Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Let’s Declare This the Summer of Play

Philadelphia's Playstreets. Photo by Ken McFarlane/Philadelphia Parks & Recreation.

On July 5, 1976, Philadelphia capped off the nation’s bicentennial celebrations not with flags and fireworks — all those grand displays were held on the 4th — but with play. Frisbee Golf on Winter Street. Paper airplanes at Logan Circle. Kid-sized pick-up sticks at 20th and Parkway. Music was provided by a giant xylophone and kazoos on Park Town Place and a Jamaican steel band at 22nd Street.

This grand day of play was organized by Bernie DeKoven, a game designer and “fun theorist” who believed “being at play together is being in flow together,” quoting psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, known for his theory that humans are happiest in a state of absorption within an activity. Given the right environment, given permission to join in the fun, humans have the ability to “form play communities.”

After more than a year of closed schools, shuttered playgrounds, canceled sports and called-off birthday parties, the idea of a “Playday on the Parkway” like Philadelphia’s or, better yet, many play days on many parkways, sounds like just the sort of freedom and collective boost our children need. If it was a sign of patriotism in 1976 to open the streets and parks to fun, the symbolism would be even more powerful now. Let the children — not the cars, not the delivery trucks, not the Zooms — find their flow. Let’s declare this the Summer of Play.