Last month members of the Young Placechangers programme had opportunity to learn how the video game Minecraft can be used as a tool to change our public places for the better. For those that might not know Minecraft is computer game that allows players to make a variety of building blocks in a 3D procedurally generated world.

The Block by Block Foundation

So, what has Minecraft got to do with turning neglected urban spaces into vibrant places? A lot if you ask the Block by Block Foundation set up five years ago by UN Habitat, MOJANG and Microsoft.

The United Nations Human Settlements Programme, UN-Habitat, is the United Nations agency for human settlements. It is mandated to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all and work towards Sustainable Development Goal 11.7 to provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, particularly for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities (by 2030)

Block by Block began in 2012 with the radical idea of integrating the computer game Minecraft into public space planning to get community members more involved. Minecraft is easy to use, and people of all ages, backgrounds, and education levels can pick it up quickly. It’s a surprisingly effective—and cost-effective—way to visualise a three-dimensional environment, in a format designed for rapid iteration and idea sharing. Minecraft helps local people model their surroundings, visualise possibilities, express ideas, drive consensus, and accelerate progress.

“I was surprised at how much I enjoyed using minecraft. I was also surprised how well you can map your community on it. I will be looking to deliver similar session to young people to get them to think about their space and place”

- Training participant

Through the Block by Block Foundation 15-20 projects are supported each year to go through the whole process from idea to implementation. These projects are in the global South where issues around open, safe and accessible places are far greater than in the global North.

Projects include Building A Strong Foundation For Girls In Mozambique  Building Safe Spaces For Women And Youth In The Gaza Strip and Building Green Spaces For A Future Megacity In Wuhan 

Why work with young placechangers in Scotland?

A while back we contacted the Block by Block Foundation to let them know about the Young Placechangers programme and our aim of empowering young people to take the lead in the development of local places. The Foundation was impressed and a plan to bring a trainer to Scotland for a Train the Trainer workshop was developed.

With support from Scottish Government we were lucky to be able to go through a two-day training session with Architect and Urban Planner Christelle Lahoud from UN-Habitat, so that we can use the Block by Block methodology in our future work.

We used West Pilton Park in North Edinburgh as our “training site” and before the training days the UN-Habitat Minecraft expert had created the park for us in Minecraft. The training allowed us all to get to grip with Minecraft as a game and how to lead a Block by block process with communities.

“I enjoyed being with a new group of people and thinking about how different tools can help us engage differently and with a range of people”

- Training participant

Next steps

Next steps are to look for opportunities to use the Block by Block methodology with groups who are taking part in the Young Placechangers programme or through our general community placemaking activities.

The Block by Block process has many similarities with community placemaking where communities come together to co-create spaces, develop and share ideas and implement those depending on the budget available. Minecraft becomes the tool for identifying the needs and challenges of communities and suggesting solutions which can be taken forward.

When UN-Habitat works with Block by Block projects funding is allocated to take the Minecraft model created by the community to an architect who translates it into a technical drawing. This is then taken back to the community to check it is what they wanted, and implementation begins.

“I enjoyed the walk around the site and hearing the other attendees’ thoughts on it, and then actually seeing these thoughts implemented on the site via Minecraft. It was really good to hear the views from a wide range of people, which included some things I probably wouldn’t have considered usually and gave a different point of view to what mine would usually be” 

- Training participant

If you would like to find out more about Young Placechangers programme and Block by Block contact Angela Houghton