New Planning Methods

This is a writeup of my talk at the event ‘Nieuwe Planningsmethoden‘ (‘New Planning Methods’) in Pakhuis de Zwijger, Amsterdam on October 8, 2015.

Hello. My name is Kars Alfrink. I am a designer and partner at Hubbub, a small playful design agency, based in Utrecht and Berlin.

Hubbub helps organisations do things with games, play and playfulness. We make playable things with which you can improve yourself and the world around you.

Since the beginning of Hubbub we have been investigating what game design can contribute to life in cities.

This is also the subject of a chapter I contributed to the book ‘The Gameful World’ which was published earlier this year by MIT Press.

Parkour, Pieces of Berlin, Cruel 2 B Kind and L.A.S.E.R. Tag

In my chapter ‘The Gameful City’ I talk about five different ways in which people can use playful tools to improve their living conditions. I call them appropriation, de-familiarisation, socialisation, subversion and formation. This last one, formation, is what I will go into a little bit more now because it is most relevant to our subject.

Creations by James Rojas workshop participants

Formation is about people using playful tools to actively shape their living conditions. There are great examples of new planning methods that try to achieve this. When I was writing my chapter I was mainly looking at methods that enable people to express their ideas about space.

Open Source City, Rezone, State of Flux and Play the City

Other methods try to achieve things like: visualising and making accessible what can be measured about space, educating people about better ways of spatial planning, and fostering collaboration between those inhabiting a space and those planning it.

All of these approaches increase the diversity of participants in the planning process. This is good because it offers a counterbalance to the tendencies of institutions to impose order from above on what they perceive as messy reality on the ground. More diversity leads to more resilience and liveability. I am very much in favour of this. Who wouldn’t be?

I have a big concern though. It applies to most methods I just mentioned but in my chapter I specifically talk about the playful planning tools for collaboratively expressing ideas about new and existing spaces.

The concern is this: When the participants are done playing and the plan needs to be turned into reality, how do we prevent people from going back to business as usual? It is likely that old power structures will reassert themselves. The danger is that our new planning methods are simply used to get buy-in from people after which they are no longer a full partner in the proceedings.

So I am interested in making our new planning methods a little bit more dangerous to the status quo. Giving them real teeth. All in the interest of effecting widespread and sustained change.

For this to happen, designers of new planning methods must consider policy as a material to work with. I’m thinking of tools that produce new ways of organising planning, in stead tools that produce new plans.1

One source if inspiration would be Nomic, a game in which changing the rules is a move. It was created to illustrate the reflexivity of law. Imagine a new planning method that models current planning policy and asks participants to then make changes to it. The outcomes can then be used as a starting point for implementing actual policy changes.

An example of designers daring to grapple with policy is Playful Commons. This is a project to create new permissive licenses for public space. Think Creative Commons but for space. Here are urban designers and game designers who consider policy, law, rules as a material.

So that’s one way to give our methods more teeth. But I think we should also look beyond any single method. We’ve got all these great new ways of planning. It’s really exciting and there seems to be real momentum in this area in the Netherlands. Now I think it is time to start connecting the dots.

Conceived, perceived and lived space

We should try to close the loop between methods that focus on conceived and perceived space, and methods that focus on lived space.2

3D Print Canal House, Straatlokaal, Godsbanen and The Harbor Laboratory

To be more specific, I am thinking of all the things that are happening in digital fabrication, temporary programming, temporary building, and new spaces for creative work. I am wondering what might happen if we take these things and connect them with the new planning methods I’ve been talking about so far.

What excites me is to think about creating permanent spaces in our cities where experts and non-experts alike can come together to plan, prototype and evaluate new ideas for improving our surroundings at a 1:1 scale. For lack of a better word let’s call them ‘SpaceLabs’. Permanent places for the convivial production of space.

New embodied and social planning methods

Such SpaceLabs connect working with conceived space and perceived space with lived space. They connect plans we make for new spaces and observations we make about existing spaces with the subjective experience of spaces. Now all of a sudden our new planning methods become embodied and social.

We have all these new planning methods now. And they are great. Now, I invite us all to take them and to start building a new planning practice.

Thank you!

Links to Projects Referenced in Slides

  1. Hill, Dan. Dark Matter and Trojan Horses: A Strategic Design Vocabulary. []
  2. Soja, Edward W. Thirdspace: Expanding the Geographical Imagination. []
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