IV. Citizen participation in development of Urban Planning (Kirtipur, Nepal)

 

 

Interaction type Public -> Government -> Public
Trigger Event
Domain Urban Planning
Organisation(s) Kirtipur Municipality, UN-Habitat and Mojang
Actors Kirtipur Municipality, UN-Habitat, Mojang, local NGOs and the local communities
Data sets in use Minecraft digital models of public spaces
Process A series of workshops for engaging young people in the geo-design of public spaces
Feedback
Goal Implement a collaborative approach in order to improve the functionality of public park.
Side effects Social impact on several levels.
Contact Point Online resources.

 Kirtipur is a city in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal, south-west of country’s capital Kathmandu. The city faces an intense and urged issue with public space availability. The public spaces of Kirtipur are under pressure mainly because of unplanned urbanization and poor land administration on behalf of the authorities.

In general, public space is an open spaces where anyone, but more often citizens from the surrounding areas, can spend their free time usually through recreational activities. Public spaces play a vital role in the well-being of the citizens especially when they lack alternative places, a common observation in poor and deprived neighborhoods. Once a city has been developed, it is difficult, if possible, to create new public space or considerably alter the functionality of existing ones. Thus, the physical form of public spaces can be locked in for generations, emphasizing the need for careful design and inclusive decision making processes that can improve the quality of urban life (World Bank 2013).

In this context, it is not uncommon for citizens and local communities to get actively involved in the development of public spaces so to optimize the public space functionality and thus better cover citizens’ needs. To this end, the Kirtipur Municipality, supported by the UN-Habitat (United Nations Human Settlements Programme), along with local NGOs and the local communities work on a participatory method for the revitalization of public spaces. The main tool for achieving this goal was the computer game Minecraft, aiming to encourage youth participation in urban design, as these ages are usually marginalized of excluded from any decision making process. The project (Block by Block) is co-managed with Mojang, the developer of the computer game Minecraft. The objective of the overall project is to develop public spaces in low income countries by using Minecraft as an urban planning tool.

Minecraft. According to Wikipedia, Minecraft is a sandbox video game created and designed by Markus Persson, and later fully developed and published by Mojang in 2009. As of February 2017, over 121 million copies have been sold across all platforms, making it the second best-selling video game of all time.

In Minecraft, players interact with the game by placing various types of colored blocks (1×1 meter cubes) as building parts in a 3D generated world (like a ‘digital Lego’) with the purpose of building structures, such as buildings, cities, or whole worlds. Minecraft is often played online on multiplayer servers, or in single player worlds, across multiple game modes. The players can build from simple constructions to whole cities and countries.

Block by block. Since 2012, Mojang, and UN-Habitat are collaborating on an innovative programme in which Minecraft is used as a community participation tool in the design of urban public spaces. The project’s goal is to develop sustainable urban spaces by using Minecraft and also to achieve a greater awareness and appreciation of public spaces. The project is implemented through SUDNet; UN-Habitat’s Sustainable Urban Development Network and UPDB; Urban Planning & Design Branch.

 

In this case, Minecraft was used through a series of workshops in order the youths to produce a new design for an existing public space (i.e. a park which is used as a dumping ground and it has been encroached by illegal settlements). The workshops, apart from designing a new version of the park, included observations of and a questionnaire and interviews with the Minecraft participants and the different stakeholders.

The direct results of the project showed that the use of Minecraft enabled participants to design a more functional and useful version of the public space. This alone is important as new tools are added in existing participatory methods of geo-design. Moreover, it was shown that this method attracts the interest of the young people (as it is fun to design by playing a game) but at the same time, this digital collaborative effort, considerably shortens the planning process.

However, in this case, of equal importance might be the social side effects of the project. First, the use of an online game increased youth interest in urban design and provided an efficient tool for overcoming the participation barrier in the decision process. Then is the fact that during the workshops, young people developed important skill and networks that will be useful for understanding the value of public spaces and for protecting and promoting their optimal design. Finally, it was shown that there was a gender bias towards males and that digital literacy influenced individuals’ representation, participation and voice and thus participants with better digital skills had more influence in the design process.

 

Main lessons:

  • Today’s technology enable the implementation of innovative approaches in order to solve long-lasting problems, both spatial (e.g. geo-design) and social (e.g. marginalized citizens).
  • Biases due to digital literacy and gender inequality should be expected and proactive measures should be taken to address them.
  • Projects that run under the umbrella of bigger efforts and initiatives (e.g. Block by Block) gain from the management competence of the personnel involved in the latter.
  • Crowdsourcing spatial local knowledge can improve governmental practices in terms of time needed and outcome produced.
  • Innovative participatory methods can help the authoritative decision processes to become more inclusive.

 

 Resources:

Olesen, I., Ermeklint., S., A., 2015. Citizen participation in development of Urban Planning, Master Thesis. Available at: http://lup.lub.lu.se/luur/download?func=downloadFile&recordOId=7616044&fileOId=7765971

Heland V., F.,  Westerberg, P., & Nyberg, M, 2015. Using Minecraft as a citizen participation tool in urban design and decision making. Available at: https://www.ericsson.com/res/docs/2015/minecraft-citizen-participation-future-of-places.pdf

World Bank. 2013. Planning, Connecting, and Financing Cities—Now: Priorities for City Leaders. Washington, DC: World Bank.

World Bank. 2015. Urban Development Overview. Available at: http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/urbandevelopment/overview#1.