Community Planning through Games

Often decisions and changes within a community are understood to fall under the jurisdiction of local government and leaders. While this is true, it does not exclude civically engaged citizens from voicing their concerns and making their own suggestions.

In the past, citizen input has been limited to community meetings in school gymnasiums, or signed petitions. But as we all enter further into the technological age, tools have become available to make being an, “engaged citizen,” with a voice more accessible, impactful, and in the case of Community PlanIt– fun!

Community PlanIt is describes itself as a, “game.” While it is fun, it also is effective. Users can play games within the website, and contribute their earned points to local ideas/issues/projects within the community. These ideas, issues, or projects within the website which gain the most points, receive government funding. These can range from new parks, transportation improvements, and virtually countless community improvement endeavors.

One might argue that playing games is a sophomoric way of sounding a voice to issues. But too often, not everyone’s voices and opinions are heard. Community PlanIt aims to solve the problem of disengaged citizenship by making issues within neighborhoods accessible to citizens in an easy to navigate and engaging site.  According to their terms of use:

The goal of this project is to help stakeholders communicate, share information, and become involved in their communities. Another goal is to learn about the impact of games and social networks on community planning and local participation.

Often community issues up for funding are buried in local government websites, or posted on an archaic cork board outside of city hall. The only people who see or concern themselves with these 800px-binalong_post_office_noticeboardpostings are what I like to call the ultra-civically engaged. This is not to paint these people in a negative light, but to illustrate that their are simply too few of them. Community PlanIt strives to make more of these types of citizens by making these issues known and of concern to neighbors.

One word that can describe Community PlanIt is inclusion. Because while everyone has the right to be included in community issues, many simply do not. Whether it be do to time constraints or disinterest, some people just don’t bother with whether a vacant lot is to become a parking garage or a garden. The game makes these discussions widely available, and inclusive to anyone who has a connection to the internet.

This online space correlates perfectly with Chapter 30 of Civic Media, written by Eric Gordon and Paul Mihalidis. They speak to how

We live in a multi-layered segregated society with the hope that civic technology can help us stitch together a true, “public.”

Through technology, citizens can become more engaged, and enter into a space where the public opinion and input can truly be from the public, not just a select few. Community PlanIt is on the way to create this on a small scale, having projects across some areas of the United States such as Philadelphia and Boston.

While speaking of inclusion earlier, I mentioned that those with access to the internet had the opportunity to engage in these types of engagement. Obviously the poor and marginalized may not have the capability to go on a computer, let alone have time to play a game. This is where the book describes a ,” Digital Divide”– those who can speak their voice through a keyboard or touchscreen, and those who cannot.

Making these resources available to everyone, and educating them on how to use them effectively, is the first step in creating a true, “public.” Independent groups such as Community PlanIt can only do so much- create the space. It is up to community leaders to make this space accessible to all.

Hopefully one day soon funding could become available to make  make technologies available to marginalized groups- perhaps through the influence and voice of a project such as Community PlanIt.



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