Urbanology: An Online Game to Teach Users About Sustainability

Urbanology is a companion to a large-scale, interactive installation at the on-site BMW Guggenheim Lab, currently in New York City

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OK, this is really fun, if not to be taken too seriously. Last month, the BMW Guggenheim Lab launched Urbanology online, a quick and fun game that forces users to make choices about urban issues, producing some quick findings based on the choices. I have long been interested in using online gaming to teach users about communities and sustainability. 

By answering ten questions about key city topics -- education, housing, health care, infrastructure, mobility and the like -- Urbanology users "build" a city that matches their indicated desires and needs. Based on their personal responses, each player's "Future City" is created and compared with other cities around the world.

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Some of the choices, like the one above that I was faced with, are not easy. And some presented starkly will seem very unfair to urbanists who deal in complex nuances. I found it pretty easy to tell what the popular answer was likely to be (after each one, the game tells you what portion of other players agree with you), and sometimes knew my choice was going to suggest beliefs that I really don't have. But it's all in good fun.

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The questions change each time you play, and the results can vary widely. I just played the game five times and was told my ideal cities would most resemble, in turn, Mumbai, Houston (!), Sao Paolo, Berlin, and San Francisco. Once, sustainability was determined to be my highest priority; another time, it was determined to be my lowest. Same with "lifestyle."

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After each round, you can click to get "more info," and see how important each of eight urban values is to you, according to the game. As I alluded, don't expect consistency. It's easy to pick choices that you know will lead to results that you want, but what fun is that?

Urbanology online is a companion to a large-scale, interactive installation at the on-site BMW Guggenheim Lab, currently in New York's East Village through October 16. Players can suggest questions for future Urbanology sessions online and at the Lab. The online game will continue to be available on the website after the BMW Guggenheim Lab leaves New York to travel to other cities around the world.

According to the sponsors' press release, the game experience for Urbanology was developed by Local Projects, and the physical design was created by ZUS [Zones Urbaines Sensibles]. The release states that the New York Lab Team -- comprising an environmental justice activist, an inventor, a journalist, and two architects -- is leading investigation into innovative concepts and designs for city life in response to the theme Confronting Comfort. Over six years, the BMW Guggenheim Lab will travel to nine cities around the world in three successive cycles, each with its own theme and mobile structure. After New York, the BMW Guggenheim Lab will travel to Berlin (spring 2012) and Mumbai (winter 2012-13).

To play Urbanology online, go here.

Image: Urbanology/BMW Guggenheim Lab.

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Presented by

Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. More

Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. He is the author or co-author of Once There Were Greenfields (NRDC 1999), Solving Sprawl (Island Press 2001), Smart Growth In a Changing World (APA Planners Press 2007), and Green Community (APA Planners Press 2009). In 2009, Kaid was voted one of the "top urban thinkers" on Planetizen.com, and he was named one of "the most influential people in sustainable planning and development" in 2010 by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. He blogs at NRDC's Switchboard.

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