When I’m not writing or reading, one of the ways I like to wind down is with computer games. I like big open games that allow you to be creative, so my favourite game of this year has been Minecraft on the Xbox. It’s like an infinite digital Lego set, and I’ve been helping my brother build the Coliseum.
That’s all good fun, but I was interested to see that Minecraft has practical applications in the developing world too. Mojang, the developer behind the game, is sponsoring a UN Habitat programme that aims to encourage young people to help plan urban regeneration projects.
Called Block by Block, the project will recreate existing urban landscapes and then invite teenagers to adapt them, adding new buildings, roads, parks, etc. They can create their ideal town and walk around it, and most importantly, explain it to the urban planners who will actually redesign the areas where they live. Their hopes and ideas can then be incorporated into the plan, giving them a sense of ownership in the big changes coming to their neighbourhoods.
Block by Block is in its early stages yet, with a pilot project taking place in Kibera, Kenya. The slum district has been rebuilt in Minecraft blocks by a team of volunteers, and I look forward to seeing what the local youth do with it.
A similar scheme has already run in Sweden, where Minecraft was used to recreate 1960s urban estates and get young people to re-imagine them. The results were from that project were very successful, and UN Habitat want to see if it will work in Africa. The challenges will be different, not least because levels of computer literacy are going to be very low in places like Kibera. But it if works, Habitat want to use the idea in 300 different public spaces that are slated for regeneration.