Chip Games

Designing a Community’s Future, the Fun (and Safe) Way

community planning, density, development patterns, communication, scenarios, regional planning, land use, italy, trends, civic participation, visioning, community engagement


Nancy O'Neill, Greg Meckstroth


Andrew Dobshinsky


Brittany Coyle, Andrew Dobshinsky

Urban planning can be ruthless—with neighborhoods’ futures fought in verbal battles at community forums and public meetings.

No, this isn’t the Hunger Games, but sometimes when it comes to discussing how and where a community will grow, disagreements can be just as brutal. Fortunately, planners have a healthier, more fun way to help communities decide their fates: chip games.

Say your community is projected to grow by 15,000 households over the next 20 years. What will that look like, and where will the growth go? Chip games provide a way for community members to visualize an array of future development choices. Should the new households live in high rises or on 2-acre lots? Where will they work? In a chip game, small groups work together to talk through these issues, make decisions, and illustrate their preferred pattern of development on a large printed map.

They do this by placing stickers, or chips, that represent different types and amounts of development on the map, literally staking out how they want their community to grow.

Benefits to this exercise are numerous. Chip games help the community visualize the impacts of current development trends and future population projections. They encourage discussion about the tradeoffs of different land use types. Also, they can be used to explore new development as well as plan for redevelopment, transportation, and open space. WRT has recently used chip games in Austin, TX; Knoxville, TN; and Lafayette, LA. So far, they’ve been a great success: no brutal disagreements, only a few paper cuts.