• Welcome to the European Playful Cities!

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    Games offer unique opportunities for engaging stakeholders in contemporary cities says Ileana Toscano. While European cities face challenges of ageing, climate change and social exclusion, we need to find enjoyable ways to co–create solutions. The URBACT Playful Paradigm transfer network is based on the use of “games” for promoting social inclusion, healthy lifestyles and energy awareness, place-making and economic prosperity.

    What’s in a game?


    An easy tool as a “game” can help cities to face contemporary challenges. Ageing population, migration, social exclusion and climate change are the main challenges tackled every day by European Cities. Cities need to define enjoyable and easy tools for engaging citizens and stakeholders. A Paradigm based on the use of “games” and “gamification” could be the answer.

    The Municipality of Udine (IT) has developed an urban practice focusing on the use of games as flexible, innovative place-making paradigm for fostering an equitable and democratic society. Games are used as vehicles for addressing healthy lifestyles and energy awareness. Games foster the inclusion of migrants, the involvement of elderly people and promote a better relationship between parents and children.

    Games in Udine have become an urban policy priority that enables citizens’ participation and a peaceful civic environment. The ‘Playful Paradigm’ initiatives are part of a comprehensive strategy that the Municipality has been implementing for years under the umbrella of the Healthy Cities Project (World Health Organization) and the European Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy.

    “Playful Paradigm” is one of the 25 Transfer networks funded by URBACT. It aims to adapt and reuse the good practice of “games for fostering inclusion, health and sustainability” in other 7 European cities: Cork (IE), Klaipeda (LT), Esplugues de Llobregat (ES), Larissa (EL), Novigrad (HR), Bratislava (SK) and Katowice (PL).

    Why are games so important for cities?

    Paolo Munini, chief officer for gaming activities of Udine Municipality, says “Games are essential for child development. Games are also important for elderly people because they maintain the physical and cognitive activity and prevent mental cognitive decay. Playful activities are powerful tools when applied in cities. Games can be used for working in deprived neighbourhoods with local community or in schools with students. They can trigger the participation of civil society, engaging citizens and local associations.

    The gaming approach could open opportunities for urban renewal. This is why Udine Administration uses “games” as a flexible co-created place-making paradigm. This innovative gaming approach works with participation to stimulate responsible change, and promote an healthy environment, by turning urban settings into incubators of sustainability and wellbeing (physical, mental and social/relational).

    In Italy the importance of games was recognized by the National Law 328/2000 (“La legge di riforma dei Servizi Sociali - Dal centralismo sociale al federalismo solidale”) that introduced the possibility of launching the Ludobus-initiatives in cities. The “Ludobus” is a van full of games moving through city neighbourhoods and bringing playful activities making games available to local population. In Udine the Ludobus began as a grass-root initiative thanks to a voluntary organization and later turned into a permanent activity, managed and funded by the Municipality. In Italy the Ludobus-initiative was a starting point to raise awareness on the value of games and to implement the first ‘gamification’ policies and actions in many cities.

    The Toy Library

    “Games are tools for social inclusion” says Furio Honsell, member of the Regional Assembly of The Autonomous Region of Friuli Venezia Giulia and Mayor of Udine for 10 years (until May 2018). “We decided to establish a permanent Toy Library in Udine, which could also play the role of a hands-on science museum. The idea was to have a meeting space for families, elderly people, children, for all. The Toy Library has been a successful initiative and has provided answers to concrete needs of citizens to be active subjects and not mere passive spectators. The permanent toy library is a truly place for empowerment.

    In 2012 the Municipality of Udine decided to make the Ludobus-initiative a permanent experience, opening a “public Toy Library” in the city centre. Since 2013, 40.000 people have visited it. It is fully accessible and there is no age, gender or language restriction. It has become the emblem of social inclusion, cognitive stimulation, entertainment and lifelong learning in the city.

    During these years, the Municipality has invested about EUR 150 000 a year for the maintenance and equipment of the infrastructure and staff.

    Udine leads the way

    Since 2010 the City of Udine has been the leading city of the Italian Playful Cities Movement (GIONA), coordinating and sharing knowledge and experience with about 30 cities in Italy willing to implement ‘gamification’ strategies. Udine is also a member of the national association “Ali per Giocare”, which gathers private and public organisations at national level.

    On 25 November 2017, Udine launched the Italian National Games Archive aiming to establish the first Italian classification of traditional and modern games. The cataloguing activity of the Archive will rely also on crowd-sourcing in the coming years. The National Games Archive has been financed by the Autonomous Region of Friuli Venezia Giulia with an amount EUR 400 000 (for the period 2016-2020), according to the Regional Law n. 30/2017 ‘Regulations for promoting the right to play and to engage in play, physical and recreational activities’. It is worth mentioning that the Archive’s location was meaningfully chosen to be in Udine’s regenerated slaughterhouse.

    Moreover, Udine has a rich yearly calendar of events where games and ‘gamification’ strategies are meaningfully put into practice. The events are very popular across the region and bring many visitors to Udine. For example: CamminaMenti – Move your minds - run in community centres for dementia prevention and inclusion of elderly people, as well as the Energy in Play annual Fair, the World Games Day, Pi Day, Darwin Day, The library of living books, etc.

    Can gaming control gambling?

    A healthy gaming habit prevents the problem of gambling” says Munini. “The Municipality of Udine is developing a new project funded by Friuli Venezia Giulia Region to counteract the problem of gambling and promoting healthy games

    Gambling is increasing, especially among youths around Europe. According to the GuardianAbout 370,000 (12%) children in England, Scotland and Wales have gambled in the past week, the commission found. (...) They spent an average of £10 on gambling a week, more than a third of their £28 income from work or pocket money, with 8% claiming to have spent more than £40. Almost 1% of children aged between 11 and 16, or about 25,000, are defined as problem gamblers, with a further 36,000 at risk of developing a problem.

