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.

Killian Burke, Ballinlough playing Giant Connect 4 at the ‘Open For Play’ initiative at the Marina as part of the Lifelong learning Festival which runs from Sunday 7th to 14th April
Picture: Michael O’Sullivan

Cork City’s URBACT Playful Paradigm Project

URBACT is an EU funding stream which encourages cities across the union to explore innovative and sustainable methods to tackle shared challenges. It is based on a learning transfer model. A ‘Lead City’ models a behaviour, methodology or policy approach, and invites partner cities to learn from them, and transfer good practise to their own municipality. In late 2018, for the first time, Cork City successfully progressed to Phase 2 of an URBACT programme.

Why was Cork chosen to participate?

  • Cork City presented a strong, inter-agency project group, including Cork Healthy Cities, Cork City Council (including Learning Cities) and the Public Participation Network
  • Cork is a Healthy City and had worked with Udine under the WHO programme in the past

So what are we learning from Udine?

Udine has developed what they call the Playful Paradigm.

A number of years ago, the Municipality began to trial a new way to tackle a diverse range of challenges they faced-including energy efficiency and climate change, engaging marginalised communities, place making and providing services for older adults; Play!

Udine began to take a playful, games-focused approach to finding solutions and involving stakeholders. As this practise evolved, the municipality noted associated benefits. Whether by using playful methods to reach out to communities or run placemaking processes, or by prioritising spaces and opportunities for play and games.

What will this project deliver for Cork?

Playful Paradigm offers Cork City an opportunity to learn from the leaders in the field of play in Europe. The funding attached to Phase 2 of URBACT can be used for

  • Transfer meetings and study visits
  • Communication
  • Engaging Play Experts to build capacity in our city

For the purposes of our transfer project, Cork City has worked with Udine and the other partner cities to identify where Cork can most benefit from transferring learning from Udine.

LudoBus /PlayBus

A minibus or van is stocked with toys, games and books and is available to visit communities, groups or events which will benefit from a playful aspect. The focus with this project includes

  • raising awareness of the importance and value of play in a family setting
  • making available play resources to communities which may, as a result of deprivation, not otherwise have adequate access to these

This is a model which Ógra Chorcaí/Foróige ran in the past. It is anticipated that Foróige and the project planning group would build on this experience and work with programmes such as RAPID to identify communities where this resource could have most impact.

Toys in the Library

A purpose built Toy Library was a corner stone of Udine’s Play project. Cork City Libraries are keen to play a role in making Cork more Playful. A number of avenues are being explored under this heading, including

  • locating toy resources in libraries across the city, including street-play packs to be ‘checked out’ by local communities who want to bring play to their neighbourhoods.
  • Offering training to library staff to support families in play based activities, with a particular focus on infant mental health
  • The hosting of playful events in library spaces, including throughout a programme of city-wide festivals

Random Games and Gamification events or activities

Cork City will take every opportunity to support ‘Pop Up Play Events’. A great example of a Random Play Event is ‘Play on the Marina’ which was trialled with great success during Urban October 2018 (prior to Phase 2 being secured)

Pictured at  “Open For Play” initiative at the Marina, Blackrock, as part of the Lifelong learning Festival which runs from Sunday 7th to 14th April
Picture: Michael O’Sullivan

This heading also takes in Playful Streets and School Streets

Communities and schools will be encouraged to reclaim spaces in their neighbourhoods for play and games. This draws on examples from across the country and particularly in the United Kingdom where local authorities have supported the practise.

In the case of Playful Streets, it may involve simply discouraging vehicular traffic from using the road during specific times, thus encouraging families to use the street for play and recreation.

School Streets would involve the school and parents to designate the area outside schools to remain entirely traffic free for the 30 minutes leasing up to the beginning of school. This has the additional benefit of improving air quality around schools, where young children are particularly vulnerable.

Annual program of games events & activities (Fun-filled Festivals)

Udine elected to run a standalone Day of Play (Play Festival del Gioco) in the city, but Cork City , conscious of the busy calendar of festivals and events across the City, anticipated that greater impact would be secured by mainstreaming Play into existing events. 2019 will see established festivals take on a distinctly playful theme, including

  • The opening day of Cork’s Lifelong Learning Festival was dedicated to play, and event organisers throughout the week were encouraged to consider how they might incorporate playfulness or games into their offerings.
  • National Communities Weekend will be marked in the city centre by a Fun Day on Cornmarket Street, where play for all will be a central theme
  • A number of festival organisers have expressed a desire to incorporate playful elements into their programming.

Play on Culture Night

To read more about the URBACT Playful Paradigm click here

Playful Cork does not need to be restricted to these headings!

The project is appealing to stakeholders to

  • Think about Play as a tool to deliver their objectives, rather than an additional burden or obligation to deliver on, and
  • interpret where play and games can add value to their work and operate as a tool for achieving the work they do, and

For further enquiries, please contact

Denise Cahill, Cork Healthy Cities Coordinator


Martha Halbert, Community and Enterprise Section, Cork City Council

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.