Anticipating future needs: Planning in the Metaverse

04 May 22

The Metaverse can be loosely defined as humanity’s migration from an immersive physical world to an immersive virtual one.

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As the relentless digitalisation of the modern world continues, gradually transforming our core work industries, it is high time we started thinking about the future of planning – in particular, how it might translate in the Metaverse.

So, what is the Metaverse?

The Metaverse can be loosely defined as humanity’s migration from an immersive physical world to an immersive virtual one.

Whilst the term has only risen to public consciousness recently, the concept itself is not a new one. Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, published in 1992, depicts an entirely virtual, dystopian urban environment, accessible through VR goggles.

Since Snow Crash was published, the world it depicted has become ever closer to our reality.

Shared virtual 3D spaces have, at this point, existed for some time.

Online gaming platforms such as Minecraft, Roblox, Fortnite, and more recently Second Life, have given us a glimpse into what an intrinsically human, digital world could eventually look like.

So, where does planning come in to all this?

At a basic level, planning regulates what gets built and what doesn’t. It is a system that can be frustrating yet serve a valuable purpose, underpinning long held values of democracy, property ownership, and collective good. One would hope these values transcend the physical-digital inflection point.

And there are already examples that testify to this. Minecraft, for example – a game where you can technically build anything (even outside the laws of physics) – allows the practice of building to occur in some ways and not others.

Ownership is also a digital issue, from domain names in the late 90’s and early 00’s to digital art and NFTs. Roblox has even introduced formal contracts for game developers, following instances of financial exploitation on the platform.

In terms of a fully-realised Metaverse, we can only speculate – will there be leases on virtual real estate? Covenants? Easements and rights of way? Who will decide how virtual land is used? Will there be virtual planning committees? How do I appeal a planning decision in the Metaverse?

At Iceni, we feel it is our responsibility to start considering these questions, supporting our clients to become more technologically and socially aware organisations.

David Kavanagh Managing Director