Crowdsourcing public space ideas through Minecraft

UN-Habitat Block by block, Mexico City, Mexico

SDG 5: Gender equalitySDG 8: Decent work and economic growthSDG 10: Reduced inequalitiesSDG 11: Sustainable cities and communitiesSDG 17: Partnerships for the goals
Block by Block is a UN-Habitat project within the bigger initiative Global Public Space Programme with the aim to improve the quality of public spaces worldwide. In Block by Block, UN-Habitat uses Mojang’s computer game Minecraft to involve citizens, and especially young people, in the design of public spaces. In connection with Aldea Digital, one of the world’s largest digital inclusion festival held in Mexico City, Block by block arranged a competition in which youth attendants were asked to redesign the square Plaza Tlaxcoaque.

 

Challenges

The aim of the competition was to improve this square in three different ways, in its security and safety-perspective, its sociability and in its playfulness. One of the challenges the initiative tries to tackle is that the power to change is very limited and often lies within in the hands of a few people. People who speak the most are often the ones that get listened to. A common thing is that men tend to take over these kind of subjects and leave a small place for young women and girls to get involved. From creating this kind of projects, it’s obvious that more people want to get involved in the process of creating and improving the urban planning. It can give people who otherwise would not get listened to a new way to express themselves and create an opportunity to influence.

Good practice & solutions

In the Aldea Digital competition the workshop was supported by student volunteers and gamers from the largest Minecraft community in Latin America, Minecraft Mexico. The Minecraft collective FyreUK, who were also involved in the project, used a Minecraft plugin called PlotMe to set up thousands of identical versions – “plots” – of the square on a public server. Later the team allocated a plot to each participant, briefed them and gave them three hours to complete the challenge. A public link made it possible to follow the building process live online on the server.

Outcome & opportunities

The result of the workshop was overwhelming with 7429 young people attending, 1438 submitted ideas and 431 completed projects. The ideas were later presented to the Mexico City Labaratoria, Para la Ciudad, as an inspiration for future public space improvements in the city. The urban design ideas included outdoor museums, libraries, roller coasters, boat rides, urban gardens and footbridges. The winning entry were submitted by the 12-year-old girl, Samantha Monroy Sanchez who came up with ideas like petting zoo, roller coaster, urban gardening, a medical centre and outdoor games. Because of the popularity of the project, UN-Habitat hired a person that is managing the server to keep this project going.

Lessons learned & recommendations

The project brings a high level of involvement and engagement from the community and this experience again highlighted the power of Minecraft as a visualisation tool promoting critical thinking and strong interest in urban design. The idea of being able to express yourself in a new way, be listened to and at the same time manage to be creative is very powerful. If you give people an easy tool and a little education, they really come up with good and reasonable suggestions. Working in a free public environment and with a minimal input, everyone can basically become urban designers.

Related SDG targets
Further reading

Photo: © Eugenio Gastelum/UN-Habitat

Project: Urban Girls Movement