Conscious Urbanism: The Game?

I'm toying with an idea for a new feature, and I'm hoping for some reader feedback. If you're a regular, an occasional reader, or even a drop-in checking out Where for the first time, I hope you'll weigh in on this concept, as the reader response will determine its future.

I read posts on two blogs recently that have started my brain a-thinkin' about how effective a good game can be. (Monday's post on the X Prize, and the value of competition, served as part of the inspiration as well). The first post, over at Inhabitat, talks about a new board game called Play Rethink, in which players use a spinner and product cards to create a variety of environmentally-friendly design challenge scenarios which they must then address. The intent is to get normal people (non-professionals) thinking about eco-design and issues like local vs. imported materials, sustainability, and adaptive re-use. It does so, rather ingeniously, I think, by making the process fun and entertaining. It's public engagement through play.

Play is a powerful method of communication. When we are playing (on a playground, a sports field, a computer, etc.) our guard is down. We are having fun, and that makes us more receptive to the ideas that we are being exposed to through the game. Thus, it seems like play would be an excellent way to address seemingly intractable urban problems. Make policy and urban design fun, and we might start coming up with some interesting answers to exhausting questions.

Enter inspiration #2: a recent post at Brand Avenue spotlights a 100-day-long game called "Future City," being facilitated by the Hamilton Spectator, a newspaper in the city of Hamilton, in Canada. In the game, the paper poses scenarios in the city's imagined future and asks readers to vote on the outcomes. There's a fun interactive map of the evolved version of the city that Spectator readers are creating, and the whole thing seems to be quite the little success. It's getting Hamiltonites actively thinking about and participating in their city's future, which will (hopefully) translate to these citizens becoming more politically active and aware at the local level.

Where's "Conscious Urbanism" series has, for whatever reason (I suppose I should know, but I can't come up with anything solid), fallen by the wayside over the past several months. I find this unfortunate, since the discussion of active citizenship and innovative neighborhood-based solutions was part of my original inspiration for starting this blog. As stated in the inaugural post, I have always hoped that Where might be able to spark some interesting conversations about urbanism, but I have admittedly had little success in encouraging such activity thus far.

Thus, Conscious Urbanism provides us with a possible jolt of conversational energy. I would very much like to create some sort of game, as a recurring feature at Where, that takes urban problems found in news items or submitted by readers and challenges readers to create, discuss, and debate potential solutions. The idea is, of course, to start something constructive -- and fun. (It is intended to be a game, after all). But I'm not yet sure exactly what form the game should take...there would need to be some framework of rules and instructions -- nothing too limiting, but enough to give the game some direction. And, certainly, there would need to be a clarification of what, exactly, "Conscious Urbanism" really is. (Admittedly, it's been a bit vague in the past). Whatever it is, it's about people working together, socially, to solve urban problems, so it seems logical to re-think the feature in a more participatory way.

So this brings us to a crossroads, and to an invitation. I hope that you'll sound off on this little seed of an idea. If you have an idea for how the game might be structured, or how participation might be encouraged, or even if you just want to voice your interest in participating once the thing gets off and running, I do hope you'll take a moment to contribute. If you think this sounds utterly inane, say that, too. I'm open to suggestions as to why it shouldn't be done. At this point, I'm open to suggestions, period.

Of course, if there is no response, I'll let this one slip quietly by. There's no need to push the idea if there's no interest in participation, as reader involvement would be critical to this feature's success. Of course, if you have nothing to say, by all means, say nothing! :-) I do hope you'll participate, though. We'll see where things go from here...

(Photo from Flickr user colampearson. The original full-color version can be viewed by clicking the photo.)

Play Rethink: The Eco-Design Game (Inhabitat)

Dreaming Big (Brand Avenue)


Jim Russell said...

Funny, I was going to suggest we take on the LA Times challenge in another "blog duel." I'm definitely interested in playing the policy innovation game.

Another avenue worth exploring is to design a game that can help solve some intractable urban problems. After fleshing it out in a public blog collaboration, we could pitch it to one of the Pittsburgh-based game producers, a rapidly growing innovation cluster in the region. We might be able to scare up some funding and put the game online as a forward-thinking urban planning tool.

Carlee said...

I say, why not try a game out and see how it goes? No harm in testing the idea out, especially if it can only be helpful and fun.

I would love to participate once it's up and running, whatever form that may be.

Drew said...

I like the idea of a game and I agree with Jim that a good starting point would be discussing it further in a public blog collaboration. It would be interesting if participants competed groups or teams based on where they live.

Brendan Crain said...

Oooh, good stuff. I am definitely liking the idea of teams...can't quite say why that grabbed my attention, but it seems like it would add to the collaborative focus of Conscious Urbanism.

What if teams were created using people from similar regions, or cities with similar attributes, and each team had to come up with a challenge for another team, and then address the challenge presented to them. (Does that make sense? Heh...it does in my head.)

Westy said...

I'd definitely be up for it.

Somehow I find myself thinking about how in Season 4 of The Wire, the educators broke out a group of the 'Corner' kids to attempt to experiment in what worked for them.
We can do our own virtual experiments to see what works in designing urban settings.

Maybe we use that concept of voting from Canada, and talk about issues people have seen, what works, what doesn't...