Gamification may be the next big thing when it comes to city-making. Whether it’s finding ways to engage citizens to become more involved in building their cities, encouraging them to report blight and safety hazards or using civic feedback to respond to natural disasters, these five cities have found ways to use gamification to improve life for their citizens. And while some initiatives were launched by the city governments, others were created by private individuals or collaborators looking to create a more conscious civic environment in their cities.
- Oslo’s Traffic Agent
Developed by Vibeke Rørholt, the Oslo app Traffic Agent allows schoolchildren to give their input on urban planning. Designed as a spy game, the app allows children to act as “secret agents” for the city, live-reporting any difficulties or safety hazards that they encounter on their way to school. By tracking their location using GPS, the app can identify the exact location of hazards and provide feedback to the City, which can then take action. So far, children’s feedback has provided information that has allowed the City to rebuild crosswalks and fix sidewalks.
With a budget of €347,000 (US $387,000) from the City of Oslo, the Research Council of Norway and the consultancy Capgemini, the app came out of a two-year study by Rørholt for Norway’s Agency of the Urban Environment, which aimed to explore ways to encourage children to walk or cycle to school. Tasked with finding ways to make parents feel comfortable with their children walking to school, Rørholt turned to gamification, giving children a platform to provide their feedback on how they felt about walking to school.
So far, thirty-five schools have adopted the app across Oslo. In the interests of children’s privacy, information on the app is only visible to each student’s school.
2. Mexico City’s Mapatón CDMX
Better known as peseros, Mexico City’s buses have roughly 1,500 routes that crisscross their way around the Latin American city, accounting for 60% of commutes (roughly 14 million rides each day). But without an official route map, the bus schedule runs in a pretty haphazard fashion. Enter Mapatón CDMX (Mapathon, Mexico City) – a participatory mobile app game developed by a group of collaborators that attempts to make sense of the city’s largely improvised bus system.
Much like informal transit systems in many developing countries, most bus routes in Mexico City have developed organically in response to demand, which means that routes are communicated largely informally through friends and family. In an attempt to formalize the system, Mapatón CDMX designed a participatory game that drew on crowdsourced information from cell phones to come up with a map of the city’s bus routes. The group behind the project included 34 people from 14 different organizations, including nonprofits, think tanks, engineering firms, members of government bodies, and consultancies.
The mapathon brought together 3,500 participants during the first two weeks of February 2016, during which players earned points by riding peseros and sharing their GPS data and sending information about routes to the database. They were later able to trade their points in for money and other prizes, which the organizers provided in collaboration with the City. One of the team’s biggest challenges was the fact that only a quarter of Mexico City’s population has smartphones – most of which are concentrated in certain parts of the city. In order to cover different neighborhoods, the organizers established a dynamic algorithm system that incentivized participants to visit different neighborhoods depending on what had been mapped.
Over the course of 17 days, the project mapped a little over 2,600 rides across the city, covering an area the equivalent of 48,000 km (almost 30,000 miles). By crowdsourcing the process, the team was able to collect data that was equivalent to what they would have gathered if they had performed the mapping exercise continuously for 1.3 years, explains Cristian Guerroro, Director General of Krieger Electronics.
Jakarta, a city notorious for its seasonal flooding, found a way to formalize citizen information networks and respond to its frequent natural disasters with PetaJakarta (Map Jakarta). Capitalizing on citizens’ usage of Twitter to inform one another of areas to avoid during times of flooding, PetaJakarta utilizes the social media network as an emergency data gathering and critical alert service in order to “…gather, sort and display information about flooding for Jakarta residents in real time.” Citizens are also able to ask questions that they have about flooding in specific neighborhoods.
First launched in December 2014, PetaJakarta is led by the SMART Infrastructure Facility in collaboration with emergency management agency BPBD DKI Jakarta and Twitter. In February 2015, PetaJakarta.org mapped 1,000 flood sites around the city in real-time, creating a flood map that both the public and emergency services could use. BPBD DKI Jakarta used information from the map as an early warning system to identify and verify flood locations and adjust response times, as well as to communicate with residents in affected areas in real-time. Reports from the website also fed into Jakarta’s Smart City dashboard.
At the time of the flooding, the city’s governor called on government employees and residents to report flooding as part of heir civic duty.
4. New Orleans’ Big Easy Budget Game
Earlier this year, New Orleans launched an interactive website that allows the city’s residents to act as mayor of the city for a day (actually, for 10 minutes, which is how long it takes to play the game). Created by the People’s Budget New Orleans (PB NOLA) campaign of the Committee for a Better New Orleans (CBNO), Big Easy Budget Game gives each player $602 million and asks them to balance the budget while ensuring that the government’s key responsibilities are covered. Big Easy Budget Game gives players basic guidelines, instructing them on what each department is responsible for and what happens when they receive more or less money than they should. Players also have minimum limits for spending on each department as well restricted funding, including state and federal dollars.
The game was developed based on an in-person game that the team played with New Orleanians using beans. Following the success of the initial game, the CBNO decided to create a digital version of the game to reach a larger audience.
At the end of the year, the CBNO will compile the data into a crowdsourced meta-budget that they will call the People’s Budget and release with the City’s proposed budget in 2017, in effect, comparing how the city’s residents want to see their tax dollars spent with the administration’s actual allocations.
5. San Jose’s CitySourced
An app that allows citizens to report information about their city directly to officials, CitySourced does for its users much what Traffic Agent does for Osloite children. The app was first launched in 2010 in an attempt to speed up the process of reporting on city infrastructure and ensure that citizens remain engaged with their city. By allowing people to send geo-tagged photo of urban blight with a category, time stamp and a note from the user and feeding the data into the city’s back office servers, the app’s feedback is integrated into the city’s workflow management system.
According to one source, in addition to offering citizens with an alternative to visiting their local city hall or making a call to report problems in their community, the approach saves money, which each report costing as little as 0.25.
Although the app was first launched in San Jose, it has since expanded to tens of cities across eight countries.