It has been already some time that I wanted to write about this project I discovered thanks to a good friend when I was living in Rotterdam. Is a virtual platform that, through a series of games, recreatse urban situations seeking to establish direct contact with the citizens, platform that is called Engagement Game Lab (EGL).
This is a research laboratory inside the Emerson College in Boston, a college that does not include in its curriculum studies related to architecture and urbanism, but this laboratory develops its directly related to life in the city research within their Visual and Media Arts department, a clear example of how other disciplines can interact with urban development and citizen participation.
Going through their website, we can find the four projects that are being developed currently by the Lab: Civic Seed, Community PlanIt, Hub2, and Participatory Chinatown.
Civic Seed is under development, scheduled for release in 2013, and is intended for students to get involved in community work through an RPG format. Community PlanIt is more focused on the participation of citizens in decision-making of the city, virtually recreating the fact of going to the town hall to vote on urban proposals, with a, according to its creators, fun approach.
Hub2 and Participatory Chinatown are focused on the urbanism in a more direct way. In the first case, they have created a virtual environment of the city of Boston in which citizens can navigate and modify testing space to see what the result would be. A kind of “Second Life” environment. In this case it is necessary to involve people who are familiar with the technology to help those who are not (they have voluntary teenagers to help older people).
In the case of Participatory, is an individual scale approach, having the option to choose one of the fourteen characters offered and try to carry on his life in the neighbourhood of Chinatown in Boston: Language Skills, Income, Education… are some of the characteristics that influence in the life of our character. A kind of Sims applied to Chinatown, in Boston.
It is very interesting to see such initiatives coming from departments like the Visual Arts, because they are proposing alternative tools to achieve a breakthrough in the field of Urban Planning. As I have said some other times, I am completely in favour of a participatory approach and a citizen engagement in decision-making processes and development of urban projects, and we need tools according to the present moment if we want to make this possible.
This proposal can be a very powerful tool, but it needs a multidisciplinary work to make actual changes in the city structure. It won’t be successful to keep those experiments in a virtual environment, you need a field that complements and uses them as what they are, tools.
I think that proposals like this one, based on technology, have much to say, but we shouldn’t forget that the built environment, the urban environment, is something physical, so I think that something exclusively virtual will never come to have a significant impact on the evolution of the city.
EngagementGameLab is a very interesting initiative that can really help the city of Boston in future decisions. This working method, if it becomes multidisciplinary and remains local (as in this case, the city of Boston) can have a real impact on the decisions of the city.
Engagement Lab is also the home of the New Urban Mechanics Initiative, and has a partnership with the City of Boston the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, the City of Philadelphia, Detroit Works Long Term Planning, TuftsUniversity, and the Smithsonian Institute.
Is possible to contact them through firstname.lastname@example.org