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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

Let's play Urbanology!

Kaid Benfield

Posted September 9, 2011

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  opening slide for Urbanology online (by: BMW Guggenheim Lab)

OK, this is really fun, if not to be taken too seriously.  Last month, the BMW Guggenheim Lab launched Urbanology online, a quick and fun game that forces users to make choices about urban issues, producing some quick findings based on the choices. I have long been interested in using online gaming to teach users about communities and sustainability. 

By answering ten questions about key city topics—education, housing, health care, infrastructure, mobility and the like—Urbanology users “build” a city that matches their indicated desires and needs.  Based on their personal responses, each player's "Future City" is created and compared with other cities around the world.

  sample question from Urbanology online (by: BMW Guggenheim Lab) 

Some of the choices, like the one above that I was faced with, are not easy.  And some presented starkly will seem very unfair to urbanists who deal in complex nuances.  I found it pretty easy to tell what the popular answer was likely to be (after each one, the game tells you what portion of other players agree with you), and sometimes knew my choice was going to suggest beliefs that I really don’t have.  But it’s all in good fun.

  some of Kaid's results from Urbanology online (by: BMW Guggenheim Lab) 

The questions change each time you play, and the results can vary widely.  I just played the game five times and was told my ideal cities would most resemble, in turn, Mumbai, Houston (!), Sao Paolo, Berlin, and San Francisco.  Once, sustainability was determined to be my highest priority; another time, it was determined to be my lowest.  Same with “lifestyle.” 

  some of Kaid's results from Urbanology online (by: BMW Guggenheim Lab) 

After each round, you can click to get “more info,” and see how important each of eight urban values is to you, according to the game.  As I alluded, don’t expect consistency.  It’s easy to pick choices that you know will lead to results that you want, but what fun is that?

Urbanology online is a companion to a large-scale, interactive installation at the on-site BMW Guggenheim Lab, currently in New York's East Village through October 16.  Players can suggest questions for future Urbanology sessions online and at the Lab. The online game will continue to be available on the website after the BMW Guggenheim Lab leaves New York to travel to other cities around the world.

According to the sponsors’ press release, the game experience for Urbanology was developed by Local Projects, and the physical design was created by ZUS [Zones Urbaines Sensibles].  The release states that the New York Lab Team—comprising an environmental justice activist, an inventor, a journalist, and two architects—is leading investigation into innovative concepts and designs for city life in response to the theme Confronting Comfort.  Over six years, the BMW Guggenheim Lab will travel to nine cities around the world in three successive cycles, each with its own theme and mobile structure. After New York, the BMW Guggenheim Lab will travel to Berlin (spring 2012) and Mumbai (winter 2012–13).

To play Urbanology online, go here.

Thanks to John Grant for reminding me about Urbanology.  Move your cursor over the images for credit information.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog's home page.

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Melissa Everett, Ph.D.Sep 9 2011 06:28 PM

Urbanology looks fascinating and I'm contacting you because you seem to be focusing on engaging the imagination to engage people in environmental stewardship & sustainable communities.

I have been introduced to the author of a very readable, just-published thriller on the theme of climate change and intrigues in the Arctic - Melting Down by Harvey Stone ( The science behind the novel was vetted by Dr. Stephen Running of the IPCC, and the author wrote the book to advance awareness for climate action. He's interested in offering special sales opportunities to NGOs for their use in fundraising and education. I thought the book might be worth a review on your blog, and that NRDC might be interested in talking with Harvey about using Melting Down as a gift to donors to your climate change programs.


Melissa Everett, Ph.D.
cell 845-514-8567

Kaid @ NRDCSep 9 2011 06:46 PM

Melissa, thanks for the tip, which I am passing along to our climate team.

Christopher WilliamsSep 12 2011 07:49 AM

Thank you for sharing, this was a lot of fun. I have to wonder though, how accurate is this little game if the results are so varied? I guess that only adds to the fun of doing it several times!

Trish WeberSep 13 2011 05:40 PM

on first pass my city most resembled houston and my highest priority was sustainability? really? houston is a model of sustainability? i see why you said don't take it seriously! but it does seem like a fun game, especially to try to game the outcome, as it were. how do i get my future city to look like portland? that's what i want to know.

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