International Conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD) (7th : 2015)

Learning how to make trade-offs in pursuit of sustainable urban development : building a serious game van Stigt, Rien; Heere, Elger; van den Berg, Daniël; Haydary, Maisam; de Hoon, Wouter; den Ouden, Gideon; Spierings, Rens Jun 30, 2015

Your browser doesn't seem to have a PDF viewer, please download the PDF to view this item.

Item Metadata


52657-Stigt_R_et_al_EESD15_024_Learning_How_To.pdf [ 315.68kB ]
JSON: 52657-1.0064723.json
JSON-LD: 52657-1.0064723-ld.json
RDF/XML (Pretty): 52657-1.0064723-rdf.xml
RDF/JSON: 52657-1.0064723-rdf.json
Turtle: 52657-1.0064723-turtle.txt
N-Triples: 52657-1.0064723-rdf-ntriples.txt
Original Record: 52657-1.0064723-source.json
Full Text

Full Text

LEARNING HOW TO MAKE TRADE-OFFS IN PURSUIT OF SUSTAINABLE URBAN DEVELOPMENT: BUILDING A SERIOUS GAME Rien van Stigt1,2, Elger Heere1, Daniël van den Berg1, Maisam Haydary1, Wouter de Hoon1, Gideon den Ouden1 and Rens Spierings1 1 Utrecht University of Applied Sciences, the Netherlands 2 Abstract: Sustainable urban development is not a goal in itself; it is about maintaining and enhancing the quality of life within a city, without jeopardizing the natural and man-made systems that bring about this quality. Urban quality is known to be a multidimensional concept, which makes it difficult to manage. Furthermore, the indicators that are used to steer and monitor urban quality include objective as well as subjective variables; therefore, urban quality means different things to different actors. Local governments, urban planners and their advisors, in their pursuit of sustainable urban development, are facing serious dilemma’s that arise from this illusive character of what we call ‘urban quality’. They strive for high densities – which allows for a high level of amenities and public transport and minimizes conversion of green and open space into urban areas – but in the meantime have to minimize nuisance, pollution and risk. They make trade-offs between space for residential buildings and parks, or between the advantages of living close to the station and the downside of it, being bothered by railway noise. They have a tight budget, but also want to prepare for the effects of climate change. In short: they must balance a lot of different interests advocated by almost as many stakeholders. Apart from the technical aspects of urban quality, engineers who are concerned with designing and building the city must know how to deal with the ‘soft’ side of it: how can diverging interests be brought together or, if this is not possible, how can optimal trade-offs be made? Following a ‘learning-by-doing’ approach, we wanted to develop a serious game that would confront players with diverging interests in a particularly difficult case, namely the redevelopment of an inner-city area close to a railway station. We had a team of five students (from our geo-informatics, urban planning and real estate management programs) analyse the most important stakeholders and their interests and build a serious game, based on an existing game engine. We adopted a two-pronged strategy: 1: analyse existing urban projects of this type, combined with basic training of the game's concept and engine; 2: convert the analysis into a storyboard of stakeholders, actions, indicators and interrelationships. Apart from a first working prototype of the game, the learning effect of this pilot project was that students became aware of the importance of communicating and negotiating between stakeholders. 1 INTRODUCTION In the pursuit of sustainable urban development, urban planners have to balance social, economic and environmental interests. These interests are frequently conflicting, and trade-offs between many different aspects of the development at hand have to be made in a setting that is further complicated by the interplay of a good many actors, who all contribute to the final outcome.  Engineering students who, in their professional lives, will be concerned with designing and building the city must know how to deal with the ‘soft’ side of sustainable urban development: how can all these diverging interests be brought together or, if this is not possible, how can optimal trade-offs be made? We EESD’15    The 7th International Conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development Vancouver, Canada, June 9 to 12, 2015  024-1 wanted to enable students to take a ‘learning-by-doing’ approach, by playing a serious game that confronts players with important roles in urban development, together with their diverging interests in a particularly difficult case, namely the redevelopment of an inner-city area close to a railway station.   The paper describes how a team of students took up this challenge. It is constructed as follows: first, it highlights the role of ‘quality’ in sustainable urban development and how it is governed. In the next section, we look into the value of role playing games and computer-based games in acquiring competences to deal with diverging interests by finding ‘win-win situations’ and making trade-offs. Section 4 describes our objectives and approach, after which section 5 presents the game that was developed by the student team. In section 6 we present some preliminary results and learning outcomes and the final section presents our conclusions and a short reflection. 