Have you ever played Minecraft? It’s a sandbox video game (i.e. a game that generally employs an open world setting to facilitate the player's freedom of choice). It was created by Markus Persson and developed and published by Mojang. Since its release in 2011, Minecraft has become a global sensation, captivating a generation of children and youths.
In 2012, seeing this opportunity, Mojang and UN Habitat launched a collaboration on an innovative programme which uses Minecraft as a community participation tool in the design of urban public spaces. Based on images, plans, Google Maps, and other available materials, a basic Minecraft model of the public space is produced by UN-Habitat. Communities were then invited to reconstruct the areas by using Minecraft. They used this opportunity to show planners and decision makers how they would like to see their cities in the future.
“Our experiences show that Minecraft is a useful tool for increasing community engagement in public space projects by enabling participants to express themselves in a visual way, develop skills, and network with other people from the community, and provide new ways to influence the policy agenda,” said UN-Habitat’s Christelle Lahoud to ACCCRN.
She also added that designing in Minecraft allows participants to explore various design alternatives and visualize their ideas, providing a way to explore and question new perspectives. Through the workshop, participants are able to develop a broader understanding of the urban environment, and are encouraged to speak in public with greater confidence. The workshop could also improve social relations within the area.
Block by Block workshops have been conducted in Indonesia, Nepal, Vietnam, India, China, Bangladesh and the Philippines with different purposes depending on the city context and need. In Mumbai, the workshop was held in Gautam Nagar. “Previously, these public spaces served as household garbage dumps. As a result, the whole of Gautam Nagar has a worn out, depressed look, with piles of garbage in the open spaces,” Christelle told ACCCRN.
Through the workshop, they invited 32 residents to co-create public space designs that included new street furniture, sports facilities, greenery, and playgrounds. While in Hanoi, and New Delhi, together with Plan International, they worked with adolescent girls and boys to understand where they feel unsafe and how can we make the neighbourhood more inclusive and safer.
“The biggest challenge, I would say, is engaging the people for 3 to 4 consecutive days. While some work, attend school or do other things, it is very challenging to engage everyone for a 3 day workshop.” In response to that, sometimes they hold the workshop on weekends just to ensure the highest participation, or make it into a two day workshop.
Christelle admitted that a common challenge that people face when designing a public space is the city’s engagement and willingness to be on board. “But actually, we have never faced this. We always make sure that the municipality and all relevant stakeholders are engaged and are on our side from the onset.” She believes that bringing everyone into the process is crucial to ensure the successful planning and implementation.
For a city that is interested in working with Block by Block, each year they have a ‘Call For Proposals for public space implementation projects’ which is published on the UN-Habitat official website.
To know more about what is required from your side, here is the latest published call for proposals https://unhabitat.org/call-for-proposals-small-public-space-implementation-projects-23-october-2017/