City play: How teens can and do transform public space in cities 

Take note: Urban planners, community program leaders, youth outreach leaders, urban designers, play advocates

What is the problem: Youth are known to play in public space, like parks, and to be asked to leave and go elsewhere when in more adult oriented public spaces, like plazas. Where and how adolescents choose where to play is not an easy to explore. Social media has been studied for consumer markets and product development but has only recently been used for non-consumer driven, behavioural research.


Social media (especially video in Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, and Instagram) creates new opportunities for feedback and behavioural loops that inform young people of new places and ways to play.


What I did and why: I studied thousands of YouTube videos from five U.S. cities for examples of where and how adolescents play in cities. I found that social media is influential in the transformation of public space into places to play. Observational data from online video creates new opportunities for researchers to see what cities mean to overlooked and populations that can be difficult to research, such as adolescents. The interpretation of such data can help designers, planners, and policy makers create inclusive, youth friendly cities.

What this study adds: A “big data” multi-sited, multiple participant approach confirmed that formal public places to play were less successful in supporting adolescent play than places that were never designed or destined for play.

Implications for city policy and practice: Designated play places only serve a small percentage of the actual places adolescents play.

  • Cities should be encouraged to permit adolescents to discover and create a series of temporary and permanent places for play.
  • As active participants in urban life, adolescents can play a transformative role in activating under utilised places and creating a more vibrant city.

Additional information: Link to two-minute lightning talk by a

uthor on the transformative power of city play: YouTube.

Full article: Transformative power of city play: Social media and place in a post-affordance world

Author: Benjamin Shirtcliff (@CityPlayISU)
City Know-how editor: Marcus Grant