Like a real-life version of a Pixar movie, the streets of Bristol, England will soon be filled with seemingly-inanimate objects that can talk. Mailboxes, storm drains, and lampposts will be enabled with a system that allows passerby to chat with them by text message.
The project, created by experiential design studio PAN, was the winner of the Playable City Award, a contest that invited designers from around the world to imagine street art or street games that could engage the community and bring people together. A counterpart to the "smart city," the contest leaders say a "playable city" is one where people take part in reimagining and reconfiguring city services, and where they're encouraged to be playful in public. Inspired by this challenge, the designers wrote:
The sensory extremities and appendages of a smart city are its utilities and street furniture—objects so ubiquitous that they have become invisible to us. They include (but aren't exclusive to) street lights, post boxes, bus stops and fire hydrants.
If these human 'touchpoints' are going to be smart, can they also be open, hospitable and played with at the same time? How can they be open to interpretation, surprising, and personable?
PAN based their design on the codes that are stamped on objects throughout the city for management and maintenance, and made them reference points for their version of a city-wide game. By texting the "Playable City" phone number, along with the object's unique code, someone walking by can "wake up" the object and start asking and answering questions.
It's interesting to wonder how something like this could start engaging people in other ways—maybe learning local history, rewarding people for reporting local problems along the lines of something like SeeClickFix, or encouraging people to meet their neighbors.
Images courtesy of PAN