Producing spaces, changing places : the role of play

  • Gregor Helmut Mews

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Public spaces in cities offer a diversity of experiences, as well as the possibility to produce a variety of spaces. In the pursuit of the increased liveability of cities, these spaces are subject to targeted design interventions that are often based on instrumental functions. However, non-instrumental and informal encounters among strangers in urban life account for the dominant type of human social interactions. Arguably, play, as a type of informal and non-instrumental activity, can reveal the potential held by public spaces. Stevens’ (2007) research on ‘The Ludic City’ provides the theoretical foundation for the urban analysis of public space through play as an activity in comparison to established public life studies. This thesis fills a gap around the empirical application of play in public spaces to facilitate the understanding of public spaces through an activity as a form of spatial practice that makes up part of people’s everyday lives in urban core areas. The aim of the thesis is to develop and test a novel framework, labelled as PLAY framework, which allows researchers to comprehensively understand public spaces in a different way. Thus, the present thesis argues that the PLAY framework reveals certain qualities and dynamics in public spaces that are produced by play activities. The thesis uses two case study sites: Canberra, Australia and Potsdam, Germany. After testing and refinement of the PLAY framework, it will be compared to another public space study in Canberra, which uses established methods without an articulated focus on play. The case study in Potsdam functions as a validation case of the PLAY framework, allowing its potential for replicability in an intercultural context to be investigated. The thesis interrogates three sets of data: 1) data obtained through observational research in Garema Place, Canberra, derived from established methods; 2) data collected via mixed methods relating to the PLAY framework in the same location in Canberra; and 3) data collected via this same PLAY framework in Potsdam, Germany. The discussion formulates a response to the research questions, including a reflection on related theory regarding both the PLAY framework and the hypothesis. Overall, the data produced lateral findings that open up additional avenues for further research.
Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorAndrew Mackenzie (Supervisor), Milica Muminovic (Supervisor) & Cathy Hope (Supervisor)

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