Laatste update: 9 januari 2015
Kavel / Blok
Buurt / Wijk
Stad / Regio
Academisch / professioneel werk
Auteurs: Research group The Responsive City and the Play the City
Reviewer: Elena Selezneva
Play the City


Play the City is an innovative urban planning and design method built on the tradition of serious gaming. It helps you build communities, co-design with stakeholders, develop tools for digital urbanism and create strategies for urban transformation, self-organizing development and temporary use.


Large-scale urban processes require fast production and often cannot facilitate the inclusion of and negotiation with all the parties involved in producing and consuming these urban spaces. However, the necessity for creating collective narratives and visions, reaching a sustainable consensus, and resolving conflicts between the engaged stakeholders of urban development processes remains. A new collaborative city-making method prove that simple rules have the capacity to organize urban environments when implemented by numerous agents acting bottom-up and/or top-down, expressing the complexity of our society.

A new collaborative city method is aimed at merging urban rules and interactive negotiation to allow space for comprehending the rules as adopted and adapted by the urban stakeholders instead of assuming fixed rules or outcomes in advance. The method is based on a rule-based urban method in form of serious gaming for collaborative city-making: able to assess urban patterns and rules through the positions, experiences and reactions of real human players. City Gaming integrates existing power relations into the dynamics of play. This helps to visualize urban processes realistically and take into account existing interests. It helps to reveal existing rules and observe their evolution, propose new rules, or simulate others for particular urban situations in order to make the city. This method would allow the human agents of these systems to exchange information and negotiate urban questions until patterns for the city’s development emerge. The method is also open and interactive.

This is a systemic method modeled on simple rules carries the potential to facilitate social, economic, and political dynamics shaping the city. The inclusion of a multiplicity of urban layers, or city’s sub-systems will reveal the complexity of the society. In other words, the method will provide the freedom and capacity to interlink various urban layers to understand and intervene in urban systems by real human agents.
The ‘method’ described above allows for smooth and jargon-free trans-disciplinary work between diverse urban actors is not necessarily a completely new concept. It could in fact be, in whole or in part, a method that has existed for thousands of years. This work proposes to investigate ‘gaming’ as the ingredient that transforms urban consultancy and planning into an inclusive and self-organising method of generating humane cities. Cities are self-organising systems of a complexity that traditional urban planning is not able to tackle and therefore calls for a different approach, of which City Gaming is a promising example.

City Games are created for urban expansion, regeneration, transformation, temporary use, and new towns. Depending on both the urban question and its context, the game outcome influences these cases in various ways. Our observations show that games had a varied impact on the contexts they were designed for. As the City Game evolves we observe how diverse cases play out, even after the City Game has been implemented. This prolonged observation process allows us to develop a deeper knowledge of the impact a City Game can have on given urban contexts. While using City Gaming for controlling or even predicting urban complexity is not our aim, the hypotheses we can derive from analyzing the gaming data can support our main objective: to use games in a more conscious manner to influence given urban conditions.

City Gaming has so far been implemented at the urban design scale. The method promises to be scalable, to have the capacity to address urban challenges on the regional, national and international scales.Like the range of scales that a gaming environment might tackle, the range of urban narratives that can be transferred to the process of City Gaming is wide: almost infinitely so, since each new site brings with it its own narratives and nuances.

An urban narrative increases in complexity when scripted and played with multiple stakeholders. Similarly, a City Game becomes increasingly worth designing the more diverse its players are, as it is with complexity and, often inseparable from it, contradiction that its role as a negotiating platform comes into full force. The need for consensus and the competition amongst players for urban resources that drive urban developments are decisive in defining the urgency of an urban narrative.

The generative city method method aims, ultimately, to introduce the game outcomes directly into the real urban processes they address, or even to convert the play process itself into a real planning process. The conditions of each case, such as its existing decision-making mechanisms, rules and regulations, or the balance of power between the involved parties, may either support or hinder the link between the play process and the reality it aims to influence.
Evolution of Generative City Gaming.
Since 2008, when the first City Game was organized in Almere Haven, the method has evolved. The main drivers of this work have been to facilitate a given urban question through a game environment by bringing together the right stakeholders and influencing the urban reality through this gaming process. Based on these touchstones, the successes and failures have been recorded. This helped the City Gaming method to develop and improve. The highly diverse urban questions we tackled have challenged the method. The very variety and unpredictability of the cases has been a steady input component, testing the game against urban realities and helping it to evolve in response.
The first game Almere Haven contained four simple rules of play. The first rule, requiring sequential play, was set to ensure an iterative process where all players observe each step taken and react to the course of the urban dynamics developing in the game. The second rule, on respect, was chosen to protect the decisions prioritized by players in the initial phases of play; new moves conflicting with earlier ones that had been agreed on cannot simply overturn them, but have to establish themselves in the existing context.
The third rule determining density was needed to clarify the spatial challenge on an abstract level. A given program translated into the number of game units was defined in the design of the game to help represent the reality of a given urban question. Players were given the freedom to distribute the units themselves in the City Game. A practical application of the density rule is marking the end of the play sessions, which are open-ended in their nature. The fourth and last rule required unblocked access to all proposed urban units, a design rule that not only influenced the positioning of households but also shaped the street network.

The following game, played by seven architects in Rotterdam’s Oude Westen felt the need to evaluate the spatial quality of each player’s iterative design steps, and brought in the approval rule for voting on these. Players also invented the public intervention rule for public space interventions: any discrepancy between individual visions on the collective space was resolved through the rule of a majority vote. The vision rule required clarification between fulfilling the desires and needs of each individual and shared visions for the urban development.

The City Game in Yap-Yaşa (Istambul) employed not only rules of play or organization that influence the final composition, -as implemented in the previous two games- but also parametric design rules directly informing the design of the city block such as the green rule, 50% rule, the height rule and the gate rule. The application of the parametric design rules resulted in formal variations on the play area, a generic Istanbul city block. The green rule, a design rule for unbuilt spaces, imposed a minimum of 40% continuous public green space on the ground level, while all facades of the new Istanbul block were required to include a public gate leading to the green inner courtyards that formed asa result of the rule.

The combination of simultaneous play and parametric design rules continued in Play Noord after its successful application in Istanbul. The time needed for each game session could be optimized through simultaneous play, leaving more time for open debate. Two new rules were added to the respect and density rules in Noord, namely the veto and collaboration rules. Play Noord was designed to debate a master plan that was on hold due to large scale corporations pulling out of a contract with the city of Amsterdam for its implementation worth about 250 million euros.

Play Oosterwold was built to test the rules of a self-build urban plan for Almere’s Oosterwold polders, thus no new rules were added. The most direct of all the City Games in terms of the players’ involvement was Play VanGendthallen. The players, for the first time, demanded negotiation for setting their own play rules. They installed the iteration rule to ensure a realistic outcome through three game sessions building up on each other.


inhabitants, gaming, game, bottom-up, collaboration, negotiation, urban process, strategy, interactions
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