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Ekim Tan's TEDx Talk

Script Dr. Ekim Tan's TEDx Talk

Rational Plans?

Meet the refugee camp Al Zaatari from Jordan, just as in Delft 100.000 people live here, the difference is that this settlement happened in the last 3 years. Zaatari was planned for refugees from Syria, based on UN’s well engineered camp models, resembling Roman military towns actually.

Do you know what has become the largest economic activity in this camp lately? Correcting the rational layout of the camp plan! To carry their homes to the right locations fitting their social and cultural needs, Syrian refugees invented these wheels.

Not that effective! Does this also make you curious? How our advanced engineering skills and knowledge for making cities can perform so incredibly inefficiently…

Fine Dutch Tradition

I relocated to the Netherlands as a young graduate architect from Istanbul. More than anything else, I was happy to leave behind a city which neglected its architects. I thought the designer in me would finally find peace by leaving a city which had grown into a metropolis of 14 million without the signature of any architect. In my new land, architects were taken seriously! Stronger even, they belonged to the praised establishment of a fine city building tradition. Turning down my acceptance to Harvard Graduate School, I packed my suitcase to study in TUDelft, to the land where founding fathers of the modernist city planning once lived; Aldo van Eyck, Jacob Bakema, Cornelis van Eesteren. It was head-spinning to learn how the Dutch have been crafting cities in the last century. making good quality housing available for masses, inventing social city forms such as woonerven where elderly and children feel safe image: Almere haven, physically and socially engineered new towns on claimed land.


2 years later, there I was earning my master degree in urban design, cum laude, and could go on with a phd research in TU Delft… Fantastic!

But it was impossible to ignore the mismatch, somewhere between the glorious history of city engineering and fast political financial and technological changes the new century brought along, things just did not seem to fall in place. it was too often that we were hearing about the failing masterplans, bankrupting housing corporations, graying new towns… Not only here in NL, but also worldwide blueprint schemes in the hands of single dominating powers were imploding: the ghost city Ordos in China, built to house 1 million inhabitants… Sesena from Spain costing millions to its investors, today shown hardly any sign of life. 100.000 Angry Citizens, in the streets protesting how their public money is being spent in Stuttgart 21 project, demonstrations, or Istanbul’s Gezi movement, the youth rebelling against one of 21st century’s most repressive governments to protect a public park in the centre of the city

Both in the refugee camps of Jordan, and in more developed parts of the world, is there space left for un-negotiated and expensive investments where large amounts -mostly public budgets- are wasted? how does a visionary state go into conversation with her communities, and balance the growing power of market parties in building and maintaing our cities?

Le Corbusier’s Hand and looking for new ways…

I always this this photo pretty much sums up the last century’s city planning:hand of the expert representing singular state power introducing how the society must be settled I believe 21st century’s city making will differ dramatically from this picture: I believe City Gaming is 21st century city-making. Playing to produce negotiated urban strategies, soon we will stop producing frozen master plans and instead we will play our cities… In this game, there is space for both experts and other well-informed and engaged stakeholders

Based on real time information and real stakeholders, we can play to create dynamic plans… I say this because I dedicated last 7 years of my life to find out unexplored potentials of games for city making. Since 2008 with my team I have been experimenting and maturing a city gaming method tested in cities such as Istanbul, Tirana, Brussels, Amsterdam, Cape Town and more. I realise there are more cities with highly complex challenges and City Gaming as a 21st century city-making method could make a difference. But before jumping quickly to how we can play cities, let me first introduce what games are and how they are relevant to city making.


The reality is complex and difficult to grasp; and we constantly look for ways to simplify and understand it. Games are great in simplifying the reality. Particular challenges and players can be modelled within a game as they are built around clear goals and rules on which Mao insistently reported his generals would play to model military strategies. Moving towards the given target happens as players interact with one another; they either compete or collaborate…

At Play the City; we tailor particularities of a real urban challenge as well as all engaged stakeholders into a game. The game environment is the 3D physical model of the real city area. We interview and map real stakeholders mapped according to their interdependencies, in the game, players interact, conflict or collaborate. As stakeholders play, based on given simple interaction and design rules they find the opportunity to re-define individual and shared interests to build consensus. This way negotiate future scenarios, plans, projects. City Gaming is 21st century city-making method where all stakeholders will co-produce dynamic plans. This way, we will able to adjust themselves to the fast altering conditions of the society.

Powerful and simple language of games help discarding complicated jargon, bringing very diverse backgrounds to exchange ideas, make choices and realise plans more efficiently. Being multiplayer, makes games an advanced participation method where crowds learn, while enjoying interaction. This is exactly why city Gaming is a perfect 21st century city-making method.

Gaming for Real Cities

In Istanbul, the city game helped us connect members of highly stigmatised groups to test potential future scenarios for istanbul’s controversial urban transformation question. When big money conflicts with social, historical and cultural contexts, games prove to be perfect tools to address the very sensitivities of various social groups.

Cape Town’s largest township, Khayelitsha, in dire need of urban development with stakeholders refusing to engage in conversations of the post-apartheid planning; games come in very handy. For building shared narratives but also strategising common futures, In november 2014, over 100 stakeholders joined the city game including informal traders, councillors, planners, designers, local businesses and land owners image: stakeholders in various game sessions.

Games for cities offer unexplored potentials for the 21st century city, where not only choices of one or two dominating party rule, but where all various visions carve their way into holistic visions.

Not only for slums of istanbul or townships of Cape Town, but also for the very urban questions we face here in the developed West, we urgently need dynamic and open ways for planning our cities. Imagine… the slowed down Spoorzone here in Delft, where parts of the project and the overall vision is taken on hold… Could we not we use innovative city making methods which scan utilize, playful and can secure holistic visions for diverse communities

i strongly believe games are one of the working methods that will help us create, maintain and manage our cities in the 21st century

Ekim Tan

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