2 URBAN QUALITY AND ITS GOVERNANCE Sustainable urban development is the process of maintaining or increasing the quality of human life, while preserving the conditions for this process to continue (Fischer & Amekudzi, 2011). In all research that has been devoted to understanding what constitutes this quality and how it can be assessed, the concept of ‘quality of life’ is invariably considered to be multidimensional (Felce & Perry, 1995; Fischer & Amekudzi, 2011; Lee, 2008; Marans, 2003; Van Kamp et al., 2003). However, these studies differ considerably in regard to the domain of human life considered, the dimensions that are distinguished and the indicators used to assess these dimensions. In this paper, only one of many possible domains is considered, namely the quality of our urban environment, henceforth ‘urban quality’. It can be defined as the ability of the physical environment to satisfy the needs of human beings, ecosystems and artefacts (Opschoor & Reijnders, 1991; Van Kamp et al., 2003). The concept relates to many different physical aspects, ranging from the concentration of pollutants in the atmosphere to the presence of cultural amenities, the distance to the nearest form of public transport or the amount of green and open space. Dimensions of urban quality might then be gauged from those of quality of life, which overlaps it (Van Kamp et al., 2003), considering only those aspects that pertain to the physical surroundings in a city. In an even stricter sense, ‘environmental quality’ can be conceptualized as pertaining to only those aspects of ‘urban quality’ that are related to environmental pollution (of air, water and soil and by noise, odour and industrial risk) and that affect peoples’ health and well-being.  ‘Environmental quality’ – in this stricter sense – is often assessed in terms of quantitative indicators, like concentrations of odour or airborne pollutants, noise levels or ambient temperature. Other aspects of the wider concept of ‘urban quality’ can either be expressed in numerical values – e.g. the distance to the nearest bus stop, dentist or grocery store – or in rather subjective measures, like social cohesion, architectural quality, satisfaction with the number and quality of amenities, or with the view from one’s living room window, and so on. Furthermore, the numbers indicating quality aspects, like odour or noise, may be at odds with residents’ actual experiences, in that they feel that a certain amount of noise or smell is not annoying at all – or vice versa. This partial subjectivity of quality aspects calls for interactive ways of assessing quality and, thus, for deliberation and negotiation during decision-making about an urban plan.  ‘Urban quality’ is thus the outcome of a decision-making process in which economic, social and environmental interests are weighed (Campbell, 1996). Environmental quality – in the aforementioned strict sense, namely the level of pollutants, noise and risk – is an integral part of this negotiating process. Particularly in cases where land is scarce, where different types of land use are in close proximity to one another and where many stakeholders have claims on the little space that is left amidst a host of activities, environmental impacts are usually high and cumulative and desired spatial development may be hampered by environmental standards that put limits to the levels of noise and pollution in the area (Howley et al., 2009; Van Rij & Korthals Altes, 2013; Van Stigt et al., 2013a). As cities all over the world respond to the challenge of sustainable urban development by converting previously developed land into high density and mixed-use urban areas (e.g. Chen et al., 2008), such conflicts between environmental quality and urban development are widespread.   024-2 Generally, as a way out of the societal complexity of which this type of conflict is an example, administrative powers are devolved from the central state upon lower levels of government – typically municipalities – and upon non-governmental institutions, a process known as decentralization (De Roo, 2000; Lane, 2003). As some aspects of decision-making about spatial plans are left to the discretion of municipal authorities, all within certain limits and under certain substantive and process conditions, other aspects remain within the competence of higher tiers of government. Thus, an intricate legal framework is created, in which rules, laid down by national government are interpreted and implemented by lower levels of the state to create their own, local, decision-making framework.  However, plans for sustainable urban development cannot be made by local authorities in isolation. Power to intervene in the environment is distributed over many private and public actors at different levels (Hooghe & Marks, 2001; Meadowcroft, 2007), both in terms of spatial scale and of government tiers. Spatial planning, therefore, entails decision-making by multiple actors in multiple decision-making arenas or networks (Van Bueren et al., 2003). Within these networks, stakeholders negotiate a common problem definition and a line of action they jointly agree upon (Teisman, 2000), within the limits and under the conditions imposed by the legal framework that constitutes the boundaries within which decision-making has to take place. This is, as Meadowcroft (2007) calls it, ‘an approach to governance that consciously employs interactions with other power centers to define and realize goals, and that encourages reflection (within government but also across society) about societal circumstances in order to reassess practices and adjust initiatives’.  