The virtual world offered a much different forum than the traditional community planning meeting. Participants were given the chance to explore the proposed space from multiple perspectives. They could also offer feedback on the design to project planners and developers.
Urban planning poses many challenges for the public:
- it can be difficult to understand and visualize the proposed development
- traditional planning meetings can be hard to attend or follow, and
- there isn’t always a clear way to balance differing views.
The Hub2 project sought to open the process up and make it more inclusive. We wanted to create constructive discussion between residents, planners, and developers.
We used the power of the Second Life virtual world simulator and a participatory platform designed within it. Participants could:
- imagine what the park could like look
- engage with that space by actually being in it, and
- activate that space by having the language to talk to their friends and neighbors about good design.
Our hypothesis? Building a virtual simulation of a proposed park in Allston will provide a more inclusive way for residents to understand the project. They would also have an easy way to offer constructive input to developers.
From June to August of 2008, eight workshops were held at a local community center. Participants were given Second Life avatars and go through a virtual version of the proposed park and surrounding buildings. As they explored the park and completed certain tasks, they could leave comments that others then voted for or against. All feedback was made available to the park’s planners and developers.
We also hired four youth interpreters to help participants learn and navigate the Second Life platform. They also helped to market the program to other young people in their networks.
120 people took part in the eight workshops, and another 75 people attended informal drop-in sessions.Reaching a younger crowd
Half of the participants were under 25 years old. This was a huge difference from the more traditional development meetings held during the same time. Those meetings had no attendees under the age of 25. This success is due in large part to the work of the youth interpreters who advocated for Hub2.
Participants should have a clearer understanding of how their input will be used. Their feedback was made available to those planning and executing the project. But, their feedback was not necessarily meant to have a direct impact on the park’s design.Outreach efforts
Projects like Hub2 should always look for local groups to serve as partners to promote the project and get more people engaged.