Change the HOUSING Game — Case Study

Thanks for providing the opportunity to work with such an incredible organization here in Boston! It was a long and, at times, tiring process, but we really enjoyed designing the carnival games with CL/VU. We really thought through the ideas presented in the case study to ensure we were accurately translating the complex realities of the housing market into easy-to-understand and fun carnival games. We welcome and appreciate any feedback that would strengthen the games created. Look out for the carnival come spring!

Case Study:

Abstract:This past semester, MIT city planning students and the founder and director of Intelligent Mischief collaborated with City Life/Vida Urbana (CL/VU), a tenant rights organization in Boston, as part of the co-design class within the Media Lab at MIT. The goal of the project was to tie together CL/VU’s three campaigns: Anti-Gentrification, Anti-Foreclosure, and Anti-Investor. To tie the three campaigns together, we came up with the idea of creating a carnival that would help educate people around the complexities and profound flaws of the housing market. The carnival games highlight issues of affordability, displacement, inequitable urban development, gentrification, and foreclosure.

Brief Update

On Thursday, we talked for a while about how we need to not only create a specific narrative around the housing crisis, but also a broader narrative around capitalism so that other individuals/organizations can adapt the games to the justice issues they work on.  The toolkit will address both narratives.

We also started to flesh out how the carnival will be set up — how will people move through the carnival (in groups or not) and if there will be a ‘ringleader’ of sorts navigating people through the current housing market system or just a barker at every game who can tell part of the narrative.

We realized that we were creating the games in isolation of the narrative we were trying to get across, and we need to link them together. So we also worked on fleshing out the overall narrative we are trying to convey, which will combine the three CL/VU campaigns, and are ensuring that the games will fit into that narrative.

For our meeting this Thursday:

Nene will create an outline that will serve as the foundation of the toolkit

Terry will create a solutions game

Mike will get us another meeting with the BTA leadership team so we can playtest games/get ideas for how to tie data points to specific games.

Dara will continue to flesh out a narrative around the housing crisis that will more coherently connect to the games.


Change the Game!

In this past week’s meeting at City Life, fragmented ideas snowballed into one cohesive game plan. We solidified three games — cornhole, disc drop and knockdown the 1% — and attached data points to them. We are still developing a few more to playtest to make sure the ones we end up choosing each tell part of the overall story we are trying to convey and are engaging to a broader audience. We also decided that we would no longer build a video game, but create an interactive prezi presentation that tells the overall story of the housing crisis and will be part of our toolkit. We further decided that we would actually have the carnival at the end of the semester at City Life. We believe that if our end product is a toolkit, it is imperative that we document the success of our own carnival to gain buy-in and legitimacy for what we hope others will create. We plan to hire a videographer to film the event and include the video in our toolkit to demonstrate what a successful carnival could look like.

Lastly, we decided that the narrative of the carnival would be, ‘CHANGE THE GAME.’ Participants will first enter a space that tells the story of our current rigged housing market — where there are few winners and many losers. This space will reflect what an actual carnival is like. After participants play all of the games in the dark carnival space, they will enter a space that provides a vision of what a fair housing system could look like. Participants will get the chance to learn about more radical initiatives taking place, as well as what more moderate initiatives could look like, and think through how those solutions (and new ones they come up with!) could be implemented to CHANGE THE GAME. We are still figuring out how best to convey this — is it through solutions games or focus groups or theatre, or a combination of all three?

On Saturday, we were able to get 50 minutes in CL/VU’s leadership meeting to have members playtest the two games Dave (a carpenter and member) created to get feedback on what worked and didn’t work. It was really helpful to do this because, as we learned, ‘Knockdown the 1%’ did not work as we had hoped — it was too complicated and the message wasn’t very clear. So, back to the drawing board! However, cornhole was a success — players and observers really took to the game and gave us great feedback on how to make it even better. We are continuing to develop new games, so, hopefully, we will be able to playtest the new games that we create soon!



Collaborative Thinking Snowballs into Exciting Ideas! (Our 2nd meeting at CL/VU)


Yesterday, we had our second meeting at CL/VU. The original plan was to join in on the last half hour of their staff meeting to get feedback from the staff on our initial project ideas. However, since it was the National Day of Mourning, the staff meeting was canceled. But that didn’t set us back! Thankfully, Steve Meacham, the Organizing Coordinator, and Dave Burt, the Special Projects Assistant, were able to join in on our meeting to engage in another exciting and productive brainstorming session.

