The Plan-o-Mat

Being inspired by co-creation and community projects, I propose the Plan-o-Mat. This might be an on-line tool to make a plan by yourself using simple means, in this example elaborated for a city park. The tool consists of a number of sliders, which the user can operate to add elements to the park, such as water, trees, paths, etc. Each action costs money and having a limited budget requires choices to be made – simply putting all con- trols at a maximum is not possible. The program organises the park elements automatically according to the park style set, for instance modern, natural, classical, etc. The result is displayed on the screen and can be uploaded on a web site.

Obviously, a tool like this doesn’t replace the landscape architect at all, regardless of the number of settings possible. But it does offer the opportunity to discover the preferences of future park users in a very playful way. How do they want to recreate? Do they want a large water surface or not? An open landscape or covered with trees? In addition, the plan-o-mat provides citizens insight into the costs of building the park. The playful approach is intended to increase the response. The Plan-o-Mat is an opportunity to involve people in the planning process and in the discussion. Care in the use of such a planning tool is essential. It must be made very clear that the images that are uploaded cannot be a final drawing for a park, but are in fact the starting point for the actual planning process: present the plans that are uploaded on a web site and invite people to rate or discuss them on-line. Organise meetings with residents and a landscape architect – using the uploaded proposals – and develop promising plans further. And finally: inform anyone who has made a contribution to the discussion about how their input is being used.

The Plan-o-Mat comprises several game characteristics. It’s design can be attractive, the use is intuitive (notice the illustrations). The design asks for interaction, the reward is the self-designed city park which can be uploaded. The challenge is in uploading a design that will become popular perhaps even executed. Not for real, obviously. And the possibility to upload and discuss online gives the Plan-o-mat a social dimension.

Maurice Berix