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Representation in Ireland

A playful revolution hits the streets of Cork!

Forget boring cityscapes – Cork city is getting a makeover, and it's all about fun and games!

European Commission

What do Cork and Udine in Northern Italy have in common? Apart from many happy European citizens, they're both part of an exciting EU-funded project to revamp their urban environments.

Dubbed the 'Playful Paradigm', the concept of using play to reinvent cities and tackle the challenges of urbanisation was first developed in the Italian city of Udine in the early 2000s. The city has gone on to establish a number of playful places such as a Municipal Toy Library, a Traveling Toy Bus, and a World Games Day.

The ‘playful cities’ concept has since been replicated in a number of other cities across Europe with Cork becoming Ireland’s very first 'Playful Paradigm' city in 2018.

But it's not just about having a good time. These playful initiatives are tackling serious stuff too – think promoting healthy lifestyles, raising energy awareness, and fostering inclusion among migrants and the elderly. Plus, they're strengthening the bond between parents and their children.

Coordinator and Social Inclusion Specialist for Cork City Council, Martha Halbert said: “Cork already has an exciting festival and events landscape so we thought it would be more impactful to insert play into already established festivals. This approach was a huge success and ‘Playful Paradigm’ was involved with Culture Night 2019 and National Community Day 2019”.

But that's not all – this EU-backed project sparked a city-wide conversation about reimagining public spaces. Take the iconic Cork Marina, for instance. Once a traffic hub, it's now a pedestrian paradise every Sunday, buzzing with games and laughter.

And guess what? The removal of vehicular traffic was so popular with local people that in 2020 the Marina became permanently pedestrianized and ended up being “such a good news story for the city”, according to Ms. Halbert.

“It’s all about making public spaces safe and accessible and that goes far beyond the concept of play – air quality is improved, and there is a focus on cities being more child friendly. If a public space is safe for a three-year-old, then it is safe for everybody”, Ms Halbert added.

But the fun doesn't stop there. Cork City Council is doubling down on its commitment to turn public spaces into playgrounds for all ages. The playful revolution has also spread its wings with Donegal, Portlaoise, Rush, Rathdrum and Sligo now part of the move to bring play onto the streets of our towns and cities.

The ‘Playful Paradigm’ project was co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund via the URBACT Transfer Network.

The URBACT Transfer Network enables cooperation and exchanges of ideas amongst cities within thematic networks by building the skills of local stakeholders in the design and implementation of integrated and participatory policies, and by sharing knowledge and good city practices.


More information

URBACT Good Practices: Let’s Play Cork

Cork City’s URBACT Playful Paradigm Project

Ireland’s playful towns