Book Review

City of Play

An Architectural and Urban History of Recreation and Leisure
Rodrigo Perez de Arce

This is a fascinating yet challenging book. It deals with a subject that is often ignored but that has, and is likely to have, an increasingly profound influence on urban form. From its simple main title to its enigmatic cover (are the children playing or hiding?) this is a book of contrasts and occasional frustrations.

The book focuses on the role of play and leisure pursuits in urban form. This is an important objective but the author chooses to move away from plain English and uses the term ludic. This is often used in practical urban design circles and whilst it does mean ‘showing spontaneous and undirected playfulnes’ its unfamiliarity is distracting. If the book is to reach a wider audience, then play or even leisure would have been more appropriate. It should not be the purpose of a review to dwell on the author’s use of English, but in this case the author frequently develops a line of reasoning only for one’s attention to be disrupted by the unusual use a perfectly correct word. An example concerns the use of the word liturgy. In describing the impact of hunting as a leisure pursuit, Perez de Arce refers to rural areas being turned into playgrounds by leisure-time hunters, ‘….without partaking in the expensive liturgy of the aristocratic hunt…’. To many the word liturgy has overtones of religiosity; what I believe the author meant was ‘ritual’. This may seem unnecessarily pedantic but how we use language can mean that a valuable point is obscure. It also serves to distract from the main thrust of the book. It is worth speculating why this should happen; City of Play has its origins in Perez de Arce’s PhD thesis and perhaps this is where the root of the problem lies. So too may the author’s friendship with the late Peter Smithson, who used language in very particular and sometimes idiosyncratic ways. Obscure words and specifically circumscribed meanings may be appropriate in an academic work, but they make hard work for an urban designer in practice and demonstrate the value of a rigorous downto- earth editor. Setting these niggles aside, this is an important book. Fully researched, profusely illustrated with the authors own line drawings and with a very extensive bibliography.

URBAN DESIGN 148 Autumn 2018 Publication Urban Design Group

As featured in URBAN DESIGN 148 Autumn 2018

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City of Play Publication Urban Design Group
Bloomsbury Visual Arts
Reviewed By
Richard Cole