Although it is widely accepted that such deliberations must be informed by scientific knowledge (Nutley, Morton et al., 2010), it is equally accepted that decision-making is a bounded-rational process (Nilsson & Dalkmann, 2009). Considerations of viable alternatives and their societal effects, such as cost and environmental impact, doe play a role in decision-making, but there is a limit beyond which ‘just adding more science’ does not yield better outcomes (Owens et al., 2004). Rather, environmental considerations may gain importance quite independently from the decision-making process at hand and then be included in the deliberations (Dalkmann et al., 2004; Nilsson & Dalkmann, 2009; Van Stigt et al., 2013b). 3 LEARNING HOW TO MAKE TRADE-OFFS: SERIOUS GAMING In engineering education, we teach our students the scientific and technical aspects of urban quality. However, engineers who are concerned with designing and building the city must also know how to bring diverging interests together or, if this is not possible, how to make optimal trade-offs. Like much else, this can be best learned taking a ‘learning-by-doing’ approach. To today’s students, a serious game is attractive and it is believed to be a sound way of learning about the processes that take place in multiple-actor decision-making processes in urban planning (Pel et al., 2013).   There are several definitions on serious games, but one of the most used definitions is “A serious game in which education (in its various forms) is the primary goal, rather than entertainment” (Michael & Chen, 2006). A problem with this definition is that entertainment is also an important part of serious game. Entertainment is one of the critical success factors in a serious game. A serious game hardly differs from an entertainment game. Both kinds of games have a story line, a game play, an interface and visualizations (Te Velde et al., 2007). But with entertainment games the emphasis is on ‘joy’, whereas with serious games the emphasis is on the learning outcomes (Coppes et al., 2009). Therefore, in a design process for a serious game, it’s important to know these learning outcomes.   Serious games are considered as a powerful didactic tool, because students have more motivation to learn. They enjoy learning by games, they can concentrate longer in comparison with lessons in a classroom, there is a competitive element and there is an immediate response on actions of the players (Coppes et al., 2009).   A role playing game confronts players with diverging interests. A computer-based role playing game, in addition, offers the opportunity to convey to the players some indication of the consequences of their 024-3 decisions, through built-in algorithms that model the impacts of decisions in terms of money and other values – in this case: environmental quality and sustainability. 4 OBJECTIVE AND APPROACH We set out to develop a serious game that would confront players with diverging interests in a particularly difficult case, namely the redevelopment of an inner-city area close to a railway station. The game was to mimic the dilemma between efficient use of space, by converting a piece of previously developed land, or ‘brownfield’ into a high density, mixed-use urban area and the resulting environmental quality that is threatened by railway and traffic noise, industrial risk, odour nuisance et cetera.  We had a team of five students (three from our geo-informatics program, one urban planning and one real estate management student) analyze the most important stakeholders and their interests and build a serious game, based on the game engine that supports Climate Game® (Zhou et al, 2013). In developing their ‘Rail Game’ they adopted a two-pronged strategy: 1: analyze existing urban projects of this type, combined with basic training of the game's concept and engine; 2: convert the analysis into a storyboard of stakeholders, actions, indicators and interrelationships. 5 RAIL GAME DESIGN 5.1 Story line  The game takes place in the emerging railway zone of Breda, a city in the south-west of the Netherlands. The railway zone features a great variety of landscapes and different urban zones. Currently the train station and surroundings of Breda is under reconstruction and has a great potential for the urban development of the city. Professionals estimate that the quantity of train travelers at the station of Breda will grow to 57.000 in 2020 from the current 27.000 (Via Breda). The train station of Breda is claiming to fulfill a strong international position. As a result this will affect the surrounding urban area, in that more people will be settling in the city or commuting to it. Thus, there will be a need for more residential and office buildings to accommodate these people (Van der Bijl, 2012). At the same time the train frequency will also grow to keep up with the growing number of passengers. When the quantities of trains and people are growing in an area, there will be consequences. On the upside it has an great effect on the commercial development. On the downside it means the growth will negatively affect the noise pollution and industrial risks from transport of dangerous substances. The challenge in this case is striking a balance between commercial development and a sound urban quality of the railway zone in Breda. 5.2 Game play  The Rail Game was designed to be played by four players – or pairs of players – who can take any one of four parts:   • the Municipality, who is responsible for urban quality in the area, but also is receptive to the needs of project developers and residents for housing. • the Railway company, who will try to develop its lands and is responsible for the trains’ time table. • the Real estate developer, investing in and building property in the area. • the Water Board, responsible for sufficient capacity to store and drain storm water.  