POST-PANDEMIC CULTURAL PLANNING. New digital tools for planning culturally after the era of #stayathome.

When speaking of digital add-ons to global cultural planning, we are well aware of Skype, Zoom or Teams for running online chats between partners, collaborators, friends, colleagues, family. We are using Facebook live to translate our life and document the city in real-time. We believe that cultural mapping via photography and, particularly smart phones, has brought new sensations and results to how cultural planning can be implemented with the help of communities and artists.

But is it any close to enough? Are there any more creative, alternative, and even avantgarde digital ways and tools for in-depth cultural planning without leaving home? Something that does not serve as a substitute and provides brand new, unseen options?

urn cultural planning,

On my daily basis now, I manage communication at an Interreg project called Urb Cultural Planning (UCP). Its emotional focus is to improve social innovation and inclusion in urban communities via tools of culture. Its noble mission, though, is to improve innovation within the policy- and decision-makers, and to advance the capacity of public authorities in the Baltic Sea Region, local NGOs, and associations to collaborate on citizen driven cultural planning.

One of the most essential elements of cultural planning is dialogue. Hence, we, at the UCP project, have implemented regular Urban Labs, demonstrator projects, artist residences, and mappings to build up discussions among stakeholders in cities. All of them – in present, working together in groups shoulder by shoulder, at tables, around spreadsheets, on buses, in tents, on streets.

The circle is now broken in an unprecedented way.

This time has been the most crucial for us, the social beings. Meetings face-to-face, tête-à-tête, off the keyboard, offline, tangibly or on the streets were restricted during the #stayathome movement and will be limited for a long time due to subcontinental lockdowns and restrictions demanding physical distancing.

Yet, this can be the time of finding new ways on how to talk about cultural planning, how to boost belonging, and, how to “lure” new members of society and policy making into realizing it is actually fun and exciting! Here are a handful of observations of new, even extraordinary ways we forecast could be more important to any urban planning tomorrow and years after!


What started as a popular sandbox and open world video game roughly 10 years ago, has now become a playground for cultural planning. During the UrbCulturalPlanning project, Minecraft Education edition is intensively used in Riga and Gdansk as a digital tool to engage young people in their local community.

capital r, urb cultural planning

By replicating both cities, the game allows the youngest residents, most often left out in public decision-making, to be brought into cultural planning in their own neighbourhood. It explores their opinions in decisions that affect them and allows to receive and give information and ideas. By creating an opportunity for them to influence, shape, and design urban spaces, Minecraft has become a convenient tool to reach out for those who will only make their big decisions in cultural planning tomorrow.

Just recently Justīne Panteļējeva from Riga City Development Department gave her insights on UCP website. Have a read on how essential Minecraft has become in trying to solve economic issues with an innovative approach, also aiming to involve the youth in urban planning.


Another initiative created during the UCP project is an online library and database of the best and most “useful instruments, methods, case studies and models which help manage cultural planning process and projects” in the Baltic Sea Region. What makes this site different is its full ability to check any filters that might help to adapt the search to one’s each particular situation. It allows visitors to choose the character of the space (historical, residential, etc.), size by number of inhabitants, ownership (public, private, mixed), type of organization (informal, NGO, municipality, etc.), duration, participant groups, and challenges.

Despite Urban Toolkit being just a passive data base, it still allows to prepare for each one’s own cultural planning before it begins on the streets. The comprehensive and intuitive selection tool allows the visitor to find the best example to follow while planning from home.


Is there a way to walk the city and experience it as a armchair traveller? During the last two decades such option has been in evolution because of video game designers. Many video games have been inspired by present-time cities like Miami and New Orleans. Meanwhile dozens have been replicating or degrading tangible places with due diligence (yet mixed results and scale) – Boston (Last of Us), Hong Kong (Sleeping Dogs), Chicago (Watch Dogs), London (The Getaway), Los Angeles (True Crime: LA), San Francisco (Driver: San Francisco) or Seattle (Infamous: Second Son).

Some games are so huge in scale and do the job so well, players can stop at any corner and fail at their active mission simply because the visual representation would bring back their memories from the actual place and make them freeze in surprise. “Superbad” co-writer Seth Rogen actually used True Crime: LA to teach his writing partner Evan Goldberg to navigate Los Angeles after he moved there.

However, New York has been credited as a playground to most chunk of blockbusters in video game industry and is being replicated astoundingly. One can begin with 1-on-1 Manhattan in Spider Man 2 and end with our best example to present the same neighbourhood - Tom Clancy’s The Division online multiplayer series. Its performance was so good an artist duo of Robin Klengel & Leonhard Müllner created a short movie on their walking tours in this online title. “The urban flâneurs avoid the combats whenever possible and become peaceful tourists of a digital world,” the duo comments. “They walk through the post-apocalyptic city and discuss architecture history, urbanism, and the game developer’s interventions into the urban fabric.”


