The Joy of Pla(y)ce

Why would we create places that promote play and engagement through urban design and development?

Downtown amenities, such as multipurpose parks and recreational installations, create an engaging place that attracts people every day and most hours of the day. They are an opportunity to connect families, nurture child development, and – what municipalities like to see – stimulate private investment. Often overlooked, they also simply create pure joy, something we adults could use more of these days.

I am going to cut to the chase: Communities that invest in their amenity infrastructure, in turn, spur private investment. Studies show these places attract more tourists and residents feel a strong connection to that place, so for every dollar invested, there is generally a $7 return on the investment. Besides creating a desirable place to live, people stick around the downtown longer and are more apt to visit and spend at restaurants and shops.

From the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking

A recent post from the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking, featured how to understand the play experience in cities. They highlight the many childhood benefits of play in a non-school environment, including improvement in cognitive skills, social and emotional development, and physical development. This benefit may not fall into a Main Street program’s mission focus, but I am willing to bet it is a partnership opportunity with local charitable organizations and an undisputable welcome outcome.

Winchester’s Splash Pad

The captivating TED Talk by Ingrid Fetell Lee, author of Joyful: The Surprise Power of Ordinary Things to Create Ordinary Happiness, reveals the surprisingly tangible roots of joy and shows how we all can find – and create – more of it in the places around us. The nonprofit Publicolor finds aesthetics of place, such as brightly painted schools, improves attendance, graffiti disappears, and kids actually say they feel safer. Her research also finds people working in more colorful offices are actually more alert, more confident, and friendlier than those working in drab places.

Ingrid says, “Maybe, instead of chasing after happiness, what we should be doing is embracing joy and finding ways to put ourselves in the path of it more often.”  Why not?  What a powerful motivator and the cherry on top: a more prosperous community.  

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