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Fun & Games with CommunityMatters

Our friends and partners at CommunityMatters have been having a lot of fun recently, and we wanted to share a bit about it so that NCDD members aren’t missing out! CM recently hosted a conference call on Creating Fun Places, and you can find the notes for the call here and/or listen to the audio of the call here. We also encourage you to check out their follow-up blog post about lessons from the call below or find the original on the CM blog by clicking here.

5 Tips for Creating Playful Places in Your Town


Mike Lanza of Playborhood and Brian Corrigan of Oh Heck Yeah take play pretty seriously. Mike turned his front yard into a neighborhood gathering place focused on play, and Brian’s organizing a large-scale street arcade in downtown Denver. Mike and Brian both love having fun, but they also know that play is beneficial for their communities.

Mike’s house is an epicenter for play, attracting kids and adults alike with fun fountains, sandboxes and even an in-ground trampoline. He’ll tell you that after creating this neighborhood gathering spot, people on his block are more physically active, more social and they have more fun. These benefits are characteristic of third places – spaces outside of work or home where people gather.

For Brian, Oh Heck Yeah’s focus on turning downtown Denver into an immersive street arcade is about building trust among strangers, generating new ideas and inspiring partnerships that can make the city an even better place to live, work and (of course) play.

On our last CommunityMatters conference call, Mike and Brian shared their ideas for creating more playful places. If you want to reap the benefits of play in your own community, here are five tips for getting started:

1. Think Like an Inventor

Have a vision for transforming a dull space in your community into a vibrant and playful place? Go ahead, dream big! But, when it comes to making things happen, think like an inventor and start with a prototype. The iterative approach of prototyping means you can experiment with an idea to refine the concept and work out the kinks.

Take Brian’s advice and start with the 1.0 version of an idea.  What does your grand idea look like when it is stripped down to its simplest, easiest and least expensive form? As you grow toward the 10.0 version, you’ll gain momentum by building a cadre of supporters, ensuring your biggest version of your big idea is successful.

If you’re interested in learning more about prototyping, don’t miss our December call on A Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper Approach to Community Action. Register now! 

2. Legalize Fun

It’s easy to talk about creating great places, but altering public spaces around town means taking risks. If your local laws hinder improvised solutions to traffic problems, start advocating for a local city repair ordinance.

Inspired by the success of Share it Square, a neighborhood project to make a traffic intersections more interesting, safe and playful, the City of Portland created an ordinance allowing for locally-led improvement projects. As long as adjacent property owners approve and safety is maintained, citizens can receive permits for intersection improvements. Use Portland’s ordinance as the foundation for legalizing fun in your town.

3. Create a Draw

Build places where people want to stay.

Public spaces rely on one essential element for success – the presence of people. If you want people to engage in a playful space, make it visible. Mike suggests starting with a bench – just a place to sit. Add a solar-powered tea or coffee stand as an attractor. Or, take a playful approach by installing a ball pit or swing set. Invite people to come to the space at a particular time, and give them a reason to be there.

Find more ideas for attracting people by listening to our call on Third Places.

4. Engage Creative Minds

Capitalize on the ideas and talents of the creative sector, the artists, designers and actors in town. How can you enliven a public space with musicians or dancers?

Through Oh Heck Yeah, Brian is partnering with organizations like the Colorado Symphony and the Denver Art Museum to bring his project to life. In Mike’s front yard, a local artist created a mural of the neighborhood to help kids explore and understand their environment.

There are endless ways to engage creative minds in placemaking projects, especially when you’re focused on play. But, if you want something that resonates with your community, seek art that is culturally meaningful, that incorporates the skills of local people and showcases the distinct assets of your city or town.

5. Try Something!

Get outside and try something. If you’re starved for ideas, start with our list of 75 Seriously Fun Ways to Make Your Town More Playful. Or, check out our follow up: 25 (More) Ways to Make Your Town More Playful. And, don’t miss the playful ideas from Mike, Brian and our fabulous callers. You can find their thoughts by reading our call notes or listening to the call recording here.

You can find the original blog post from CommunityMatters at www.communitymatters.org/blog/five-tips-creating-playful-places-your-town.

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Roshan Bliss
An inclusiveness trainer and group process facilitator, Roshan Bliss serves as NCDD's Youth Engagement Coordinator and Blog Curator. Combining his belief that decisions are better when everyone is involved with his passion for empowering young people, his work focuses on increasing the involvement of youth and students in public conversations.

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