The Rules of Public Space

Posted on 19/04/2012

I’m at the brink of an important phase of my research into evoking playful behavior in public space: Defining the rules of public space. The first step in this process would be to define ‘ public space’ . Then I want to analyse the behavioral patterns that make up the conditioned behavior we show. To make a correlation with my research project I will to use the analyses model I plotted, according to the 5 dimensions of play postulated by J.N. Liebermann

I like to think of human behavior in public space as living inside a semi-permeable bubble, It’s a theory I developed in conjunction with a colleague Wieger Jonker, he wrote about it on his blog over here (in dutch)
image courtesy of

The thing about the bubble: It’s quite a necessity to keep your sanity in public space. It’s an instinctive defense mechanism against the overload of impulses we are confronted with everyday: colorful commercials, hassle-some street salesmen, cacophonous urban soundscapes and, above all, dreaded social interaction with strangers!

To give some context to analysing this behavior I’d like to introduce the 5 dimensions of play, postulated by J.N. Lieberman. I’ve plotted them in this diagram that can function as an analyses model for playful behavior.
Here’s an example of the model in action, analysing the game of tag.
Lieberman describes 5 dimensions of playful behavior being: Manifest Joy (it’s experienced as fun), Sense of Humor (it’s funny; makes you laugh), Cognitive Spontaneity (as in crossword puzzle), Physical Spontaneity (as in dancing) and Social Spontaneity (in for example theatrical improvisation).
In this diagram the game of ‘Tag’ is analysed, Physical Spontaneity has a strong presence in this game, whereas cognitive spontaneity does not, as there is little ‘intellectual challenge’ in winning a game of tag. There’s also some points in social spontaneity, as deciding ‘who am I going to tag’ or ‘I’m going to tease the hunter and run away at the last minute’  is based on social spontaneity.

To put this into contrast, here’s the model analysing how playful ‘behavior in public space’ is. There is room form some social spontaneity, but any extravagent approach (Hé! Wanna share my banana!) would be frowned upon as it will puncture the ´social acceptance bubble´ described earlier.

The goals of my quest for evoking playfulness in public space is to dissolve this bubble and broaden the spectrum of playful behavior in public space. I want to achieve this by presenting a playful counter-image, or ludic intervention, that audiences can relate to by interacting with them.
By participating in a ludic activity in public space, audiences might broaden their view on how you should behave in public space, and incoroprate more playfulness in their day-to-day life.

Playful revolution! Share banana’s!