Crowdsourcing public space ideas through Minecraft

Block by block, Mexico City, Mexico

SDG 4: Quality educationSDG 5: Gender equalitySDG 8: Decent work and economic growthSDG 10: Reduced inequalitiesSDG 11: Sustainable cities and communitiesSDG 16: Peace justice and strong institutionsSDG 17: Partnerships for the goals
Block by Block foundation works with UN-Habitat’s Global Public Space Programme, with the aim to improve the quality of public spaces worldwide. Through Block by Block, UN-Habitat uses Mojang’s computer game Minecraft to involve citizens, especially young people, in of public space design. In connection with Aldea Digital, one of the world’s largest digital inclusion festivals held in Mexico City, Block by block arranged a competition in which youth attendants were asked to redesign the square Plaza Tlaxcoaque.

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. The initiative especially tackles the challenges of power in urban development processes, where the power to change your surroundings often lies in the hands of very few people. It is common that men dominate fields as public planning, leaving little or no place for young women and girls to get involved. After the response from projects, as the one in Mexico City, it becomes obvious that more people want to get involved in the process of creating and improving the urban spaces. Involving youth through Minecraft is a way of amplifying the voices of people that usually go unheard and creating an opportunity for them to express their needs and influence the planning process.

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. 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 project’s popularity, UN-Habitat hired a person that is managing the server to keep the project going.

Lessons learned & recommendations

The project brings a high level of involvement and engagement from the community and this experience 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 people are given an easy tool and just a small introduction to the program, everyone can participate. They 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

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Project: Urban Girls Movement