At the beginning of the game the players get an introduction of the game in level 1. In the first level of the game, a limited number of features are available for each player. The main goal of this level is to become familiar with the game’s features and to be introduced to the story line. Therefore, the goals of each player individually will not be very demanding. Playing the first level would take a maximum of 30 minutes, depending on the players’ understanding of the game.  In the second level the stakeholders dispose of more indicators and features. In addition to level 1 there is an additional number of indicators available to every stakeholder. The most important indicators that are 024-4 added in this level are sound pollution, heat stress and amount of green space. These indicators play a vital role in the urban development of the railway zone. Therefore the task for stakeholders will be more challenging. The goals are set higher for each player in this level which should take about 45 minutes. In the third and final level all indicators are featured together with all the developed features. In this level the indicator ‘industrial risk’ is added. This indicator plays an important role in zones along railways that carry dangerous substances. In the game there are a few options to mitigate the risk, caused by the growing number of transports. The player (the Railway company) has the ability to either improve the railway, lower the transport intensity or lower the speed of the trains. These will all have an positive effect on the risk indicator. As in the previous level, the goals have also been set higher to be able to create a greater challenge for each player. 5.3 Interface and visualization The Rail Game features a main screen (see Figure 1), that depicts an area around a train station, a map window, in which various indicators can be monitored, and a tool box presenting various tools for building roads and real estate, ameliorating roads, constructing parks et cetera. The area was modelled after the existing city Breda, that was found to offer a particularly complex picture with regard to urban quality: noise from the railway, regular transport of dangerous substances by rail, and several busy roads, causing traffic noise; due to expected climate change, there is a risk of heat stress from rising temperatures as well as a risk of flooding caused by increasing precipitation. Due to these risks and threats, urban quality in part of the area is low, which can be visualized by the indicator ‘urban quality’ in the game’s map window.  Figure 1: The game’s main screen. In the status bar at the top of the screen the player’s role is indicated (‘Gemeente’ = Municipality), together with two indicators (Budget and Quality) and overall progress. On the right-hand side of the screen is the map window, left is the toolbox (in Level 1, which is shown here, only three tools are available). 6 PRELIMINARY RESULTS The Rail Game was tested by two teams of students, on two different occasions. One team consisted of students of Urban Planning, the other team of Geo-informatics students. On both occasions, players, after a – planned – short intervention by the facilitator, got the message that they cannot pursue their 024-5 objectives in isolation. They soon started negotiations to arrive at win-win solutions. Budget restraints ensure a more realistic setting, in that not all solutions that are envisaged amount to ‘win-win’ for all parties. As a consequence, trade-offs must be made. However, the prototype still offers too little budget restraints for the players to really consider difficult trade-offs. More surprisingly, we found that the students who designed the game appeared to have learned much about the type of dilemma that is inherent to compact urban development in highly and complexly burdened sites like the one in the game In addition, they indicated that the project had contributed to developing their skills in visualization of data and – as expected in project work – in collaboration with students from other disciplines. 7 CONCLUSION AND DISCUSSION The first working prototype of the Rail Game clearly had a learning effect, in that students became aware of the problematique associated with compact urban redevelopment and of the importance of communicating and negotiating with the other stakeholders in order to further their own interests. However, this ‘1.0 version’ also had several drawbacks: noise and risk were affected by building activities in a fairly realistic manner, but it would have been far more illustrative to the players if a spatially differentiated pattern of noise and risk could have been presented in the game’s map window. The student design team gathered valuable insights for future students wishing to participate in a similar design assignment, which was found to be a valuable learning experience, both by participating students and their tutors. References Campbell, S. (1996). Green cities, growing cities, just cities? urban planning and the contradictions of sustainable development. Journal of the American Planning Association, 62(3), 296-312. Chen, H., Jia, B., & Lau, S. S. Y. (2008). Sustainable urban form for Chinese compact cities: Challenges of a rapid urbanized economy. Habitat International, 32(1), 28-40.  