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Mack Avenue: The game

23 March, 2007

Saw this on an urban anthropology mailing list recently. An “Urban Village” is a planning game that is focused on a “real” Detroit neighbourhood.  In essence, people get to put into action their thoughts and feelings on how to improve the city.  They then find themselves confronted with the new reality they’ve created for themselves.

This quote is interesting:

Fred Goodman, a University of Michigan professor of education emeritus specializing in game design, defines Urban Village as “a cross between pin the tail on the donkey and playing school,” he says. “You’re playing city planner, and you can get dizzy trying for the best fit because it’s harder than you think. But this inspires you to think about the inconsistencies of your own set of assumptions, revealing your own values and biases.”

When the time came for me to move the blocks, I impulsively got rid of all liquor stores, the fast food joint, illegal dumping, and as many abandoned and burned houses as I could — even a couple of candy stores (I had no idea there were so many on Mack Avenue). Rather than banishing the panhandlers, I placed them near churches and shelters in the naive hope that churches — even those on Mack Avenue, which could be rip-offs or shuttered — would welcome the poor. The prostitute took a trip to the medical clinic, while the drug activity and stray dog were strategically maneuvered near the casino. I put vacant lots alongside community gardens because, naturally, gardens grow, and set up a nice little five-block area including houses, a school, a playground, coin laundry, mailbox, pizza joint, music store and bank. Which is why watching a friend take his turn and ruin my hard work made me mad.

Please,” he said. “Banks are total scams.” He picked up the wooden block with the Greek temple on it and moved it near the ones with the cute crack pipe and the burger and soda on them. I called him a radical, and that’s when he pointed out that I had banished a bar, thereby constructing a neighborhood even I wouldn’t want to live in. That’s when I realized: To reduce, to take away, is an easy process. Figuring out how to occupy the land you have and dealing with all the ramifications — coping with what you’ve got — is much more complex.

Original article

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