There’s an app for that. No really, there is.

Want an app that tells you what nearby ghosts are thinking? Yep, there’s one for that. Ever dreamt of being an ordained Klingon priest? Sure, done with a swipe of your finger. You had the salad, they had the degustation (with matching wine) and you want to split the bill fairly? Yes, there’s an app that will do that for you without the death stare and the awkward silence.  

For every single area of our lives there’s an app that somebody has thought of and a gazillion others that just make you wonder what goes on inside people’s heads. In fact, as of January 2017 there were 2.2 million apps available to download on the Apple App Store with approximately 130 billion apps having been downloaded in total. Just to put that into perspective, the entire population of the world is about 7.5 billion people, give or take a million.

Back to those 2.2 million available apps. Games account for almost 25% of those with other genres such as Lifestyle, Entertainment, Health and Fitness and Books making up another 20%. So in total, getting on for 50% of the total number of available apps could be classified as ‘Play’.

We really have to take a long hard look at ourselves and ask what on earth we’re doing if ‘entertainment’ is a simulated stapler app. It makes a noise like a stapler. Fun hey.

With all this new technology, are we going to have more or less leisure time as the automation of tasks frees up more of our time and if we are, do we really want to spend it looking at more cat videos?

The reality is, our leisure time is becoming more urban with museums, galleries, theatres, cinemas, festivals, restaurants, parks, even whole entertainment districts, all motivating us to spend our leisure time in our cities.

Part of this is because more people are living in urban environments and want to spend more of their time off close to home, whilst another part is the attraction of the types of entertainment cities provide.

Our sheer connectedness has allowed us better access to information about the best places to go, what to see, what’s on and to be more specific about what interests us, when you can access it and even facilitate that access with online purchasing of tickets and the personal downloadable tour guide. As well as being able to pinpoint the exact location of necessary conveniences – the nearest toilet, cafe, parking space or bus stop.

Is there a danger then that we’ll become too connected, relying on AI so we don’t even need to leave home? If you can take a virtual reality tour around Sydney Opera House is that an adequate replacement for actually travelling and seeing it in person? The answer is yes, for some people it is enough and for those less mobile, perhaps physically unable to ever visit Australia, that would actually be quite an amazing thing.

So there is a middle ground.

We need to make our cities fantastically enjoyable recreational spaces, utilising the technology we have at our disposal as an incentive to get off our backsides, look up from the device and enjoy being in the physical space.

Seoul gets pretty wet in the rainy season making people reluctant to go out. Understandable. (No prizes for guessing what the kids turn to for entertainment if they can’t play in the park.) To combat the unrelenting wet days, Project Monsoon utilised hydrochromatic paint that only becomes visible during a downpour. The grey pavements soon became incredibly vibrant murals of whales, turtles, fish and sea life encouraging the old and young to get outside and walk despite the weather.

#Backyard Experiment in Canberra turned a dull concrete plaza into an inviting outdoor area by adding colourful tables, paint and lighting, yarn bombs, a patch of grass and physical and digital Wi-Fi libraries. By tech enabled monitoring, they were able to see that during the eight days of the experiment people both walking through the park and stopping to enjoy it, shot up by 247%.

BlueChilli’s portfolio company, GiggedIn, provides a membership service that makes it easy for you to enjoy incredible shows in your city. During the day, you might turn to MySail, another BlueChilli portfolio startup, which is focused on the community of sailing-lovers, and helps sailing teams get their crew sorted for races.

Clearly people aren’t turning away from being physically outdoors in our city spaces. The surge in wearable tech and the thousands of apps to monitor our training routes, track our fitness, and purely show us where to go to enjoy our urban green spaces, are testament to that.

Person in movement across colourful court

Tech can also play a big part in keeping us safe in our cities when we do out go out to play in them. It’s no secret that night time accounts for 50% of the time in every single country in the world so Arup, the global urban design consultancy, are using tech to analyse people’s movements to explore the full potential for night-time lighting to make cities more enjoyable, social, safer and easier to get around.

People want to get involved; the power of citizen participation via technology is vastly under explored. Even when governments want to engage citizens, finding ways to do this effectively is challenging. The makers of the online game Minecraft, in conjunction with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, are exploring how the game could be used to find out how people want to see their cities develop in the future. Residents of a given city can build simple 3D models of their community to effectively visualise how it will look thereby gaining consensus within the community.

This is using play as we know it today, to influence how we live tomorrow.

It goes without saying that technology has made leisure time in our cities more accessible, more navigable, safer and more bespoke for what we want to see, do and eat. When we travel we can explore another city as easily as we can if we holiday-at-home. In fact, travelling itself, organising the end-to-end journey of anything from a mini break to a world tour, we now do from home with our cultural itineraries booked to the minute, not a paper ticket or a hotel concierge in sight.

By deploying tech innovation towards fun stuff, we can make our smart cities even more enjoyable for every generation to be excited by, to explore, to learn and to play in. And as Pokémon Go showed, the right tech idea can give us the incentive to get out there and be social, rather than keep us indoors killing zombies. Or becoming one.

If you have a great idea that enhances leisure time or builds social connections in our communities, why not apply for CityConnect? Applications close 22 August 2017.