Hubbub has gone into hibernation.

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 of stead tools that pro­duce new plans.1

One source of 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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