During the week 10-14 October 2016, I had the chance to attend the ‘Games for Cities’ training school in Amsterdam. The training school was part of the CyberParks COST action, and the central topic was Circular Amsterdam: Cities, Public Space, Play. The main organisers were Martijn de Waal and Gabriele Ferri from the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, and Ekim Tan from Play the City
The main focus was on investigating “how play and games can be used to engage and activate citizens around the advent of a ‘circular economy’, with a focus on the flows of food and waste”. Taking a playful, game approach to city-making facilitates engaging different stakeholders in discussing and imagining future developments. This wasn’t my first encounter with the concept of “Circular Economy” (a SIG on this topic exists at the University of Limerick and my host university, TU Delft, is offering a MOOC on the topic), but seeing concrete examples and adopting this mindset definitely helped framing our mission for the training school.
The 5 days programme included presentations by and discussions with various specialists in game design and in the Circular Economy, as well as briefings offered by a number of local organisations on topics they brought to the table as case studies. The majority of the time was dedicated to work in interdisciplinary teams to design a prototype for a city game to take place in a specific location in Amsterdam.
The 19 participants (‘trainees’) were asked to opt for the selected case studies before the training school. The trainers’ task was to coach, nudge, inspire and share knowledge. The participants came from different backgrounds and from all over Europe. Each of them had impressive practices and achievements, and I had the chance to learn from them more than they probably learnt from me.
The first day was dedicated to introductions, general presentations and warming up with some games. We started with the Circular Economy game, designed by Play the City.
Later in the afternoon, there were presentations on City Games, Circularity and Games Design. The day ended with a scenario game at Mediamatic, that I had to skip because of my daily commute to Delft, where I was based. On the second day, we listened to presentations from representatives of the five ‘clients’ who provided the case studies for each of the teams. The first, from the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions, introduced the concept of Urban Mining. The second one was introduced by Arjan Wardekker from Utrecht University, and was connected to water and reflecting on situations where a city has too little or too much water, what can be done to reuse grey water, rain water and so on. The third case introduced a European project run by Waag Society, Urban AirQ, which enables citizens to measure the quality of air in a polluted area of the city by distributing DIY devices. The next step is to reflect on potential behaviour changes and their own roles and that of the neighbourhood in making these possible. The fourth case focused on waste streams at an experimental site in the North of Amsterdam, Noordoogst. Maarten Mulder from the Urban Technology group at the Amsterdam University of Applied Science talked to us about the efforts for building a Circular Economy system at this location that includes at the moment a pancake restaurant, a bakery, bee hives, a kindergarten, a vineyard, offices, a take-away restaurant and a hostel. The last case was introduced by Francesca Miazzo from Wasted , a system developed for Amsterdam Nord in 2014 to recycle plastic waste. After a trainers’ coordination meeting, I joined the team working on waste streams in Noordoogst, as I found this development intriguing. After a discussion with Maarten and some brainstorming, we decided to make a trip to see the place. It wasn’t easy to get there- we had to catch a bus from the train station and walk quite a bit. We met the hostel owner in front of the hostel itself and he gave us the Grand Tour. There is a lot of potential, but also doubts that the municipality will extend the lease after the current contract ends.
In the evening, we went to Pakhuis de Zwijger for a “City Game Talk Show”, which was open to the public. Ilaria Mariani, Kars Alfrink, Francesca Miazzo, Michiel de Lange and Lucy Chamberlain gave short talks and participated in a panel discussion. I missed the following day’s activities, as I had meetings scheduled in Delft.
On Thursday, Silvia Tagliazucchi spoke about her work with Architetti di strada, an interdisciplinary group including architects, human rights activists, sociologists, communication & environment specialists, and the process used in Modena to find solutions together with the citizens. Maria Tome Nuez presented her perspective on digital/physical hybridation and co-creating with the citizens. Michael Nagenborg gave us his philosophical perspective on playful interactions, illustrated with interesting examples of games such as Papers, please! , Cutthroat capitalism and September 12th.We continued working with the teams and the prototypes started taking shape. Games titles started emerging: Food loop, Carzilla, Fun plastic…
On Friday we heard Lada Hrsak talking about storytelling, futuring, agents and actors in street communities. Lada is an architect running her own company and has worked on a lot of fascinating projects all around the world This was my first exposure to performative architecture and it was like a new door opened! Ryan Pescatore Frisk from Strange Attractors presented some of their projects using typography, game design and connections between the physical and digital world.
The work on the 5 projects continued until the afternoon, when the whole group moved to Pakhuis de Zwijger for the public presentation of the game prototypes.