[ By Steph in Architecture & Design, Games & Gaming, Technology & Futurism, Urbanism. ]

How can urban planners allow city officials, architects, builders and neighborhood residents to collaborate equally on new development projects? Online gaming. An unprecedented new  program called Betaville allows a group of users to influence and shape the end result of an urban design using a virtual environment reminiscent of games like The Sims.

This open-source multiplayer environment, created by a team at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University in partnership with the University of Applied Sciences in Bremen, Germany, can be used by everyone from individual residents to professional design firms, and every contribution is accessible to the entire group working on the project.

“In other words, the future of a street corner, a blank wall, a vacant lot, or an entire city can now be tinkered with on an ongoing basis at negligible cost by the full spectrum of subject matter experts: the people who know what it’s like to live there now, the people who know how to make new things happen… and people with great ideas to share, anywhere in the world, whenever they can and care to,” reads the Betaville website.

Betaville currently features a true-to-life 3D model of New York City which users can alter at will, moving buildings, importing new designs from programs like Google Sketchup, adding comments and proposing changes. One such proposal by Levis Reyes, a volunteer for the production group, is a five-pointed park and mixed use complex for the Battery Park area called “Liberty Piers” (pictured above at top).

Betaville is free to use and available for download now at the Brooklyn Experimental Media Center website.

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