In some people’s view, the role of the urban planner is primarily to facilitate community participation and to implement policies that lead to the achievement of community-provided visions. If you agree with this idea, then you’ll like a new tool developed at the Brooklyn Experimental Media Center.
Betaville is a SimCity-like tool that allows citizens to create designs of New York City, adding, altering, or moving buildings and landscapes. But it’s not just a receiver of ideas; it is meant to engage a wide community where users can design and others can comment or upload their own variations. Betaville was designed with the intent of inviting the same high levels of participation found in open source software. The community vision of a street corner or of an entire city will morph over time as more people contribute, as does a Wikipedia page. And in theory, the input of these “subject matter experts” (from consultants to university students to residents of a particular area) will inform the plans made by the municipality.
It is, of course, subject to the same challenges faced by any public involvement process: how do you make sure everyone is involved? How is everyone’s voice heard? Betaville is certainly a step in the right direction – leveraging modern communications technologies and visualization tools to further engage the citizen. But a solution for inviting more (or at least more representative) voices is still needed.