Over the past week, we came up with 8 potential project ideas and presented them to Steve and Dave at the meeting. All of us at the meeting got hooked on one idea in particular that could tie together the three CL/VU campaigns, and promote a larger narrative around the housing crisis.  Although the idea still needs to be vetted by the rest of the staff, we spent our meeting working to expand that idea and incorporate the other ideas we had come up with. We decided we would work to create and plan a large carnival. Wait…A carnival? How can a carnival challenge and shift the dominant narrative around the housing crisis? Stick with us for a moment…

Carnival games promise a fun time and a big prize. However, how many of us have ever won a carnival game? How much money have we wasted trying to get the big stuffed animal prize? A lot. How many have actually gotten the big stuffed animal prize? Very few. Why? Because carnival games are rigged so that people are unable to win. Similarly, the housing market promises a giant reward (namely, stability and equity), but the system is set up so that people don’t win. Unlike a carnival game, however, people’s life savings and hard work go into the process of “playing the game.” However, a fair market is supposed to be fair; not a carnival game.

Playing on this idea, we hope to plan and create a large carnival in the spring. The purpose of the carnival would be to help educate people about the housing crisis and illustrate how we are all pawns in a larger game. My hope is that the carnival will provoke questioning about our institutions and system, build a movement that breaks habits of inaction and, ultimately, creates a new collective consciousness that not only challenges, but also shifts the dominant narratives around the housing crisis to stimulate action. I especially think it will be important to have the carnival strongly tie into City Life/Vida Urbana’s organizing work, so that people don’t just leave and say, ‘that was nice.’ There needs to be a direct connection established between the carnival and how people can get involved in CL/VU’s work. We are, of course, still working through how it would look, but what we know for sure is that we want it to somehow tie into the policy recommendations CL/VU wants to give to the newly elected mayor. We hope that the mayor will be present on the day we hold the carnival, as well as other relevant stakeholders.

However, to promote the carnival and pilot our ideas, we plan to hold a series of small events throughout this semester in Boston/Cambridge. We want to see how people respond to our games. A few ideas emerged yesterday of smaller games we can pilot:

  1. Exaggerate and give hula hoops to bankers and tiny hoops to regular people

  2. Game of musical chairs – chairs disappearing showing how homes have disappeared

  3. Hall of mirrors to see how distorting the effects of the market can be

A few other ideas that emerged from yesterday’s meeting are to work with artists to create a new magician caricature who can serve as the carnival’s mascot, as well as the mascot for a new, larger campaign around de-commodifying housing; develop a ‘virtual carnival’ to help promote the event that could also serve as a work product of this class; and have the carnival become a traveling carnival — working its way to different homes/spaces in the Boston area, or can even be a replicable model that other cities could readily adopt — to build a larger movement and awareness around the housing crisis. Nothing is set in stone, but we are making progress, and I am really enjoying our collaborative thinking process.


Hi, this is Dara

Hi everyone, I’m Dara (pronounced like Sara). Though, if you looked at my birth certificate you’d see that my real name is Dar, which in Hebrew means ‘mother-of-pearl’ and in Spanish means ‘to give,’ and represents the duality of my background.  My father was from Israel and immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1980s and my mother was born into a Puerto Rican and Colombian family in Jackson Heights, Queens. My mom, however, wanted to Americanize my name and had people outside of my family call me ‘Dara.’

I was born in New York City, where we lived in Washington Heights until I was six. After that, I was transplanted to Jersey, where I would sit in front of the window for hours, looking for people. Once, I spotted someone and started to scream with joy and exclaimed, “MOM! COME QUICK! THERE ARE PEOPLE HERE LIKE IN NEW YORK!” My grandfather always used to say, “people need people,” and I couldn’t live in a place where I couldn’t easily interact with people. Needless to say, I always missed city living and after I graduated from the University of Michigan, I headed straight back.

In New York, I first worked for a legal services non-profit as a legal advocate, representing low- and no-income New Yorkers on issues tied to their ongoing receipt of public assistance, Medicaid, food stamps, and housing subsidies. Then, I worked for a non-profit supportive housing developer, coordinating the rent-up process for their newest building in Brownsville, Brooklyn. In the middle of it all, I went to Turkey on a Fulbright Fellowship, teaching English at a university in a rural town and getting plump for Thanksgiving — it was gravy! (chuckle? I think I may be cringing)

I am currently a second year student in the city planning program at MIT and my interests lie at the nexus of housing and economic development. I am excited to take this course and work with community organizations in the Boston area to help them develop narratives around issues that are important to them through different forms of media!