Designing Inclusive Urban Metaverses

The cycle of encounters “Inclusive Urban Metaverses” was organised in 2022 within the T-Factor project as an activity of the transformation lab “Citizen-led smartness” led by Marta Arniani, from Futuribile, in the pilot city of Kaunas, Lithuania. It was the first ever occasion where the topic of the metaverse was approached under a social justice lens in the framework of an urban regeneration project. It emerged how digital land could be a space to extend the right to the city and not just a digital twin for top-down modeling. 

The urban regeneration pilot in Kaunas sees the transformation of a former military helicopter factory site into an innovation park. In the regeneration process, local partners Kaunas Design Library and Kaunas Technology University are challenged with transitioning the area’s identity from a soviet military connotation to an ‘innovation sandbox’ while activating participatory processes that allow citizens to appropriate and transform the site’s legacy, identity and physical space. Since the area presents a variety of legal and infrastructural constraints for exercising established temporary urbanism tactics, we looked into digital placemaking, using digital technology to foster deeper relationships between people and places. 

The tone of the cycle of events was curated with a manifesto for inclusive urban metaverses. It then involved international and local experts as well as local communities and stakeholders in defining the theoretical and design framework of an urban metaverse oriented towards social justice. This line of work was crossed with a participatory process engaging local communities of citizens to build the concept for concrete metaverse use cases. 

The participatory elaboration of a metaverse layer in urban regeneration processes can add value in many ways, such as freeing the imagination of participants to think of outcomes that are considered inconceivable within built-world constraints, creating an extra layer of identity and meaning for the urban regeneration area, or providing inputs for other “traditional” activities via the ideation and community-building process. The early recommendations extracted by Futuribile for any stakeholders include building a feedback loop with reality, for instance by considering the platform a place to speed up change and prototype a different kind of social aggregation, knowledge sharing and capacity building that can impact existing initiatives, thinking in terms of extending the right to the city, or centring problems that are hard to solve in the physical world

Read the report to know the full process and outcomes.