Having studied Surveying in Ljubljana before specialising in Geographical Information Systems through work and academic study in Austria, the US and Germany, Prof. Alenka Krek-Poplin is co-founder of Hamburg’s Digital City research group, which focuses on the application of spatial data-modelling to city planning. She writes, researches and teaches on computer-aided participation in spatial planning at the HafenCity University Hamburg.
Alenka’s work focuses on how, by adding an element of fun and enjoyment (or joy) to spatial planning, it can be made more interactive and compelling and thus increase levels of participation. Her recent article “Playful public participation in urban planning: A case study for online serious games” explores aspects such as story-telling, sketching and drawing, and digital games that have the potential to make public participation (in my words) easier and less boring.
The example she draws upon in the article, Nextcampus, was a prototype of a game that she and some of her students designed and simulated. The prototype game dealt with the suggested relocation of the University of Hamburg, which has been a hot topic in recent years.
Added to this, she has conducted several projects that explore the use of public participation through geographical information systems. One of these projects was a survey of how people use the waterways around Wilhelmsburg, an island in Hamburg’s River Elbe. Participants were asked whether they carry out certain activities and were able to draw on the map, stating where they engage in them.
The most recent example, sowillichleben.com, is a website built by students to enable them to influence the building of their halls of residence in a game-like manner. One of the ways students were able to express their wishes was to stick virtual notes on areas that represented private room, communal area, and surrounding area. So they could, for example, stick a note with “privacy” on the part representing their room, and “meet new people” on the part representing the communal areas. She has also been involved in a project that enabled citizens to plan the layout of a town square using 3D objects.
In her paper describing Nextcampus, Alenka details some of the criticism that the model attracted from some experts who were asked to evaluate it. One of these was the difficulty in distinguishing between when participants are just playing, and when they are serious about what they are suggesting. I am looking forward to discussing this point at the PEP-NET Summit because it acknowledges a part of participation that I feel we pay much too little attention to. We tend to ignore that citizens always have participated in discussions with no expectation, or even desire, of their discussions leading to some kind of result, for example talking about politics at the pub, going to events to hear about political topics but not doing anything about them, and taking part in flashmobs; but this type of not-for-real participation is essential and, I suspect, one way or another leads to a much healthier public discourse and ultimately better public decisions.
Of course the other half of the equation is what to do with the results that people mean seriously, and we will be talking about that too!
For more information about the PEP-NET Summit and to register, visit https://amiando.com/pep-net. You can also find information at https://pep-net.eu/the-pep-net-summit-out-in-the-open/