Innovative Urban Play Space Competition

District of Columbia Office of Planning

Funding Received: 2013
Washington, DC
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
December 13, 2013

How are decisions made about who wins and who loses the upcoming Playable Art DC competition? We’re not talking about what artist or designer is the ultimate winner of the commission. It is about which community (or communities) wins the opportunity to have the playable art piece in their neighborhood. It is not as easy a selection as you would think. Think of the Matrix—or a matrix—and that is what the decision process looks like. There is information, considerations, statistics, and more, all coming in from different angles. Our job as the organizers is to find the pinpoint of the needle in that haystack of data and opinion.

To begin with there is the fact that Washington DC is experiencing a return of people to live in downtown. With the growing population comes the need for more amenities. So one of the things we have been looking at is the numbers – the actual numbers of people who live in any given area. That’s an easy one. As is whether or not they happen to have any place for an installation. Cut and dry.

Then, there is need. What signifies need here? It is not one simple number. There is a matrix here, too. You can’t look at the area with the lowest per capita income alone and call that the greatest need for a project like this. You have to look at that, and then you look at existing play spaces currently available. The District’s Department of Planning had some areas pinpointed as being pretty empty when it came to where children could safely play. We mapped out those points and then took a map from DC-based KaBOOM!, a non-profit organization that helps get playgrounds built all over the country. Their map of areas devoid of play lined up perfectly with those of the DOP. Success.

You would think that it would be pretty easy to find that pinpoint in the haystack from this information, but, as you might have guessed, the most difficult point is the one saved for the end. You have to account for the desire and heart of the community. Now that is tough.

When it comes to something as special as a playable art piece you have to take into account the people who will be living with it after installation. Do they want it at all? What exactly do they want? Are they willing to give their children a say in what gets said? Are they willing to be a part of bringing it to their community? Do they have the necessary community structure in place, be it official or loose-knit, to support and maintain the playable art once it is built? Do they care.

In an earlier post it was noted that the success of a design competition depends largely on how well the client’s wishes are known. So what we are looking for in Washington, DC - what our little winning pinpoint will be like—is a community that is striving to give more to its children. It is a community that (who?) eagerly works with the organizers to clearly communicate to those preparing to enter the competition not only WHO they are, but also WHAT their dreams are for their children.

We hope that it is what is in the collective heart of the neighborhood that will win the day. It is that almost indescribable hope, love, soul and appreciation – call it what you will – of their children that will draw the win here. It is that very thing that will then go on to inspire those with art and play in their souls to create their best work. And that, that is the pinpoint we seek.