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Participatory Chinatown

By civile - Posted on 27 June 2010

 Emerson College and the city of Boston broke new ground in 2007 when Eric Gordon, professor of new media at Emerson, launched Hub2 with the help of Nigel Jacob, technology advisor to the mayor. This initiative focused on using immersive technologies like Second Life to engage citizens in city planning. By 2008, residents, in cooperation with Harvard and the city, were working with the Hub2 project to collaborate and determine what type of park and related amenities should be developed in the Allston area. Gene Koo, a fellow at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, worked with Gordon and Jacob to establish the pilot program.

Since that time, Gordon has been working on Participatory Chinatown, an immersive planning tool focusing on the Chinatown area of Boston.  He describes his approach in an interview posted on, “We want to re-design the community meeting to include a wide range of experiences born of game play, social interaction, and deliberation. “ The project allows people to register on the Participatory Chinatown website, download the software, and become part of the planning process. Once the game is launched, the user picks one of 15 virtual residents and reads the resident’s biography and related quests assigned to that resident. For example, one of the residents is a married woman with children who has just moved from New York. She is searching for a place to live. Her quest is to learn what places are available for rent and then to choose the place that best fits her needs. The user then plays the game to achieve the desired outcome and complete the quests.

The project blog at describes the process used to create the 3D immersive space. To create the models and textures, the project relied on photos, Google Earth, LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology, CAD, GIS, and Sketchup. All the models created are available for download on the blog site and some have been uploaded to Google’s 3D warehouse.

With the official launch of Participatory Chinatown on 6 May 2010, the project team has announced several community meetings to discuss development of the area.  The website explains that participants “will learn about issues that affect land-use planning in Chinatown and be asked to give feedback about potential development scenarios for the neighborhood


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