journeying are issues that affect all people, anywhere in the world, and from any demographic. So that’s one of the reasons we chose to make it expressly about journeys this year – to explore that in a bit more depth.”

This year, for the first time the winning award will be announced in London, in a ceremony to be held on 27 October at the Urban Innovation Centre in Clerkenwell. The eight shortlisted projects are:

  • “Happy Place” by Uniform, which will see signposts equipped with interactive displays capable of responding to the facial expressions of viewers;
  • “Im[press]ion” by Mobile Studio Architects, which connects strangers at various transit stops through their sense of touch, a bit like a pin screen toy;

Im[press]ion – click to expand. Image: Mobile Studio Architects. 

  • “Mischievous Footprints” by PCT Team, which relocates our attention from the screens of our smartphones back out on to the street by embedding pressure sensors and LED lights into the floor;
  • “Paths” by Biome Collective, a public space musical instrument and light installation;
  • “The Conversing Circuit” by Urban Conga, which aims to create a conversation between people waiting at bus stop;

The Conversing Circuit. Image: Urban Conga.

  • “Dance Step City” by Gigantic Mechanic, which will “offer a set of dance steps tailored to the environment, that take participants on a playful romp”;
  • “Make Your Rhythm” by Nushin Samavaki & Elham Souri, which transforms the bus stop seat into a swing which moves up and down;
  • “Stop, Wait, Dance, Walk”, by Hirsch & Mann Ltd, which “transforms the pedestrian crossing into a 30-second party”.

Stop, Wait, Dance, Walk. Image: Hirsch & Mann.

O’Shaughnessy says that she is optimistic about this year’s entries, and how the award has developed over the four years. “Because it is the fourth year, and we have received entries from 34 countries, I think the applicants are more aware of what a Playable City might look like, and of the impact it can have,” she says. “They are also aware of how the projects might affect the world or context in which they live, regardless of where that may be.”


She added that there was a “maturation or a depth of thought in the proposals” which she found encouraging. “That’s not to say other years projects were immature – but there is definitely a deeper connection with the central idea of Playable city, of reconfiguration, repurposing, and reimagining, to create deeper social connections.”

The winners will receive a £30,000 award along with practical support and guidance to help realise their project. They will prototype their project at Watershed’s Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol, and publicly test it out in Bristol, before touring other Playable City locations globally.

Despite the award’s global outlook, it remains firmly Bristol based. “The public here are very much behind the projects, and each year we get the request for the next Playable City project. The city administration are also delighted as the award fits in with their goal to promote Bristol as a place of innovation, and a leader in experimentation that is civilly led and minded, which it is. We couldn’t ask for a more supportive environment.” 

Look out for the winner on 27 October in London, and in a Playable City near you soon.

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The best bike maps are made by volunteers

A cyclist in Vancouver, Canada. Image: Getty.

Not all bike routes are equal. Some places that are marked as bike routes on a map feel precarious when traversed on two wheels, including shoulders covered in debris and places where you can feel the wind from speeding cars.

North American cities are building more bicycling routes, by adding on-street painted lanes, physically separated cycle tracks, bicycle-only or multi-use paths and local street bikeways. These different kinds of routes appeal to different types of users, from the interested but concerned cyclist to the keen road rider.

Despite this boost in biking infrastructure, a city’s website may not immediately reflect the changes or it may lack important information that can make cycling safer or more enjoyable.

Web-based maps that allow people to add information about bike routes give riders detailed data about the type of route, what it might feel like to ride there (do you have to ride close to cars?) and where it can take them (for example, shopping, work or school).

They can also tell us which cities are the most bike-friendly.

Measuring bike routes

We set out to assemble a dataset of bike routes in Canadian cities using their open data websites. But we found it was nearly impossible to keep it up-to-date because cities are constantly changing and the data are shared using different standards.

A physically separated cycle track in Victoria, British Columbia. Image: E. Gatti (TeamInteract.ca).

The solution was OpenStreetMap, which creates and distributes free geographic data. Anyone can add data or make edits to OpenStreetMap, whether they want to build a better bike map or make a navigation app.

We looked at OpenStreetMap data for three large cities (Vancouver, Toronto and Montréal) and three mid-sized cities (Victoria, Kelowna and Halifax) in Canada.

Not only did the data in OpenStreetMap agree reasonably well with the cities’ open data: in many cases it was more up-to-date. OpenStreetMap tended to include more local details such as where painted bike lanes ended and often marked the short cuts connecting suburban streets.

How did OpenStreetMap measure up?

Our analysis focused on how well different types of routes were mapped. We measured cycle tracks (which physically separate bikes from motorised traffic), on-street painted bike lanes (which use painted lines to separate bikes from motorised traffic), bike paths (which are located away from streets) and local street bikeways (which include traffic-calming features and where bicycling is encouraged).

Painted bike lanes are the most common type of route and also the most consistently well mapped. This makes sense, because the definition of a painted bike lane may be clearest across time and place. There is also a straightforward way for volunteers to tag it on OpenStreetMap.

But it was harder for us to distinguish cycle tracks from on-street painted lanes or paths (bicycle-only or multi-use) using OpenStreetMap. Local street bikeways were challenging to identify because of the wide range of ways cities design these kinds of routes along residential roads. Some use traffic-calming measures such as curb extensions, traffic islands, speed humps and raised traffic crossings to slow vehicle traffic and encourage safety, or greenery, reduced speed limits and bike-friendly markings on signs and the road surface.

Correspondence between OpenStreetMap and Open Data for categories of bicycling infrastructure. Image: author provided.

Bicycle routes that are physically separated from motor vehicles and pedestrians, like cycle tracks and bicycle-only paths, have the greatest benefits for bicycling safety and encourage bike use.

Ease of access to bicycle routes is important to a city’s overall bicycle friendliness, but there are other important things to consider including the distance to destinations, the number, slope and length of hills, number of riders and how the transportation culture of a city can influence its safety.


Bike-friendly Canadian cities

Our results showed that Montréal has the greatest total distance in cycle tracks in Canada. As cities continue building more bicycle routes, researchers and planners can use OpenStreetMap to measure these changes on the ground.

The perfect bicycle map is up-to-date, covers the entire globe and gives riders an idea of the kinds of experiences to expect on different trails, roads and paths. People cycling in cities can contribute to the high-quality geographic data needed to understand changes in bicycle friendliness.

But OpenStreetMap is only as good as its contributions. The exciting thing is that anyone who wants a better bike map — city planners, researchers and everyday riders — can join the bike-mapping revolution by logging in to OpenStreetMap and mapping the features that are important to bicyclists.

The Conversation

Colin Ferster, Post-doctoral fellow, University of Victoria and Meghan Winters, Associate Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.