London Essays – Issue 9: Play


By Ian Hawksworth

We should, by now, be working no more than 15 hours a week – or so economist John Maynard Keynes predicted in 1930. As living standards and productivity rose, Keynes argued, “leisure time” would inevitably increase.

Over the years, much has been written about the leisure economy. Huge advances in automation and the resultant shift in economic patterns provide the recent context for debate. Concerns over the state of wellbeing in society are real – from mental health in the workplace to physical health in our cities.

In Capco’s Covent Garden estate, we often discuss the playful experience of retail, while, in our other great estate at Earls Court, we spend considerable time envisioning the High Street of the future, as well as the recreational facilities that a new neighbourhood for London deserves. It is not by accident that the new Earls Court will include the Lost River Park – the largest green‑space addition to the capital in over a century.

As this excellent set of London Essays illustrates, play offers an important and original remedy for many modern ills. We have travelled a long way from the “work, work, work” ethic of the mid-twentieth century, recognising play as an essential ingredient for productivity and health, happiness and wellbeing. Paradoxically, if we can learn to play more, we can also work better. A happy, healthy city is a playful one, too.

London Essays was inspired in part by an original piece of work by Charles Leadbeater, The London Recipe: How Systems & Empathy Make The City. Empathy in the city requires an understanding of what it means to be human. Play is of course central to the human condition.

Thanks to Editor Geraldine Bedell and to Centre for London’s Ben Rogers for their stewardship of this important project. This is the ninth edition of the Essays, which Capco is proud to support, and offers another thoughtful and inspiring read.