KEN TOWL on the latest cheap publicity stunt that seeks to patronise the borough’s youth and encourage them to sign up for an addictive video game, rather than to study design or architecture
The first thing to point out is that today is not April 1.
You know that feeling you get when you read a news article and it sounds barely credible and a little voice tells you “Look at the date!” and you have that Aha! Moment and you feel good because you can spot nonsense when you see it?
Well, that’s how I felt when I read one of Croydon Council’s press releases issued this week. Except it isn’t April 1, so what I read is either a deliberate lie or the truth. And I am not sure which of those would be worse.
The press release ends with a quote from Jason Perry, the Mayor of Croydon, that purports to explain how he is going to delegate the planning process for the regeneration of Croydon.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the ideas that come forward and how we can potentially use them as we progress with the planning and regeneration of our town centre,” Mayor Perry is supposed to have said.
Ideas from where?
The title of the press release gives it away: “Council invites young people to build a Minecraft Croydon”.
I mean, the inescapable first reaction is that this is exactly how much of central Croydon has been “designed” already, a couple of interesting brutalist blocks surrounded by cheap-as-chips tower blocks.
Still, as the press release would have it, “Croydon Council is encouraging young people to help design a future town centre using Minecraft… The task, aimed at all young Londoners, is to think ‘outside the blocks’ and create a healthier, greener and safer Minecraft version of Croydon town centre.”
About 15 years ago, I attended an IRL version of this form of pretend consultation. I was working at a pupil referral unit based in the north of the borough and the council reached out to professionals working with hard-to-reach young people across Croydon to encourage us to bring them to the 4-star Hilton Hotel on the Purley Way, where they were to take part in an event entitled, in the most shamefully down-with-the-kids sort of way, “Design my Endz”, all so that the council could elicit ideas from them.
The consistent demand from the young people was, unsurprisingly, for more youth provision, particularly for youth clubs that were staffed and safe. The sort of places that the council wasn’t funding even then.
Does anyone remember a sudden boom in the provision of youth clubs across the borough 15 years ago? No, me neither. There wasn’t one. I suspect this is because it is cheaper for councils to book the Hilton for a day than it is to build and staff youth clubs. It is also possible that councils love to be seen to be “consulting”, but are loathe to actually listen to young people.
Fifteen years on, and our council has decided to patronise kids through the medium of Minecraft. They can now design their endz and everyone else’s endz, block by block. Though they might do a better job than the council’s IRL bankrupt builder Brick by Brick.While Minecraft is undoubtedly popular with young people (Minecraft’s own website acknowledges that children as young as three years old play it regularly) it is not entirely clear that it is something we ought to encourage.
I was interested in checking out the Minecraft-playing demographic so I Googled “Who plays Minecraft?” and found an article entitled “Who plays Minecraft?” on the Minecraft Inc website, so all the information I have is from the horse’s mouth and it is damning enough.
The boys who play Minecraft, and it is mostly boys by a large margin (68per cent boys to 29per cent girls – Minecraft was unable to determine the gender of the remaining 3per cent) carry on playing it until they are boys no longer.
As Minecraft are happy to explain, “People were so addicted to the game, [that] the developers were able to secure an impressive revenue through in-game purchases.” Lovely. Impressive. Revenue.
Perhaps to contrast this bare-faced honesty about the nature of the products – hook the kids early and maximise revenue – they then go on to make what turn out to be spurious claims about its educational value, claims that Mayor Perry has no doubt taken at face value.
According to Minecraft Inc, “There is concrete evidence that Minecraft as a video game can be used to enhance and increase interest and abilities in areas that are related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) industry work and careers.” It even puts a couple of surnames in brackets so that they look like the authors of academic papers.
Presumably, they don’t expect you to click on the links. I did. One of them was not accessible. The other, “Magee”, turned out not to be an academic paper but an article by a journalist, Maureen Magee, writing for the San Diego Union-Tribune about one (Yes! One!) school in California that had based some lessons around Minecraft that were popular among students. Behaviour had improved since the kids were able to play Minecraft in lessons. There was even a visit from a friendly “Minecraft executive”.
