Since 1990, Chinatown, a 46-acre neighborhood in Boston, has been engaged in several master-planning processes to determine the future growth pattern of the neighborhood. Located in downtown Boston, Chinatown has presented a challenging context for planning: as an ethnically and socio-economically diverse area in the shadow of the rapidly gentrifying financial and theater districts, the neighborhood has had to embrace gentrification while struggling to maintain its unique identity both as a Chinese community and as a welcoming place for new immigrants.
Participatory Chinatown is a multiplayer game designed to be played in a large physical space. Players assume the role of a fictional character in the Chinatown neighborhood and they go on one of three missions: find a job, find a place to live, or find a place to socialize. The players' comments and decisions are shared with decision-makers in the community to help with the development of the neighborhood.
Collection of community input for the 2010 Chinatown master plan was facilitated by five public meetings between July 2009 and June 2010. The resulting plan was meant to guide conversation for the coming decade. In addition to the traditional mechanism of engaging the community in town-hall style meetings, Participatory Chinatown was introduced into the process in order to create better learning and increase diversity of participants. The meeting was facilitated in such a way that the small group interactions at the tables and in the virtual Chinatown were periodically shared with the front of the room. To address Chinatown's diverse language needs, the game was playable in either English or Chinese, and a translator was present throughout the meeting. The game ended up having a positive impact on the way players imagined the possibilities for the space.