A Card Game Designed to Help Urban Communities Plan for the Future
When mass protests erupted in Turkey in the summer of 2013, sparked by the planned development of one of the scarce green spaces in central Istanbul, a hand-painted banner hung in the threatened park encapsulated the demonstrators’ wide-ranging frustration with life in a city many felt was slipping out of their grasp. It read: “Hands off my neighborhood/square/tree/water/soil/home/seed/forest/village/city/park.”
“There was a lot of anxiety about the huge influx of global capital pouring into Istanbul at that time, and all of the potentially destructive consequences. People felt that they weren’t being listened to,” says Alexis Şanal, an Istanbul-based architect.
In her architecture practice, Şanal felt stymied by how the politicization of public space was entrenching both citizens and city officials further in their positions, resulting in what she describes as “an endless loop of bad decisions guided by emotional perceptions.”
“I saw how even though they were very small, my kids had no problems creating a strategy and carrying out actions based on it within the format of the games,” Şanal says. “I started to think about how the social act of imagining together could be a way to break down all this dogmatic determinism I was so frustrated with in Istanbul.”
The result, created over a four-year collaborative process, is Imaginable Guidelines, a deck of 101 colorful, oversized cards, available in Turkish and English versions. Each is illustrated by a local artist and represents one aspect of urban design, ranging from “street vendors” to “sidewalk dimensions,” to give players a shared vocabulary and base of knowledge with which to talk about their city. During the consensus-building gameplay, participants each decide which topics are necessary, desirable, or irrelevant to the urban design problem they’re trying to solve in their community. The selected cards form the basis for a custom set of guidelines with which to move forward in the planning process.
“A game-like environment with specific rules can help create a more equal playing field, and make sure you hear all the different voices, rather than having a general discussion where the most vocal people take the floor first and set the agenda,” says Tommi Laitio, executive director of the City of Helsinki’s Culture and Leisure Division, which has been utilizing similar game methodologies to increase citizen participation in city planning.