Coppes, W., Fisser, P. Smit, M. & Vogt, J. (2009). De zin en onzin van gaming in het onderwijs. SLO Nationaal Expertisecentrum Leerplanontwikkeling. Dalkmann, H., Jiliberto Herrera, R., & Bongardt, D. (2004). Analytical strategic environmental assessment (ANSEA) developing a new approach to SEA. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 24(4), 385-402. De Roo, G. (2000). Environmental conflicts in compact cities: Complexity, decision-making, and policy approaches. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 27(1), 151-162. Felce, D., & Perry, J. (1995). Quality of life: Its definition and measurement. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 16(1), 51-74. Fischer, J. M., & Amekudzi, A. (2011). Quality of life, sustainable civil infrastructure, and sustainable development: Strategically expanding choice. Journal of Urban Planning and Development, 137(1), 39-48. Hooghe, L., & Marks, G. (2001). Types of multi-level governance. European Integration Online Papers (EIoP), 5(11), 2001-2011. Howley, P., Scott, M., & Redmond, D. (2009). Sustainability versus liveability: An investigation of neighbourhood satisfaction. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 52(6), 847-864. Lane, M. B. (2003). Participation, decentralization, and civil society: Indigenous rights and democracy in environmental planning. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 22(4), 360-373. Lee, Y. (2008). Subjective quality of life measurement in Taipei. Building and Environment, 43(7), 1205-1215. Marans, R. W. (2003). Understanding environmental quality through quality of life studies: The 2001 DAS and its use of subjective and objective indicators. Landscape and Urban Planning, 65(1-2), 73-84. Meadowcroft, J. (2007). Who is in charge here? Governance for sustainable development in a complex world. Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 9(3-4), 299-314. 024-6 Michael, D. & Chen, S. (2006). Serious Games; Games that educate, train and inform. Mason, OH: Course technology. Nilsson, M., & Dalkmann, H. (2009). Decision making and strategic environmental assessment. In W. R. Sheate (Ed.), Tools, techniques & approaches for sustainability: Collected writings in environmental assessment policy and management (pp. 197) World Scientific. Nutley, S., Morton, S., Jung, T., & Booz, A. (2010). Evidence and policy in six European countries: Diverse approaches and common challenges. Evidence and Policy, 6(2), 131-144. Opschoor, H., & Reijnders, L. (1991). Towards sustainable development indicators. In O. J. Kuik, & H. Verbruggen (Eds.), In search of indicators of sustainable development (pp. 7-27). Springer, Dordrecht, Netherlands. Owens, S., Rayner, T., & Bina, O. (2004). New agendas for appraisal: Reflections on theory, practice, and research. Environment and Planning A, 36(11), 1943-1959. Pel, B., Duijn, M., Janssen, M., & Edelenbos, J. (2013). Constructing delta realities; joint fact finding challenges in serious game design.8th International Conference in Interpretive Policy Analysis; Societies in Conflict: Experts, Publics and Democracy, Vienna, Austria. Teisman, G. R. (2000). Models for research into decision-Making Processes: On phases, streams and decision-making rounds. Public Administration, 78(4), 937-956. Te Velde, R., Brennenraedts, R. Kaashoek, B. & Segers, J. (2007), Serious Games; Sectoroverstijgende technologie- en marktverkenning. Onderzoeksbureau Dialogic, Utrecht, Netherlands. Van Bueren, E. M., Klijn, E., & Koppenjan, J. F. M. (2003). Dealing with wicked problems in networks: Analyzing an environmental debate from a network perspective. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 13(2), 193-212. Van der Bijl, R. (2012). Station centraal: over het samenbinden van station en stad.: 010 Publishers, Rotterdam, Netherlands. Van Kamp, I., Leidelmeijer, K., Marsman, G., & De Hollander, A. (2003). Urban environmental quality and human well-being. towards a conceptual framework and demarcation of concepts; a literature study. Landscape and Urban Planning, 65(1-2), 5-18.  Van Rij, E., & Korthals Altes, W. K. (2013). Integrated air quality and land use planning in the Netherlands. International Journal of Law in the Built Environment, 6(1/2), 10-10.  Van Stigt, R., Driessen, P. P. J., & Spit, T. J. M. (2013a). Compact city development and the challenge of environmental policy integration: A multi-level governance perspective. Environmental Policy and Governance, 23(4), 221-233.  Van Stigt, R., Driessen, P. P. J., & Spit, T. J. M. (2013b). A window on urban sustainability. integration of environmental interests in urban planning through 'decision windows'. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 42, 18-24.  Zhou, Q., Mayer, I., Bekebrede, G., Warmerdam, J., & Knepflé, M. (2013). The Climate Game: Connecting water management and spatial planning through simulation gaming? In Edelenbos, J., Bressers, N. & Scholten, P. (Eds.), Water Governance as Connective Capacity, Ashgate Publishing ltd., Farnham, Surrey, UK, 109-127.  024-7 


Citation Scheme:


Citations by CSL (citeproc-js)

Usage Statistics



Customize your widget with the following options, then copy and paste the code below into the HTML of your page to embed this item in your website.
                            <div id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidgetDisplay">
                            <script id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidget"
                            async >
IIIF logo Our image viewer uses the IIIF 2.0 standard. To load this item in other compatible viewers, use this url:


Related Items