Betaville is an open-source multiplayer environment for real cities, in which ideas for new works of public art, architecture, urban design, and development can be shared, discussed, tweaked, and brought to maturity in context, and with the kind of broad participation people take for granted in open source software development.
The Betaville platform is designed to be deployable by individuals, small groups (say, a project class or a neighborhood association), all the way up to professional design firms and planning offices of major cities: any group that is serious about offering a proposal in the spirit of a programmer's RFC (request for comment). In this case, the proposal takes the form of a 3D model set in a "mirror world" of the local context, with a built-in discussion forum, and provision for multiple iterations... the environment can accept models from authoring tools as simple as Google Sketchup, or as elaborate as Autodesk Maya. Anyone with access to a web browser can contribute, and every contribution remains accessible.
In other words, the future of a street corner, a blank wall, a vacant lot, or an entire city can now be tinkered with on an ongoing basis at negligible cost by the full spectrum of subject matter experts: the people who know what it's like to live there now, the people who know how to make new things happen... and people with great ideas to share, anywhere in the world, whenever they can and care to.
In essence, we set out to create an effective platform for the parts of the design and planning process where it has become practical for broad participation and engagement to be most effective: as a matter of course and in a spirit of creative collaboration in the times between and before the formal/professional/really expensive design development process kicks in.
Skills developed (and the associated hardware and infrastructure) through things like online games and trip planning during leisure time as entertainment can be leveraged as skills for creative expression and social empowerment of the students and their own communities, embedded in and serving local issues and desires.
Betaville is being developed by Carl Skelton and Skye Book in New York, and by faculty and students through the Media 2 Culture program at Hochschule Bremen.
Partners include the Municipal Art Society of New York City, the Public Art Fund, the Museum of the Moving Image, The New York Hall of Science, Louis Armstrong Middle School, the Urban Assembly Gateway School, the Centre for City Ecology (Toronto), the Centre for Landscape Research (University of Toronto), the Architecture Faculty of Istanbul Technical University, the White Box gallery (New York City), the Urban Studies Program of Columbia University, Cisco Systems, and the James Jay Dudley Luce foundation. We're happy to announce that we also been supported by the Rockefeller Foundation through its Cultural Innovation Fund, along with Levien & Company, Inc. and Microsoft Research.