Minecraft for youth participation in urban planning and design

UN-Habitat and Block by Block, Les Cayes, Haiti

SDG 1: No povertySDG 4: Quality educationSDG 5: Gender equalitySDG 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 the design of public spaces. The tool is also being used in reconstruction after natural disasters.

Les Cayes, a city located in Southwestern Haiti is host to one of the country’s major ports. It’s originally a well-planned city that experienced a rapid urban growth that in recent years has developed into informal settlements located between the city centre and the sea. Due to soil erosion and lack of basic services the living conditions are unsanitary and citizens suffer from recurrent earthquakes, major floods, and extremely stormy weather conditions. In 2010 a large part of the area was devastated and had still not recovered. Together with the local government and other partners in Les Cayes, UN-Habitat wanted to create an urban waterfront project that could protect the city from flooding and erosion. The project also aimed to provide a public space for the citizens.

Good practice & solutions

While working with two young Minecraft gamers from Sweden, UN-Habitat designed a two-week community participation process. The project begun with a series of community meetings with the intent to recruit 20 participants from the Fort Islet slum. After this was done, there as a three-day community engagement workshop which included both representatives from the Les Cayes local authority, the Governor’s office and other stakeholders in addition to the community participants. First, the participants were given Minecraft training and then they were divided into four groups consisting of older fishermen, teenage girls, older women and younger men. They then began to redesign an area of the Fort Islet waterfront with the Minecraft tool.

Outcome & opportunities

Within a few hours all participants, even those with very limited previous computer knowledge, were able to start visualising their ideas in Minecraft and concrete solutions came forth. For example, the fishermen needed jetties to help them dock their boats, a place in the shade to clean fish as well as streetlights and public toilets. The group of teenage girls proposed walkways, sports facilities, kiosks and restaurants, street lighting and public toilets. At the end of the process, the participants were given the opportunity to present their designs to representatives from the local authority, Governor’s office and UN-Habitat. The Minecraft model of Plage de la Touterelle, designed by the group of teenage girls, was selected as the first area of intervention.

Lessons learned & recommendations

Taking part in these kinds of processes can help build youth confidence, promote critical thinking and improve public speaking skills, important for further civic engagement. People also tend to work much better when they are together in groups as it helps people to identify the collaborative elements. A favourable mix of people in the group adds value to the collaboration but it is important to make sure that everyone in the group feel comfortable to express their opinion and be creative. A difference in societal influence or status can be an obstacle in creating such a group, for instance, older people usually have bigger influence in society compared to young people. A videogame tool, like Minecraft, can be one way of bridging this gap. Most of the time, children and young people have an easier time to understand and to use the tool than older people, putting them in a new position and making the gap smaller. When people are thinking together it creates a dialogue that is rare and can be hard to achieve in other situations.

Related SDG targets
  • 1.5 By 2030, build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters
  • 4.5 By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations
  • 5.b Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women
  • 11.3 By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries
  • 11.5 By 2030, significantly reduce the number of deaths and the number
    of people affected and substantially decrease the direct economic losses relative to global gross domestic product caused by disasters, including water-related disasters, with a focus on protecting the poor and people in vulnerable situations
  • 11.7 By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities
  • 16.7 Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision- making at all levels
  • 17.3 Mobilize additional financial resources for developing countries from multiple sources
  • 17.16 Enhance the global partnership for sustainable development, complemented by multi-stakeholder partnerships that mobilize and share knowledge, expertise, technology and financial resources, to support the achievement of the sustainable development goals in all countries, in particular developing countries
  • 17.17 Encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships
Further reading

Photo: © Eugenio Gastelum/UN-Habitat

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Project: Urban Girls Movement