It seems Minecraft think that the words “anecdotal” and “concrete” are synonymous.
Even Magee’s breathless article, that features so many people extolling the virtues of Minecraft as an educational tool, has one of them describing the game as “addictive”, almost as a selling point. Well, it has certainly boosted school attendance.
Of course, Mayor Perry cannot take all the credit for this “innovative” idea of using Minecraft to redesign Croydon. He is merely piggybacking a London-wide initiative that appears to be the love child of an unholy alliance between Minecraft and Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London.
There’s a promotional video that features Mayor Khan inside a virtual City Hall, interspersed with drone-generated shots of Croydon, in which we are asked to be innovative and, “above all, have fun”.
He is followed by Jules Pipe, who turns out to be the Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills. As he stands outside a real-life City Hall, cable cars overhead, Pipe describes the project as “a special and quite blocky challenge” for young Londoners to “help re-imagine Croydon town centre”.
Pipe explains that any student in London, aged from five to 24, can participate.
It is no joke. No absurd, elaborate April Fools.
A five-year-old from Farringdon or a six-year-old from Streatham may be designing a new “safer, fairer, greener and more prosperous” Croydon. No joke. Just a Pipe dream.
So, children, join up. You can register for a licence here and then be guided through a Minecraft version of Croydon by “NPCs” (non-player characters, apparently) who look like quite blocky versions of Pipe and Khan, “from the North End Quarter, walking through the Whitgift shopping centre and stroll towards Poplar walk”.
Well, a bit of exercise never hurt anyone. You then get to “reimagine” the centre of Croydon by moving blocks around and adding safe blocks and green blocks and inclusive blocks. Pipe “can’t wait” to see your innovative solutions.
Anyway, as Perry says, “This is a free, fun opportunity for young people to use Minecraft to design a future town centre.”
That Minecreft executive must be rubbing his hands with glee.
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Open Letter to the Elected Mayor. From CP4PC
Dear Mayor Perry,
Whilst very pleased that the Council is to involve young people in the visioning process for the planning of Croydon’s future, we, Croydon Citizens over the state retirement age, respectfully but urgently wish to draw to your attention to the great benefit that would also be brought to this process by fully engaging with a very large, and quickly growing, but sadly marginalised group in the Croydon population, — the Pensioners of Croydon.
We, CP4PC (Croydon Pensioners for Planning Croydon) hereby formally request to be included in the visioning process, via outreach opinion-gathering and real-time activities to include (but not exclusively) :-
Seminars and Talks (live and via Zoom) : — from experienced Town Planners, Developers and urban/ architecture/ landscape design professionals with a track record of rescuing run-down UK town centres and turning them into renewed, green and thriving, sustainable towns where people of all age groups feel safe, and want to live, work and play. Listen, look, and then quizz the experts !
Interactive Model Making : open to all ages — design and build a real 1/ 1000 scale model of your own ideal vision for the Whitgift and Wellesley Road redevelopment. Choose which 1960’s and 70’s tower blocks to keep, and which to demolish ! Add new flats, mini-parks, shops, eateries, drinkeries, and leisure and health facilities. Maybe even a ne wstreet market? There will also be a “Design your Masterplan “competition for old school “paper and pen” designers, and for people who design with Computer aided Design (CaD).
This visioning event to be during “Croydon Design Month” 2024, in a studio setting at the Whitgift Centre. (with option for working at home in the design phase)
On completion, the cost and viability of the resulting designs will be assessed by experts. Best designs (1 model and 1 drawn) will be included in an upcoming open design competition along with entries from 6 professional teams. Winning overall entry will be the design for the renewal !
Make a Film- Croydon Streets for people – with a real-life cast of people of a range of all ages and abilities and disabilities. Accompany a wheelchair user, walk or use a wheelchair, or walk with a push chair, in small groups, and experience the accessibility to and in the town centre. Daytime and after-dark visits arriving by bus to look at town centre accessibility, child-friendliness, and topics such as litter and street cleaning, wind-speeds in the streets around tower blocks, public toilets, and whether street lighting is good enough. Resulting film will be shown during Design Month, and discussion with Mayor, Councillors and Council officers involved in town centre management, design, planning, and transport engineering.
