On the 15th November, participating towns in URBACT’s Playful Paradigm National Transfer Practice Initiative (NPTI): Donegal, Portlaoise, Rush, Rathdrum and Sligo, and led by Cork City, descended on Sligo town centre to show over sixty-five invitees from all over Ireland how they can put the ‘play’ into ‘place-making’ and animate Ireland’s towns.
Following Cork City’s participation and success in the transnational network Playful Paradigm, led by Udine in Italy, this NPTI project was one of five European intra-country transfer pilots seeking to bring both the best practice and learning of its lead city and the value of URBACT to towns yet to experience the programme and to hopefully engender future capacity and interest in being part of an URBACT transnational network.
The event comprised 3 key-note speakers who are at the cutting edge of place-making in their cities, namely Päivi Raivio of Helsinki, Adam Roigart of Copenhagen and Denise Cahill of Cork. The morning’s discussion was followed by a fun-filled afternoon on the streets of Sligo demonstrating ideas for bringing play onto the streets. Cork and the five playful towns participating in the transfer showcased what they have achieved over the last year and demonstrated how any town can do the same, quickly and cheaply, to animate their towns.
Councillor Mayor Tom Mac Sharry opened the conference and welcomed participants to Sligo: ‘I was delighted, on behalf of Sligo County Council to welcome so many people from all over the country to sunny Sligo to learn about one way of rejuvenating our town centres’.
Dorothy Clarke, Director of Services, Sligo County Council, in her welcoming address to participants said: ‘There is no one solution to making our towns more attractive places for people to live in, spend time in and enjoy. But if local authorities can incorporate playfulness into the planning and design of public realm schemes, we will really enhance the effectiveness of such projects and ensure that they are transformational and successful in rejuvenating our town centres’.
Following the morning’s welcomes, keynotes and panel discussion, in the afternoon participants were sent around Sligo town on an urban orienteering trail of the town organized by the Sligo Sports and Recreation Partnership. Each destination point of the trail showcased an activity or game that has been used by the playful towns in the last year – giant jenga, tug of war, giant snakes and ladders, target practice using bean bags and buckets. A snow/sock ball fight took place on JFK parade to the shock and delight of participants. Local artists from Pulled (a community focused Printmaking and Artist studio based in Sligo town) decorated the town’s footpaths in chalk games inviting members of the public and participants to take a moment out and be playful.
NPTI partner in Sligo and Executive Planner, Leonora McConville noted how ‘Ireland is witnessing the greatest injection of public funds into its towns that the state has ever seen and this is underpinned by the new Town Centre First policy which places towns at the heart of decision making. There is no one solution to creating vibrant town centres but that small actions are achievable, with high impact and at little expense. In using play and playfulness to animate our towns, this sees communities engaged and encourages a sense of ownership over public spaces’.
Working closely with the National URBACT Point, Karl Murphy and his colleagues at the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly (EMRA), Leonora McConville and her colleagues at Sligo County Council were instrumental in planning the final event of this URBACT NPTI network. The strong URBACT local group (ULG) was on display with members drawn from across the County Council (Planning, Parks, Roads and Architects sections), along with Sligo Sports and Recreation Partnership, County Childcare Committee, Sligo Business Improvement District, Sligo Tidy Towns, Healthy Sligo, the Age Friendly Program, Sligo Public Participation Network as well as the County Library and the Cranmore Regeneration Project.
For further information on URBACT activities more widely, go to: https://urbact.eu/ or contact Karl Murphy, National URBACT Point for Ireland at firstname.lastname@example.org