Planning As Play: A fun approach to planning

By Cindy Ma, Graduate Student at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo

Community participation is a fundamental component to the planning process and offers local knowledge that informs and strengthens planning decisions. Through the involvement of the community in the planning process, people are able to take part in the creation and decision making of their communities. As the planning field evolves, so does the need for innovative and creative participation methods that stretch beyond typical town hall meetings and community workshops.

A fun participation method that has sprung up in the last couple of years is the concept of “planning as play,” as illustrated in “Place It!” by urban planner James Rojas. Inspired by the idea of learning through art, Rojas developed “Place It!” as an interactive participation technique that informs and engages people in the planning process. This form of community participation is a spin on traditional methods and focuses on stimulating the imagination and creativity of people to break the ice and produce insightful and thoughtful ideas.

Unlike traditional community meetings, a “Place It!” workshop consists of mainly play and little to no formal presentations or graphic visuals..Within an hour or so participants are asked to physically build their ideas about a particular planning topic - i.e. their ideal neighborhood, and then share it with the group. To build their ideas participants are provided with a sheet of construction paper and hundreds of randomly collected objects. These random objects include legos, buttons, bottle caps, yarn, and figurines, all collected by or given to Rojas over the years.

Through the use of these random objects, the “Place It!” workshop makes learning about and participating in the planning process a more abstract and fun activity. Participants engaged in the activity can let loose their imagination and feel free to express their ideas without worry of the final depiction needing to be accurately represented. There is no scale and no parameters involved, just paper, objects, and their ideas. The final result is often times an interesting art piece that lends itself to providing the participant with a sense of ownership and investment in the planning process.

As mentioned before, community participation plays an integral role in the planning process. With the ever-changing demographics and communities in cities, it is important to keep a fresh mind about different ways to engage as much of the community as possible. With initiatives such as “Place It!” and the concept of “planning as play,” community participation can be broadened to address the changing make-up of cities and be a fun and creative planning activity.