What's New in City Design

Blocks & Lots Board and Online Game

Blocks & Lots is a game about land use, politics and urban redevelopment.  Users can play online or download the game, instructions and cards free.

Benefits and Problems Addressed

Role of zoning: Many citizens are not versed in how zoning shapes communities, why it can be controversial and how rezoning works. Block & Lots teaches the tensions among stakeholders when rezoning comes into play,

Broaden participation:  The project is an approachable way to engage across cultures and ages with several different languages and formats.

Demystify technical land use processes: Blocks & Lots personalizes the otherwise technical process, providing a window into the motivations of other stakeholders. Through experiential learning, players become familiar with complex web of legal and technical requirements, enabling their role as activist.

Tips & Techniques

History: Blocks & lots began as an idea from the People's Planning School in Los Angeles (L.A.) as the city updated the city's 35 community plans.  The city began working-class communities of color in South and East L.A. The original purpose of our project was to consolidate several education products and make them available on an interactive website and game. 

Partnerships: Before the official planning process, community organizations in South/East L.A. invented their own urban planning popular education programs. Organizations included Community Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment, Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, Trust South L.A. and Esperanza Community Housing Corporation (and their outreach corps of health professionals already versed in links between land use and public health). 

Game creation: In brainstorming, users settled on game design that would allow players to rezone a neighborhood and see the responses of different stakeholders. For a paper prototype, Esperanza's health outreach teams (promoturas) served as test end users since they would use the game to engage residents on planning and zoning. From testing, the teams decided to produce not only an online game, but a board game and workshop materials as well.

Game mechanics: The central design needed to imitate core elements of a land-use & zoning process: existing conditions, rezoning choices, various stakeholder motivations, overlapping & conflicting goals, and the politics involved. Mechanics needed to address negotiation, 

Game Elements: The game features the following elements to both represent, but also simplify the actual zoning process: (1) a game board with spatial relationships that exist among lots in a community; (2) Currency in the form of "influence tokens," (3) Individual & Community goals for winning/losing; (4) Time limits; (5) Planned conversations and negotiations; (6) Ability to adapt as new community issues arise.

Online version: The online version is somewhat altered to allow single players. In making the game interactive, pop-up dialogue boxes mimic the negotiations activity in the board game.

Hot Buttons: Game development can be time intensive given the number of iterations needed to get it right with test end users. The game designers struggled with how to introduce solutions typically outside of the legal zoning process (e.g., community benefit agreements, mitigation options).


Blocks & Lots

Article: Making Blocks & Lots: A Window into Learning and Creativity

Images: Blocks & Lots Website