Philadelphia2035: Game On

Who says city planning can’t be fun and games?

On Monday the Planning Commisison launched Philadelphia2035: The Game, introducing a new way to participate in the city’s district planning process. 

It’s all part of the Commission’s ongoing effort to invite more Philadelphians to engage with the city’s district level plans by experimenting with new engagement tools. For the Central and Lower Northeast district plans, the Commission debuted Textizen to solicit text-message answers to questions posted in public places around those districts. And now, for the University/Southwest District Plan, the Planning Commisison has added gamification to its arsenal with Philadelphia2035: The Game

Philadelphia2035: The Game offers an interesting armchair (desk chair?) approach to planning participation, where players can engage online, on their own time. This has the benefit of potentially attracting a broader audience as well as folks who might not be able to attend one of the public meetings. I’m all for different ways of engaging with the planning processes that are reshaping our city, and it’s going to be very interesting to see what the response is to this new form of feedback, how many people actually played, and who the players turn out to be. 

The good news: you don’t have to be a big plannerd to play The Game. Part of the goal is to solicit the public’s experiential expertise – built from living, working, or enjoying the district – as well as provide information about the district that will be key to future decision making.

The game itself is essentially a new take on old participatory planning forms that we often see at meetings. But instead of putting post-it notes on the wall, or sticking dots on the map, ideas are posted in comment fields and dots are points dropped on a Google map. It’s challenges are wrapped in a playful, approachable package and it has the added incentive of offering actual cash rewards to do-gooder causes.

The first round of Philadelphia2035: The Game went live on Monday, so I signed up to play.

Registration was painless (requiring a bit of personal information, which will help the Commission understand who they’re reaching through this tool), the game was easy to play, and I did learn new facts about the University/Southwest District. 

This round of The Game, themed Mission: Your USW, featured about 15 challenges focused on turning players into experts on the University/Southwest District. Players earn gold coins for each completed answer, which can then be pledged to a real-life community cause at the end of the Mission. Some challenges were open-ended – asking players about the district’s beautiful places, community assets, or where they spend time in the district – while others sought more specific responses, like pinpointing traffic hot spots, or gauging rec center use. The game’s most instructional moments come in the form of a pop quiz asked by pesky “Crats” (aka technocrats) who stop your progress on the game by asking technical questions. At these points players get to make like Captain Red Tape and thwart the Crats with a correct answer, garnered by some quick research on the resource charts provided with the question. After you answer the last Crat’s question, you may spend your coins.

It was a fun bonus to be asked to upload photos with some of my answers and see how other players had commented. Plus, the coin rewards had the desired result: I wanted to answer the questions correctly. Once I made it through the game, it felt good to pledge my coins to one of the causes listed (Among them: Greening Lea Elementary, Neighborhood Bike Works, Kingsessing Rec Center, a community cleanup, and the University City Arts League.) And because this is all about open participation, it was good to see that anyone can add a worthy cause to the pledge list. Mission Accomplished.

You can check out PHILADELPHIA2035: THE GAME – Mission 1 through Sunday. This coming Monday (2/4) Mission 2 will be posted. The Game continues until February 18.

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