HEY! Imaginable Guidelines: designing Istanbul with card game
A card game aims to help ordinary residents discover how their cities are designed, and to find ways to make them better.

By Yao Hsiao

What if ordinary residents were given the chance to make Istanbul a better place to live and re-design the city themselves? What would they do? These are the questions raised by HEY! Imaginable Guidelines, a recently released card game that aims to provide a way for residents to explore the limits and opportunities of Istanbul, and create solutions to real-life urban design problems. 

Istanbul has undergone a rapid urban transformation over recent decades and it suffers from problems of urban design that can undermine quality of life and limit access to public space. 

“At first experience, Istanbul seems incredibly unplanned, fragmented, and opaque in its [urban planning] decision-making process,” says Alexis Şanal, the founder of ŞANALarc city design studio, the designers of the game. 

Şanal hopes that the game can help reconcile the divide between urban design imposed from above and the desire for change from many citizens below.

“Current urban planning needs to shift away from borrowed models and create an authentic city design approach to Istanbul, for Istanbul,” she argues. 

Alexis Şanal

Dreaming a better city

The seeds of the project were planted in 2013, when ŞANALarc met with Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality’s Urban Design Department to discuss ways of making improved walkability a central concern in the city’s design guidelines. The discussions abruptly ended in May 2013 when protesters occupied Gezi Park to protect the public space against an urban development plan.

For ŞANALarc, the intense reaction of the protesters highlighted the stark divides in how the design of public space was perceived. “We thought we had to re-invent the design guideline entirely and get it out of the hands of the academics and bureaucrats and into the hands of citizens and designers to empower their voice as co-creators,” says Şanal. 

The studio set about developing a new kind of city design toolkit through gamification. The format and the rules of the game were developed over several years, with content crowdsourced from Istanbul’s urban design experts and input from artists. The first edition of the card game—available in English and Turkish—was released in the fall of 2018.

“To dream [a better city] includes imagining alternative narratives, rehearsing shared futures, and not assuming past or current paradigms are deterministic,” says Şanal. And this is what the game is hoping to offer.

How to play

To start the game, everybody sits around the board and a moderator sets a city design challenge, such as creating a park or avoiding parking on sidewalks. Then players choose a role to play (such as resident, expert, investor, municipality, or NGO). 

Cards containing information on relevant aspects of urban design are shuffled and handed out. Players then debate the merits of the cards, gaining knowledge of city planning, identifying what is important to them, and trying to find consensus on urban design guidelines and solutions. 

New versions of the game are now being designed for other cities. The team is working with international initiatives in Sydney, Lisbon, and Los Angeles, and they are also hoping to launch an Arabic version.

So how can we imagine a more walkable, livable, and lovable Istanbul? Şanal provided some examples to begin with: to start seeing the streets as primarily a public space, or by creating a pedestrian-first scheme so that every child can walk or cycle to school. 

When the public is empowered to participate in urban design, they can collectively dream and realize a better future, argues Şanal: “If you can imagine it, you can realize it.”

The Istanbul edition of the game is now available from www.yemkitabevi.com.

Learn more at www.imaginableguidelines.org or follow its Instagram account for upcoming events and updates.