Addressing the Global Observance of World Cities Day 2019, UN-Habitat Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Sharif observed that innovation is often born in cities and should be used to improve life for everyone. “Imaginative ideas will allow us to be more efficient and effective in the way we manage our resources, we move people and goods, deliver our services and construct our infrastructure and buildings,” said Ms. Sharif.
The theme of WUF10 Cities of Opportunities: Connecting Culture and Innovation will explore the relationship between culture and innovation in the urban context and how it can be leveraged to promote sustainable urban development. To harness the power of innovation among the youth, UN-Habitat is implementing a project in Saudi Arabia which engages children in designing public spaces in their cities using Minecraft, a popular computer online block-by-block building game in which players create their own unique world using 1x1m blocks. UN-Habitat facilitators have been helping local school children to set priorities for their communities using Minecraft.
At a workshop organized by Future Urban Planners, boys and girls aged 10 to 13 years were engaged in urban design as part of the Block by Block project, a joint initiative between game-developer Mojang, Microsoft and UN-Habitat. The workshop was part of the Saudi Urban Forum which bought together local and international engineers, urban planners and designers to outline the vision for Saudi cities in 2030.
The children were presented with a model of Taibah Market Car Park in Riyadh and given three days to redesign it to their liking. Selected groups presented their ideas to leading professionals and government representatives at the closing session of the Forum. All the children wanted greenery, openness and inclusivity in their models. “We have put wheelchairs for people with disabilities, and lines on the floor for blind people to follow,” said 11-year old Jude. Other children chose to include an archery range, a greenhouse, an aquarium, food trucks, a roller coaster, a trampoline city and an urban farm in their models.
Following interactions between the children and government officials during the final presentations, Forum participants recommended a strong focus on inclusivity and participation. The children’s priorities were presented to the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs (MOMRA) for inclusion in urban planning for Saudi cities.
This initiative reinforces the UN-Habitat’s belief that when the appropriate, accessible, inclusive and affordable tools are used, ICT can be a catalyst for improving governance in towns and cities, increasing levels of participatory project planning and implementation, and enhancing efficiency and accountability in the development of public urban policies. Research shows that active engagement of urban youth through ICT can increase levels of civic engagement, shape public opinion, provide them new avenues of information, and inspire positive action.