What could be more fun than urban planning? Maybe a game that teaches planning concepts.
It’s called Cards Against Urbanity, and it allows a group of people to compete to supply the best answer -- sometimes funny, often a little dirty -- to planning questions posed by a player who acts as “mayor.” Created by a group of planners in the Washington, D.C., area, it’s a sanctioned variation of the extremely popular Cards Against Humanity, the politically incorrect fill-in-the-blank game with questions and answers that can skew naughty (to put it mildly). “There’s certainly something about an off-color card game that gets people going,” says Lisa Nisenson, founder of a startup called GreaterPlaces and one of the game’s originators. “It’s so much different than a planner standing at the head of the room with a PowerPoint.”
For that reason, the game was on every planner’s wish list this past Christmas. Firms are finding it’s a quick way to get interns up to speed on central ideas and terminology. More important, it’s proven useful as a way to get the various players involved in potential projects -- not just planners and architects but also engineers, city council members and the like -- to start speaking the same language. “It may open up some lines of communication that need to happen,” says Kristen Jeffers, who works on transit and other urbanism issues in Kansas City, Mo. “You can get some community engagement with it.”
Most of the cards cover general building and placemaking concepts, but each deck comes with some blanks that can be tailored to address issues in a particular area. This past November, a planning and design nonprofit in Richmond, Va., held an event built around cards featuring questions about local streets and sites. Addressing specific topics through humor helped foster understanding of places and projects, as well as the conflicts that can enshroud them.
The game is all about breaking down barriers, Nisenson says, offering an informal way to bust the jargony silos that separate, say, the transportation folks from those concerned about schools. Having discovered that game playing can help demystify problems in areas such as zoning, Nisenson and her partners this month are launching a second Kickstarter campaign to fund a new project that intends to focus more on design solutions, which will also be adapted for an iPad app to make discussions portable. She hopes to encourage more localities to customize their own materials. “Planners and architects can go in front of clients and start to get a better handle on what people want from a project,” Nisenson says.