In Gaza, citizens are imagining what public spaces could be, and then actually building them.
Before 2018, Hamdan had certainly never played a video game. That year, she learned to play Minecraft, the wildly popular computer game in which players make things out of blocks — but not purely for fun. In 2012, U.N.-Habitat, Microsoft, and Mojang, the company that made Minecraft, teamed up on Block by Block, a venture that aims to improve marginalized areas by actively engaging community members in public projects. According to the U.N., more than 17,000 people have participated in Block by Block initiatives in around 100 different countries — including three projects in Gaza — improving hundreds of thousands of lives in the process.
Using Minecraft’s building blocks, community groups design a virtual public space, later made into concrete reality. From parks to beaches and even streets themselves, these spaces are a key indicator of the health and sustainability of cities. “If made safe, accessible, and welcoming, they can be drivers of civic cohesion, biodiversity, livelihood, and economic growth,” Christelle Lahoud, 30, a program management officer for U.N.-Habitat, told Rest of World. “If not, we tend to see more crime and pollution, reduced productivity, and general social disparities.”