Another achievement impossible to ignore was provided by Fortnite most parents already know due to their children’s activities there. Just by the end of this April it staged a second concert in the history of the game since last year’s Marshmello. Now by the American rapper Travis Scott that was attended by around 12,300,000 visitors. If we compare it to any greatest band’s concert at Glastonbury, it is 41 times more listeners any of them would ever get. The only difference – you can be as close as possible to the artist from anywhere on the map, no one’s puking next to you, and it costs no time or money to get to the performance. One can easily add VR glasses for a full immersive experience and dance away in their own bedroom.

No wonder why MMOs (massive multiplayer online) games are the biggest export of the gaming community today. Why wouldn’t cultural planners use it? Maybe it sounds slightly sacrilegious for the true grit planners, but what makes 12+ million people not worth enough to try out new ways of cultural planning online? Especially if they are hungry and waiting for our well skilled intervention?

Bottomline – if video games have become so detailed and trustworthy, there is a big chance there might be a turn of any urban planning paradigm very soon. Discussions and tours may be brought to their online platforms to run professional and practical debates, mapping activities, and even walkshops without leaving home.


When everybody is fixed to their address these days and sometimes don’t want to turn on their Facebook groups, Whynott, a location-based chat, can become handy. First brought in public as application for socializing, getting together, having fun, finding friends and local dates exactly during the coronavirus lockdown, Whynott can be transformed into a tool of empowerment.

Its basic tools now include GPS-based chatrooms (300m radius), surveys and some contests that are moderated by various people. Yet, Whynott can very soon become a platform to exchange ideas, tips based on geolocation, and, most importantly, create a more powerful local community.

capital r, urb cultural planning, suburbs, riga

Whynott's number of participants you have never heard of is its biggest benefit. If such tool is used by neighbourhood associations or UrbCulturalPlanning demonstrators that focus on the wellbeing of their particular neighbourhood and their particular dwellers. It might aggregate local empowerment, pride, and development in one chat.

If purposefully implemented, Whynott can help local veterans as much as the newcomers. Can we organize a neighbour day and where? There was a burglary in or backyard just now, be careful! Where would you like to see the next wall mural in our location? These are just a handful of questions out of thousands a well-focused community can ask on Whynott in order to become more powerful and innovative.


Apart from Minecraft we use on the project, there are two other next-gen location data platforms that can crucially change how we interact with cities and its residents in virtual or augmented realities. Testing out new street art or temporary bike lanes, simulating open-air culture spaces or cultural activities, or even interacting off and on the keyboard with others on a new mission to plan culturally does not seem like any distant future anymore.

Google has taken several steps forward to introduce their Maps as a massive tool for any planning and on-site gaming in the city. "Game developers will now have access to a rich, accurate, and living model of the world to form the foundation of their game worlds. With access to over 100 million 3D buildings, roads, landmarks, and parks from over 200 countries, they can deliver rich engaging game play across the globe."

Mapbox is a similar location data platform for mobile and web applications, very much focused on augmented reality tools. “It’s like Photoshop for maps. We give designers control over everything from colors and fonts, to 3D features and camera angles, to the pitch of the map as a car enters a turn,” comment its creators.

Mapbox and Google Maps APIs are pricey tools. However, with money well invested by the actual target audience of UrbCulturalPlanning project, the public authorities and policy- and decision-makers, new digital mapping and planning activities could be executed by practitioners, demonstrators, artists or hired professionals. If there is a digital tool to take over urban, cultural, landscape or any other planning when in crucial times like this, both Mapbox and Google platforms can be gamechangers on how we plan cities, run City Development Departments, improve capacity building and social innovation projects already tomorrow.


What might seem to be just a stylish and creative illustration and drawing app, can be used for mapping activities, armchair neighbourhood exploration, and other micro-projects for cultural planning when at home. This app on iPad, similarly to many other drawing tools, also allows to capture, cut and collage photos, say, out the window, and recreate them in a manner suitable for one’s style, needs, dreams. The always added “share” function also allows to transfer the content to, say, other neighbours to upgrade one’s creation and exchange ideas and impressions.

Although not entirely new to the market and not entirely game changing, such collage-able apps on mobile devices can very much help the cultural planning process. It includes envisioning, fantasizing, collaborating, innovating or forecasting new ways how to use public space – by creating visual diaries on neighbourhoods without going out. What makes Paper special is also its Store where everyone can purchase educational prompts easily to be created and curated by any cultural planner in a matter of time.


2020 has already thought us there is a different “public space”. “Tours” might have a different meaning now and too many video calls can cause fatigue. The virtual, cyber, digital or other intangible culture online has finally made its mark on us and has become an undeniable place or a destination many ignored. The faster we embrace it as a fundamental part of the new age cultural planning, the faster we can make a change in tangible realms. After all, the virtual world is a very inhabited place. Can we approach it with urban cultural planning?

Mārtiņš Eņģelis

The article was commissioned and first published on Urb Cultural Planning website.