Creating CityZen – our high tech challenge for young people

ICE members and a high school teacher share how they created the institution's new digital civil engineering game for schools.  

Sixth formers from Durham High School engrossed in week one of the David Butler Award CityZen competition.
Sixth formers from Durham High School engrossed in week one of the David Butler Award CityZen competition.

ICE recently launched a digital challenge for students aged 16 to 18. The CityZen game is played in four rounds, recreating tricky challenges of the kind faced by real civil engineers, in a digital environment. It’s being played this autumn by teams from across the UK, competing for the inaugural ICE David Butler Award; named after the ICE fellow whose generous bequest to inspire the next generation of civil engineers has made this possible.

ICE members and teachers with a passion to inspire the next generation collaborated to shape the game and tell us why and how they got involved.

Based on real life

Helen Littler, principal engineer for WSP, explains how she uses Southampton as inspiration for the game.

“When we came up with the idea of a game revolving around a city, I knew transport would be a vital part – as the life blood of any city. I started off by sketching out ideas and I used my hometown of Southampton as a base (the game consequently looks a lot like it)!

“I drew all the transport bottlenecks we have suffered and still suffer from as the UK’s second biggest port. I also incorporated some of the societal and economic challenges this brings to a city.”

As a specialist in designing for active travel, Helen made sure to include provision for pedestrians and cyclists in the mix of things for students to consider.

Sustainability and value for money

For Carlos Rojao, project engineer at Design ID Consulting, it was important to have sustainable infrastructure in the game, bringing in the key principles of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. “It was important to highlight the impact on carbon footprint and sustainability of each choice in the game, which adds an interesting challenge on top of meeting the needs of the citizens and staying within budget,” he says.

Screenshot from the CityZen game.

“It was important to us to weave in a narrative of decision making into the challenges and value for money in design and construction had to be a part of that,” explains Angus MacGregor, registered ground engineering professional at BAM Nuttall.

“In civil engineering, when we consider value for money we should never only be interested in minimum purchase price; we should be considering the maximum efficiency and effectiveness of the purchase across all aspects of the project. CityZen incorporates finite budgets and decisions that either boost amenity or generate a detriment; real world considerations that play out within the game.”

Actions have consequences in CityZen.

The considerations civil engineers have to make about land use was something that Tim Hou, assistant civil engineer at Mott MacDonald, wanted to include in the game, to encourage players to “think about the bigger picture”.

"Students will probably be familiar with the different types of land use but they may not be aware of why towns and cities are laid out the way they are,” says Hou.

“It’s important that students not only consider what they are building, but where they are building it and what the impact will be on surrounding infrastructure.”

As someone with more experience in asset management than new builds, Paul Remblance, assistant asset engineer at Milestone Infrastructure Services, feels that sometimes “looking after what you have already built tends to be overlooked,” and the fact that good asset management can help in the fight against climate change.

“It all gets interesting towards the end of the game when a storm event occurs, putting the built systems under pressure!”

Meanwhile, one of the teachers involved in the game, Michael Noonan, head of design technology at Queen Elizabeth’s School Barnet, said that he got involved because he believes the role of an engineer is “understated in society, appearing second to medicine and law in terms of impact and prestige”.

“I hope that the complexity, challenge and rigour of civil engineering will be made apparent to my students through the game, as well as the great impact which civil engineers can have on people and communities.” Could you help inspire future civil engineers?

Want to get involved?

You can get involved in ICE’s Education and Inspiration programme, including mentoring teams in the ICE David Butler Award (incorporating the CityZen game) by registering as an ICE STEM Ambassador.

You could also join the volunteer working group who guide and support the institution’s activities to inspire young people in schools and colleges, or contribute your own idea for an activity that would inspire the next generation of civil engineers. Get in touch at [email protected] for more information. 

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