We hope that you will be enthused by the vision of Pensioners, and hope that you will take on board as many of the suggested events as possible.
Ken may be right to diss Perry’s playing with Minecraft, but he dismisses its STEM value too readily.
While older children may play ‘shoot ’em up’ versions, for many it is a form of virtual/ digital Lego.
First, many engaged with Minecraft develop important IT skills, such as hosting their own servers, and working in open source Unix and other operating systems.
Second is the use of imagination. For instance, Minecraft eschews the niceties of physics such as gravity, which allows buildings and cities and islands to float. Children can create their own worlds and realms without physical limits.
And both Enginuity – the engineering skills solutions not-for-profit – and RIBA (what do they know?) offer Minecraft-based activities aimed at transitioning youngsters from “the virtual to the real world of engineering and manufacturing”.
Enginuity’s Skills Miner (backed by UNITE, among others) is an initiative that encourages the young test their aptitude for engineering. One current iteration, developed with COP 26 in mind, tasks them with upgrading a house in order to increase its sustainability rating on a budget. There is also a version based on aerospace design.
As for that nasty revenue, Minecraft can be had for free, Skills Miner is free and the Minecraft Education Edition is free to schools for playing at school and at home.
If you want to buy the official edition, it’s just short of 25 quid, which seems cheap compared to some of the rubbish aimed at kids. Yes: in-game purchases are an issue but they require parental complicity.
What’s the difference between that and buying a shedload of Lego, Lego Technic or modern Meccano? Answer: they can be a helluva lot more expensive.
Using Minecraft to redesign Croydon might be a shit idea, but that doesn’t make Minecraft shit in itself.
If previous generations of engineers and designers were brought up on Meccano and Lego; it seems quite likely that future ones may find inspiration in Minecraft. Like my son: a keen Minecraft designer and now, without any directional encouragement from us, a naval architect.
What a horrid idea.. It’s a Children’s game. And Children don’t design parks. Architects do. Christ.. what is wrong with you people.
Hi Tom, sorry to be pedantic, but Architects spend years training to design buildings. Landscape Architects spend years training to design parks and outdoor open spaces.
All designers start off as children, and good ones do not forget that the environments they design, whether parks or buildings, should cater for use by and children (and hopefully, for their interest and delight), as well as by adult users.
In the 1970’s, on a student field trip, I visited Copenhagen Parks department.
After coffee and Danish pastries, we visited a playground. Our guide, a 60 or even 70-something Landscape architect, climbed up a very high climbing structure/ slide, and slid down. She enjoyed experiencing as far as posible actually being a child using the equipment she designed– what better way to keep in contact with the real needs of the users than by being a playground user oneself?
Lewis White (retired Chartered Landscape Architect)
Perhaps overall you are right. After all we have had the adults play and deliver worse than childish to date.
People of any reasonable age can come up with interesting and noval ideas along with childish messes – but let the Children play at being the adult and produce something – at least it will not be the childish shit Croydon has done in tandem with developers and so called public realm dis-enhacements.
Realistically they can not do worse and may actually turn up something noval at a fraction of the cost of a Negrini!
Still I have to admit that it sounds like Perry is attempting to not only scam a ton of the elderly residents he is also looking to milk the young and snatch all their playthings too.
Dear me! Perry has got a ray of inspiration and realised what everyone knew for 20 years!
So now he realises normal intelligent ethical Planning within Croydon was in he hands of the local government equivalent of they all flew over the cuckoo’s nest.
Yep let those un-corrupted by developers dangles and still in the sanctity of the nursery (bedroom) build a new exciting future.
That is until the Minecraft nasties come and plunder all your hard earned resource and you find just like Croydon residents did with its very Nolan Principled administration and elcted officers that the programmers are just as shite within the game as the enforcement/regulators are in real life.
At least with Minecraft you can reset and begin again without a mountain of debt and corruption attached by an anal umbilical cord sucking its inflation busting 15% at every step!