New generations of city officers will speak the language of games and they will play to plan their cities. We, the experts working for the city, need to adapt our methods to fit a new generation of policymakers and citymakers that are born into a world that not only contains, but is re-shaped by, the likes of Minecraft, Pokemon Go and Foursquare on a daily basis. Interactive maps, mixed realities, 3D environments, and multiplayer settings are the new mediums through which an entire generation perceives the urban world. Imagine a future where cities are modelled, tested, designed, and reshaped through interactive, collaborative games. At Games for Cities, we are working towards creating this future.”
Dr. Ekim Tan, co-initiator Games for Cities
BackgroundReplacing the single-handed and static approach of the modernist city planning by a flexible form of shaping cities with multiple stakeholders is more than half a century age old question. In an era where cities witness high pace of social changes and technical advancements, this search for dynamic planning remains a major concern. Perhaps best concrete example of this search close to home is the so-called the new ‘Omgevingswet’: the Dutch building law seeks flexibility, collaborative development and digital integration for planning city development.
City Gaming is a systemic approach to cities. It is an open, multiplayer and learning environment. Participants gather to strategize ideas, plans for the city. City Gaming is recently becoming an applied discipline which did not exist as a practice in the 20th century. Yet it relies its knowledge in works of Buckminster Fuller’s World Peace Game, 1967 [simulating an alternative world order through a game without national borders and free trading rules], Constant Nieuwenhuys’ New Baylon 1956-74 [aspiring to a utopian city continuously re-created as a giant game where communal psychodramas were generated through open-ended lived processes], Robert Venturi and Dennis Scott Brown’s Learning from Las Vegas, 1977 [seeking for the logic and beauty in the ordinary], Christopher Alexander’s New Theory of Urban Design 1987 [searching for a meaningful holistic city design without any topdown interference but organic improvisations], Yuval Portugali’s City and Self-organization 2000 [proposing a systemic understanding of cities where both bottomup and topdown agents earn influence alternately in shaping them].
UrgencyThe information age has accelerated the process of urbanisation, rather than reducing its pace. Cities are the engines of the global economy and contribute significantly to poverty alleviation, but risk becoming seething cauldrons of social inequality. Today, numerous large-scale city development schemes fail, as they fail in creating well-informed and participatory processes. In reaching inclusive city developments, City Games have a critical role to play: they are effective in integrating the intelligence of larger groups and individuals, both expert and non-expert. They can make data, interests and conflicts tangible for participating groups. Through simple and playful language of games, conversations are freed from jargon. Informed decisions by communities, across disciplines and by local governments become possible. Stronger even, if implemented systematically, city game-like methods carry the potential to work as the antithesis of the backdrops of populism we are witnessing where facts become vague, inaccessible and easy to manipulate for crowds.
Exploring hidden potentials of city games from research to implementation is what makes Play the City and its partners tick. When cultivated carefully in urban processes, games lift the practice of conventional city planning: collaborative decision-making, unlocking conversations and building trust, designing better city development rules based on human behaviour, making abstract scientific research accessible for larger groups are action areas where City Games already enhance city-making practice. This is relatively a new field of knowledge currently flourishing in the Netherlands and followed with big interest internationally. As the city gaming is evolving into a valid discipline, we propose to work on a platform engaging city gaming community, developing a common language, exchanging knowledge, reaching out to communities, local governments and other experts, and supporting the young talents. We want to create a dedicated public program with longer-term engagement and investment for developing this unique city knowledge and generation practice. In collaboration with cultural, education and governmental organizations, it will be possible to claim the space city gaming deserves parallel to the traditional practices of urban planning and architecture. This program aims to reach to those who feel interested and responsible for their city and like to play and interact with other humans.
Claiming and Flourishing a True City InnovationThe Netherlands have a long-standing experience with working in multi-stakeholder environments and therefore understand the tools and the processes necessary quite thoroughly. Dutch word ‘Polderen’ and the ‘Polder model’ enjoy a high degree of respect worldwide when it comes to a balanced and inclusive city development. Also, within the Dutch urban planning tradition, we find ‘scenario testing’ as a critical strategy development method. It is not an accident that the City Gaming as a young field of knowledge finds a fertile ground to flourish in the Netherlands. Tygron’s Next Generation Planner, Redesire, Scenarios- the Game, Metropoly, Ministry of Food, In the Loop, Energy Safari are only a few amongst many promising city gaming methods developed here.
Growing international interest in City Gaming can be tracked through works as Modelling the Future -Sydney, Community Plan-it, Participatory Chinatown -Boston, Betaville -New York. Recently we observe established knowledge institutions adjust their curriculum to make room for games: the University of Cambridge is hiring a Professor of Lego for Urban Design, MIT Medialab’s recently developed Cityscope, ETH Zurich’s brand new education track ‘Action! On the Real City’. Exciting practices include the mayor of Hamburg who relies on a city game, Finding.Places in settling refugees in local neighborhoods, Helsinki’s entire planning crew playing games for an inclusive city agenda, Bristol’s long-term investments in playable city policies.
In coming we want to channel the energy of our community for investigating, imagining and visualizing futures where city gaming grows to a regular system replacing traditional city planning as we know it. How would a world work where city gaming has become the regular [analog and digital] medium for designers, developers, investors, to meet, propose, test, agree and implement urban initiatives? How could we get there? How to popularise city gaming to become a natural medium for communities, politicians, scientists, planners and designers to meet and address daily urban challenges? How could existing specialized games grow into an ecology of game system? Could existing games communicate with each other and strengthen their intelligences? Could individual games be linked and reinforce one another through their datasets and player communities? Last but not least what would be drawbacks of a world playing to plan its cities, communities and buildings?