    The Municipality of Udine has been promoting an innovative project to fight gambling. Bars, Pubs and restaurants have been engaged by providing a tool-kit of “healthy” games replacing “slot-machines”. Unfortunately, the latter are more and more present in public venues, especially in deprived urban areas. Low income households are more deeply affected by gambling, which contributes to further deprivation. The introduction of healthy games in such areas can therefore be seen as an important form of prevention and protective factor for the most disadvantaged.

    Furio Honsell sums it all when he says that “to those who claim that games can be excellent tools for something else, I like to state that games are pointless and they don't have ulterior motives, much as music, mathematics, poetry, and love. But they can bring forward excellent fruit.

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  • Children's council and public youth audience


    Encouraging young citizens' participation at local level

    Pilar Díaz
    Mayor of Esplugues
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    The City Council of Esplugues (ES) follows a permanent policy of citizen participation. Municipal activity is open to citizens, based on the principles of transparency and shared responsibility. Citizens are invited to participate in the joint project of building the city. There are several spaces for such participation. Among them are the Children's Council and the Public Youth Audience. The first is a forum for fifth- and sixth-grade pupils in public schools. Here, children have the possibility to learn, reflect, discuss and agree on proposals related to their environment. The Public Youth Audience enables students in the fourth grade to take part in educational debates and make proposals for the transformation of the city. Both forums take into account a work plan developed in collaboration with schools and institutes, contributing to the young participants’ education, values and attitudes to citizen participation.

    The solutions offered by the good practice

    Until recently, cities were built through the eyes of adults. With the new mechanisms of participation it is intended that the construction of the city be adapted and enriched through the participation of young people and children, who live in and enjoy it. The results of the interventions of both groups (children and youth) as well as the proposals derived from the participation actions, which are transformed into municipal actions, are considered as solutions whenever possible and feasible. That is why a series of municipal actions have been carried out after the different participatory processes developed by the Children's Council and the Public Youth Audience. By the Children's Council: • Rights of minors; • Recovery of traditional games; • Party of park; • Design of a park; • 50th anniversary celebration “Esplugues City”; • Proposals to encourage reading for all citizens; • Design of kindergartens, “The garden of the senses”. By the Public Youth Audience: • Study on healthy habits; • Times and spaces for leisure; • Attitudes and values of entrepreneurship among young people; • Development of the Local Youth Plan; • Design of a campaign against sexist violence; • Actions, proposals to combat harassment/bullying; • Encouraging values and attitudes towards participation, association and voluntariness.

    Building on the sustainable and integrated approach

    Regarding the wider integrated approach, the initiative is aligned with several of the United Nations’ sustainable development objectives. The activities carried out by Children's Council and Public Youth Audience mainly contribute to ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels, relating to Goal 16 (promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provision of access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels). In addition, promoting children and youth participation makes the city more inclusive (Goal 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable). Also, the experience of being part of these participation bodies represents a form of high-value non-formal education (Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning). In terms of integrated urban development, the initiative falls within the scope of governance, mainly related to areas such as city management, social innovation, youth, and above all participation. Related to the vertical integration between the different stakeholders involved in the initiative, this is mainly between the political and educational fields, so it is frequent that both the mayor herself and some councillors interact directly with children and young people.

    Based on a participatory approach

    Both the Children's Council and the Public Youth Audience are initiatives whose conception and development of activities necessarily contemplate the participatory approach. On the other hand, Esplugues Local Youth Plan 2014-2017 is based on three main axes: promotion of emancipation, fostering participation (including the Children's Council and the Public Youth Audience) and promotion of leisure and culture. In addition, for the definition of this plan an intense participatory process has been developed in which children and young people have played a fundamental role. Thus, different working sessions were developed using the participatory bodies that make up this good practice, and other workshops were held in local schools. The result of all this was the elaboration of a participatory diagnosis contemplated in the same plan, as well as the definition of a series of proposals of action that were sent to the government team of the City Council of Esplugues. The concrete results of this participatory process can be consulted here (in Catalan).

    What difference has it made?

    Most of the participatory experiences of young people and children have focused on the civic, pedagogical and educational sphere, perhaps due to the weight of this specific competency in the Municipal Action Plan (through activities such as “Making an Educating City” or “Building Citizenship”). It has also made progress in the implementation of specific urban and cultural projects. Concrete projects have been promoted, such as the construction of a children's playground. The participation workshops have identified as a weakness: • The lack of participatory culture among the citizens since there is usually a low interest to attend the meetings. It is proposed to increase the dissemination of participation systems to attract citizens. Highlights identified include: • The diversity of channels made available to citizens to participate in the decision-making processes on the issues that concern them and affect them. They are channels open to all citizens and do not discriminate against any person who wants to be part of it; • Citizens see their proposals reflected in the performance and municipal management.

    Why should other European cities use it?

    Every city has children and young people. They could be the foundation for effective development at the local level, and if engaged they will improve many of the structural development challenges that the cities face today, including enhancing the cohesiveness of families and communities, reducing health risks and advancing livelihood opportunities. They are the bridge between effective development policy and valuable practical action on the ground. Across many European cities, different organisations are practicing different ways of engaging children and youth through participatory activities, and the experience accumulated from Esplugues would be useful both for those cities that have already begun to work in this direction, as for those that have not yet done so but are determined to do it. Children have value as members of European society and adults can learn from and with them. In summary, there are three main reasons why this good practice may be of interest to other European cities. Based on citizenship, young people have citizen’s rights and responsibilities. Based on pragmatism, it’s acknowledged that participation leads to better decisions. And based on vision, European cities have to recognise the mutual, life-enhancing benefits that come with engaging children and young people as equals.

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