Comment: Formulary for a New Urbanism

My formula for a ‘new urbanism’ involves making the functional playable. To me, one of the greatest tragedies that befalls us as we age and get caught up in the day-to-day of capitalistic survival is the loss of our sense of play. Games are for ‘kids,’ unless they involve drinking or team building; games for adults apparently have to be either purely nonsensical or purely functional. I don’t see why they can’t be both.

The ‘Playable City’ concept in Bristol is an example of how people can reclaim space, and make mundane objects like lamp posts and post boxes fun and interactive. I also like Chtcheglov’s idea of the construction of situations. Over the summer I was back in Singapore, where this new form of entertainment called ‘escape rooms’ has taken off. Basically, you go to one of these places (usually a small shophouse) and there are several different themed rooms with storylines. You and your friends are locked in a room (that usually contains other hidden rooms) or an apartment, and have to escape in an hour by solving puzzles and completing tasks related to the story. In one room, I was in a medieval castle, chained by my wrists to the ceiling in total darkness. In another, I was in a haunted apartment, searching for the missing family that lived there. The concept came from Japan, where they took the ‘escape the room’ computer/iphone games and turned them into real life games. It’s gotten really popular in Asia, and has started to spread in the States too.

In my new urbanism, I’d like to take these games and make them city-wide. People would be yanked out of their routines and dropped into an entirely new narrative; they’d be forced to cooperate, connive, solve, escape and rescue in these situational hijacks. Cities would be spaces of production and utility, but also of play.

— Tiffany Tay