UN-habitat, the UN agency that promotes sustainable cities and towns, is using the popular game Minecraft to involve local citizens in the design of public urban spaces such as playgrounds, parks, marketplaces and squares.
The UN partnership with Mojang (the makers of Minecraft) is called “Block by block” and is being used to upgrade 300 public spaces around the world from 2012 – 2016, in cities such as Nairobi, Kathmandu, Mogadishu and Mumbai. Local people and children who use the spaces are invited to ‘walk around’ and discuss the proposed designs in Minecraft, and then make changes. Sometimes Minecraft competitions are also used to draw out more ideas from the community. Minecraft has turned out to be an ideal facilitation tool for this process due to the ease with which the physical world can be modelled in it.
Once agreed upon, the co-designed plans are implemented to create high quality, inclusive public spaces that can be maintained in the long term.
The targeted public spaces are typically in deprived areas, such as a current project in a slum area of Les Cayes, Haiti. In this case the aim is to upgrade a waterfront currently used as a dumping ground and latrine, and transform it into a public walkway for all the citizens of Les Cayes.
Good quality, inclusive public spaces are essential for sustainable cities. They provide the space for rest, recreation, interaction, political protest and street commerce, and have a strong positive impact on the well-being of urban citizens. They have important symbolic value for health, culture, safety and the local economy. Conversely poor quality public spaces amplify a sense of deprivation, often breed safety fears and encourage a spiral of decline. The sustained improvement of public spaces is considered to be one of the factors that sharply reduced the homicide rate in Medellin, transforming it from murder capital of the world in the 1990s to City of the Year in 2012.
Involving local citizens in the redesign of a public space fosters a sense of ownership and inclusion, remodels the space to fit local needs and desires, and makes it more likely that it will become a well-used focal point for the community. Urban planners have not traditionally been good at involving local communities, particularly in slum areas, resulting in hit and miss top-down design. Block by block is a new and effective way of involving local citizens in urban planning that will hopefully be taken on more widely across the world
The Guardian (2015, January 26) Why fragile cities hold the key to stability and development
Image Credit: Block by block