Rafah, Gaza Strip, 25 August , 2017 – UN-Habitat in partnership with UN Women, the Palestinian Housing Council, Aisha Association for Woman and child protection, and GGateway are creating a safe and inclusive public space in the Al-Shoka area in Rafah city in order to improve the urban environment and the living conditions of residents, in particular children and youth.

The initiative is pioneering the use of the popular Minecraft video game for the first time in Gaza Strip as a tool to engage the community in the design process of the public space, and builds on UN Habitat’s previous public space interventions in Sur Baher and Wadi Al Joz neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem.

Around 40 community members, mainly youth and women, participated in the 3 day workshop that included discussions on good public space design, the importance of community participation, and how to use Minecraft as a tool for engaging the community in the design process. The participants were divided into teams and built their visions of the public space within the virtual environment of Minecraft.

Increased sense of belonging

On the last day, the participants presented their designs and a group discussion was held to agree on the proposed facilities and services. Afterwards a final model that combines the agreed upon ideas was developed which will be the base that the landscape architect will develop the final public space design upon.

“We are very happy that we participated in the design of the public space that will be constructed in our town, our participation in the planning and design of public spaces encourages us to take the ownership of the public properties and increases the sense of belonging,” said Saeed, one of the participants. “I am eager to see the public space that inspired by our designs and imaginations implemented on the ground.”

Pontus Westerberg, Digital Projects Officer at UN-Habitat's noted that UN-Habitat and Mojang – the creator of Minecraft – have a global partnership called  “Block by Block”, which aims to involve youth in the planning process in urban areas by giving them the opportunity to show planners and decision makers how they would like to see their cities in the future.

“I am impressed with the commitment and efforts exerted by the local community to produce attractive designs, which indicate the strong will and desire to improve the standard of living within their neighborhoods despite the hard conditions they suffer from, and I look forward to seeing the final public space based on the ideas generated in this workshop,” said Westerberg.

Visual and intuitive

The importance of utilizing Minecraft rests on its ability to engage community members, especially youth from both genders, in a highly visual and intuitive manner that allows the expression of their needs and opinions. Minecraft is a critical tool for democratizing public space and broader spatial planning processes in a cost-effective and highly interactive manner.

“It is extremely essential to invest in the community empowerment and capacity building to enhance the socio-economic situation in Gaza Strip, now we are focusing on strengthening the capacity of women and youth to participate in an effective decision-making process on different levels (planning, design, and implementation), utilizing innovative tools and approaches” said Zeyad Elshakra, Head of UN Habitat office in the State of Palestine.

This initiative is implemented under the “Utilizing digital tools to promote human rights and create Inclusive public spaces in Gaza Strip” project, which is funded by the Government of the Kingdom of Belgium.