Students enlist kid ‘experts’ to help build designs for urban planning

Student Megan Leckie and graduate Joseph Palmer have launched Block Builders, a Community Interest Company that imports map details into Minecraft so models of real-world places can be created.

Minecraft, dubbed ‘virtual Lego’, was bought by Microsoft for $2.5 billion in 2014 and now has more than 100 million registered players.

Megan, studying MSc in Town Planning and Joseph, who graduated from BA(Hons)Design and Craft in 2014 and MA Sustainable Design in 2016 and is now studying for a PhD met at the University in 2014.

They first used Minecraft with a group of eight to 13-year-old children from Lewes to redesign the town’s Phoenix Industrial Estate which was earmarked for redevelopment. This was part of a wider project which was funded by the Nominet Trust and created by Community 21.

Megan said: “We sat with them to talk about the things they liked and they wanted to change the whole area. One 11-year-old turned to us and said ‘We need to stop being so reliant on fossil fuels and start focusing on green energy’.”

The children turned what was a “dark and scary” place into green family area, with a park where alcohol and smoking is banned, wind turbines, a green house and allotments.

Megan said: “They created something really amazing. We showed adults and they were shocked it was created by children so young. So from here we thought this could be something that would be a good project to bring into the community and try and actually make a difference with”.

“What we’ve realised is that these kids are experts – this is their world and when we show their work to adults they say: ‘Oh, kids aren’t just on this silly game wasting time, blowing each other up’.

Block Builders now brings in children to plan areas earmarked for redevelopment and their ideas are converted into 3D architectural models for working with. Block Builders works with developers, local authorities, schools and educational trusts to engage with young people.

Funded by Innovate UK, the Government’s innovation agency, Block Builders is supported by Community21, the social design agency based at the University of Brighton and which supports sustainable community development.

Block Builders has helped on a number of projects including the development of Cambridge Football Ground, Yorkshire Building Society’s ‘a place called home’ branding campaign, and Brighton and Hove City Council’s plans to develop Valley Gardens.

​Joseph said: “We engage people who are often excluded from the consultation process by using such an easy-to-use platform. Children spend most of their lives being talked to and talked at so it’s really empowering for them to take control of the tech.”

Block Builders recently featured in The Planner, the magazine of the Royal Town Planning Institute.


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