Fields of View conducted the City Game for students of St. Joseph’s college during the Meta Festival 2019, a festival of literature. Around 15 students and faculty members participated in the session that involved game play and a debrief. There were questions and discussions on urban form, narratives and imagination around cities, and questioning concepts such as participation and inclusion.
What do a bunch of adolescents between 12-14 years of age have in common? Capris, shorts and t-shirts when they don’t have to wear a uniform? Ask a lot of questions, are not afraid to say what they are thinking and have all seen the recent Black Panther movie. At least the group we conducted a City Game session for at the Genwise summer school had.
The City Game is designed to explore urban form and elicit a group/individual’s preferences about their city. The game also allows for its participants to reflect upon why we imagine our cities the way we do. The students in this group were a part of the course ‘Perspectives in Tackling Wicked Problems’ and they belonged to grades 7 to 9. As the ritual goes, we had a short round of introductions and then we proceeded to the session.
There were two parts to the session at Genwise. In the first part, the students were asked to silently reflect upon what they understood by a ‘smart city’.
The second part involved playing the City game.
“Do we build a democratic city? Are we placing social concepts or infrastructure?” asked one of the students. “It’s completely up to you”, I replied. “So then what kind of a city do we build?” “A city you want to live in”. With all the clarifications in place, the gameplay began.
Negotiations started early. The kids immediately jumped on to the blocks and started building roads, business parks, sewerage treatment plants, sports centre, foot over bridges, BRT corridors, a historic statue, airport and more. Some interesting highlights were that a jail was placed before a police station was conceived of. Road networks were placed around first in order to ensure easy mobility. A lot of blue, pink and yellow tape was ripped and stuck around to ensure that the BRT corridors don’t get confused by a highway or a metro line. Somewhere near the 5th round (or half time), one or two in the group began to panic as to whether the city has its basic infrastructure in place or not. As the group had started to break and move around and the energy seemed to dip a little, a list was put on the white board and a number of things were listed on them. “Now we can track what we are building and have something to reference in case we miss out”. Slowly fire stations, public toilets, schools, hospitals, a windmill field, a car showroom, five-star hotel, railway stations, a library, and even an orphanage showed up. By the 8thround, the city had been built and it was time for lunch.
“Would you like to live in this city?” “Yes!” said two, “No!”, said the others. “Why?” we asked. In the debrief session, the students reflected upon this city that was built. A city that despite being built around the roads and other transit systems, seemed congested. Where did the poor live in this city? Some expressed their disappointment that the city was not built for different kinds of people (especially the people they had listed on the post-its before the game). Some said that the city was too congested around the business park. One even said that the city is not the same as her home town Chennai, which is why she wouldn’t want to live in it. There were a lot of ways to move around in the city, but who all could move around was not clear.
We played a session of the City Game with kids of class 10 and 12 from Sri Kumarans Children’s Home, as part of IIIT-B’s excITe program. We had 40 students participating, who formed 10 groups of 4 each; and the two teachers formed the eleventh group. In this game, the students were asked to build their city by taking turns to place blocks that were representative of buildings. This was the first time we played this game with a group as large as this (42 people!).
Like most other cities, this city had markets, business places, stadiums, amusement parks, residential areas, resorts, Vidhan Soudha and a High Court. However, this city also had a solar power plants, a flyover from a residential area to an IT park, “to let” buildings, nuclear power plants and even 2 dams! The groups used the wooden blocks creatively; for example, the cricket stadium was 6-8 blocks in a circle with 4 other blocks forming the floodlights! This is in stark contrast to many other game runs where the blocks are merely indicative of a building/place/road etc.. One of the teams decided they wanted to be the government. They built the Legislative Assembly, and even passed a law! This was the first time anyone assumed a role in the game. However, none of the teams followed the law, and one of the teams even opposed the way that this particular team “decided” to be the government.
Every team except one said they would not like to live in the city that they built; the reasons mostly being lack of adequate residential areas, lack of planning and lack of other basic amenities such as hospitals and markets. The general consensus among the teams was that this was a city with a population of 2-3 lakh. One of the teams said that this city looked like an island city for tourism, with a population like the Vatican City.
Unlike other sessions of the City Game, we asked the teams to choose for a winner, based on whatever criteria they thought was important. Two teams voted for the team which took the initiative to be the government, and three teams voted for the team which took the initiative to oppose the undemocratic manner of the other team becoming the government!
All in all, a great session of the city game. I’ll stop here, the video is more explanatory!