The planet needs more “playful cities”

Event hails marginal activities such as “unplanned cycling” at Regent’s Park

The planet needs more “playful cities”

Christian Spencer-Davies, managing director of A Models and veteran of 10 Cycles to MIPIM, made the case for cycling around Regent's Park at a talk last night (22 January) on "unplanned, playful spaces where the population can indulge in often marginal activities with little administrative and commercial control" - or "Playful Cities".

The talk was held at The Building Centre in London, by the Happold Foundation, as part of its City Conversations series. Attended by about 120 planners, architects and other urban design professionals - along with a swarm of Bromptons - the event also included presentations by engineers Jane Wernick (the serenity of Kenwood Ladies' Pond) and Emily Scoones (using walls for "wall ball" games - the weirder the shape, the better); Parkour founder Sebastien Foucan ("I grew up with superhero comics, so although we played football our main game was to use our imagination to create adventure."); architect Mark Warren (rubbish bins turned into games by adding basketball backboards; a set of crash barriers becomes a steeplechase; hanging an old chair from a bus stop to make it into a swing); and geographer Dr Oli Mould (skateboarders as a counter-cultural, even anti-social, but highly creative influence on the urban environment).

Spencer-Davies began with a digression on "odd sports" in which he'd participated: test-driving his dad's racing cars for children, aged six; 11 years as pro ski instructor and eight teaching snowboarding - including to Eddie the Eagle; World and European Championship frisbee for Great Britain; 4th in the Hackey Sack European Championship; racing cyclist for three years.

Then he described his weekly circuits of Regent's Park, initiated by architect (and creator of Velocity Magazine's Vic cartoons) James Burland in 2007. "James taught me to ride round and round without crashing," Spencer-Davies said. "You go anti-clockwise. If you always turn left, a car can't emerge and 'T-Bone' you like Prince Philip does."

Claiming to have ridden circuits in all weathers, including snow when the eight minute circuit took 45, and exceeding a distance equivalent to the Earth's circumference (40,075km), he described how the "unplanned space" was perfect for play: "It's a place where you're not the only one - there will always be between one and 200 other riders there. It's normal to ride with complete strangers; with unspoken rules, it's a bit like dancing - you know what to do without having to say anything. And it's round, so you can go for eight minutes or eight hours - you end up back where you started.

"There are no active frontages, so no reason for cars to stop. And it's great socially, with a decent coffee stop after."