A few months ago Bronwyn Lally from Brecon Beacons National Park came to introduce us to an exciting new project. Their technicians had built Hay in Minecraft!
The idea of the project is to get people involved in planning so that everyone can test ideas and see what knock-on effects the potential buildings would have on the whole town. The Minecraft world allows you to build things in parts, and also gives a good impression of Hay and the areas surrounding it.
The initial project has lasted several months so far, with the layout and buildings continually being improved. When we first saw the prototype of Hay in Minecraft, it was hard to distinguish the buildings and where you were. As the technicians worked on it, the constructions looked a lot more real.
I think the technicians have done an excellent job of making Hay realistic; as in Minecraft there are no curves or slopes.
It has been fantastic to be one of the first people in Hay’s Minecraft world, and I have really enjoyed building and making it more realistic.
I think it’s a great idea to get younger people more engaged in the planning, we are the ones who will be affected by it the future, so let us have a say!
In October 2015 four of us from Hay Festival Scribblers were introduced to a great project developed by the Brecon Beacons National Park (BBNP) – an exact replica of Hay in Minecraft – all of the houses, the river Wye and streets were exactly the same as in real life!
The point of the project is to engage young people in architecture and planning of the town. For example, you wouldn’t put a huge skyscraper in the small town like Hay as it is would look completely out of place, but you could look at places in town where affordable houses could be built and decide how they would be constructed.
We were given this opportunity as the BBNP wanted to test it out before they shared it with other young people and schools. It was really fun and a great way to be creative.
However, there were some rules. We weren’t allowed to go around the town and randomly blow things up! We did, though, try to blow up the community hall but disappointingly the wi-fi stopped working before we could. (Apparently we’d used too much TNT anyway.)
The Scribblers helped to make Hay in Minecraft look more realistic. I helped to build Shepherds Ice-cream Parlour, Bartrums stationary shop, RM Jones Pharmacy and Country Supplies. Other buildings that the Scribblers contributed to included, Hay Primary School¸ Richard Booth’s Bookshop, Eve Victoria’s and Eighteen Rabbit.
We were very privileged to be involved with this project at such an early stage, as we were the first people other than the BBNP to know about it and then to see it.
On the 18 October, Bronwyn Lally from Brecon Beacons National Park (BBNP) came to the Drill Hall to introduce us to a new project centred around the development of areas such as ours. The aim was to recreate the town in the video game Minecraft, focusing on experimenting with architectural development and planning, seeing what works and what doesn’t.
It allows young people who have no experience to be part of the decisions made about the landscape around them. Is someone proposing to build a skyscraper in the town centre? Make a digital construction using the plans and show why it might or might not be a good idea, then make a decision.
The project has become increasingly detailed since we began our preview, moving from a crudely outlined land area of the town to a fully rendered and expansive reconstruction of all buildings. However, the buildings did not contain details such as doors and interiors, which is where we got involved.
As you read this, the project will be live and the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority are already building prototype recreations of other towns in the National Park, which will hopefully give young people across the region a say in their future.
As a planning policy officer for the National Park I mostly deal in abstract concepts about the future. Predicted trends in population growth drive the need to plan in detail for housing and employment needs, whilst trying to protect those elements of place which make it special. It’s quite often a difficult balance, and everyone involved to use a degree of imagination to understand how the issues will play out in 10 or 15 years’ time. The statutory development plan for the area, the Local Development Plan or LDP, is the vehicle we use to bring all these issues together, and through it attempt a vision for the future development of the National Park which is agreed by all those who have a stake in it.
In the past we have had difficulty getting communities to fully engage in the process of writing a plan. Imagining the issues and then thinking them through to resolution is a tough ask, and because of that the arguments around what is the best for an area tend to be conducted between planning professionals, both council planners and developers, those people who know how to speak ‘planning language.’ We as professional officers lacked the skills to make it real for the communities.
As a planning officer I can understand why communities find this process so frustrating, I have to admit, it’s frustrating for us planning officers who genuinely care about improving the communities we are fortunate to serve. That is why we decided to try and pilot working with communities to enable them to write their own mini plans that address the key issues for themselves. We have been working with Hay Town Council as a pilot area to write a plan for Hay that is based on a residents survey and will hopefully when completed become supplementary to the adopted plan and be used to determine planning applications. However, the task of imagining the development of place was still a real challenge to us.
Luckily though I am fortunate enough to work with some real creative minds within the Authority and it just so happens that some of the work that the IT department was doing around GIS has presented itself as a real exciting opportunity to address this issue. Using Minecraft and some other amazing geekery we have been able to recreate the Town of Hay on Wye in 3D for stakeholders to get creative with. The Minecraft Hay sets out all the land based policies within the world, allowing users to visualise the impacts and provide possible solutions to issues identified in an easy way. It’s a really exciting project that is currently just starting out, but we hope that the community will run with it (just like they did with the Town Plan) and start playing around with the Minecraft world in order to attempt to realise what Hay needs to develop in the future for real. I see this as a real tool to bridge the gap between the abstract world of policy planning and the every day. By using Minecraft we are employing a language that many people already know and can use with ease (unlike planning leagilease). I’m really excited to see how Hay develops within the Minecraft world once its open to the community, and I really really really hope that the results will be a better planned out Hay based on the views of our interactive community.