M.Sc Thesis

M.Sc StudentMichowiz Setton Hilla
SubjectHow I Met My Neighbor
Planning for Spontaneous Playful Interactions
DepartmentDepartment of Architecture and Town Planning
Supervisor ASSOCIATE PROF. Efrat Eizenberg
Full Thesis textFull thesis text - English Version


One of play’s most indisputable features is the role it takes in connecting people. We can see it in playgrounds all over the world - children connecting with each other through play - once playing together they share a bond that will last till bath time. Outside of the playground, it was suggested that city life can be very lonely, and therefore urban studies are preoccupied with the notion of sense of community. Many efforts are channeled to enhancing this notion through city planning. Researchers mention social interaction as a highly influential factor in promoting this sense in the city. This research draws on Stevens’ (2007) framework that differentiates public spaces into elements according to the form of play they afford. Static locations, according to Stevens, are places designed for people to spend time in, and dynamic locations are designated for walking, passing by on the way elsewhere. In addition, it identifies two concepts dominant in the understanding of planning public spaces for social encounters: anonymity as a central feature of the urban situation, and spontaneity as a feature of play.

The purpose of this research is to contribute to the growing field of urban play in further understanding the relations between urban settings, play opportunities and possible benefits for social interactions in the city. Furthermore, it wishes to examine the delicate balance between anonymity and informal social encounters during urban play, and the relations between urban planning and play elements that thrive on spontaneity.

An urban game called Evenyaru was placed in two public locations on nearby benches, and invited pedestrians to play against each other. The interactions were observed and questioners were collected from players and non-players. The analysis compared the reactions and behaviors of participants to the game element.

            While no correlation was found between Stevens’s (2007) division of the two locations and the willingness of strangers to play with each other, the results show pedestrians were more likely to notice the game at the static location than in the dynamic location. In addition, a strong correlation was found between group size and willingness to play with strangers. The smaller the group, the more likely it is that people will play with strangers. Finally, communication between players was more verbal in the static location than in the dynamic location. This finding could be understood in light of the organization of objects in public space, such as the distance between benches.

The discussion calls for a reorganization of Stevens’s division, emphasizing the ability of small interventions to change the use of a place. In addition, two additional terms are coined: Planned spontaneity -design can enable spontaneous encounters, different behaviors lead to creating a safe space, offering a chance to stop and change route. Public anonymity - there is a gap between how participants’ stated willingness to meet new people and their behaviors when given a chance to interact with strangers. This research offers guidelines for planners to design spaces that enable social encounters while supporting pedestrians’ sense of anonymity.