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PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: December 8, 2011

The unlikely winner of the 2012 TED award: City 2.0. This marks the first time the award is going to an idea instead of an individual.

Intellitics explores an element of the White House e-participation effort, “best practices and metrics for public participation.”

Intellitics also mentions a “Social Cities of Tomorrow” conference focusing on ‘flattening’ civic engagement to be in neither “local bottom-up fashion, nor in institutionalised top-down fashion, but in peer-to-peer distributed ways.” We don’t really know what this means, but we’re game for exploring different paradigms for structuring civic participation in community decision-making.

EngagingCities mentions the same conference and asks some of the same questions and thinks through how some models for mobile apps might make sense in a civic participation context. One example: combining the SeeClickFix type of citizen reporting tool with a crowdsourcing and engagement model enabling people to collaborate and vote on each other’s ideas.

EngagingCities posted another blog on The Planning Van, a mobile community outreach program around urban planning and land use in southern California.

Museum 2.0 made us think, as usual, with a post on pop-up museums. Predictably, it got us thinking on ways to use adapt the pop-up museum model for community decision-making processes (much as a post on inquiry-based learning did back in October, another worthwhile post that I don’t think we ever linked to). More on that later.

And Digital Urban has a couple of helpful posts, one on a 3-D visualization tool for architects and urban planners called Lumion (that offers a free version!) and another on a beta of a map mashup tool called GEMMA.

Finally, Jason posted on the PlaceMatters blog about his recent open source planning tools meeting in Salt Lake City.

What did we miss?

Scenario planning advocates and practitioners gather to discuss open source and collaboration

One of the diagrams generated during the meeting in Salt Lake City

One of the diagrams generated during the meeting in Salt Lake City

I recently returned from a gathering in Salt Lake convened by the Lincoln Institute for Land Policy and Sonoran Institute in concert with partners including us (PlaceMatters), OpenPlans, Fregonese Associates, the University of Utah College of Architecture and Planning (our gracious host), and Decision Commons. The agenda was ambitious but the conversations were deep and meaningful.

This convening (the Open Source Planning Tools Symposium) was just about 2 days of rolling up our sleeves and figuring out what it will take to move mature and emerging tools to greater use and refinement to tackle the greatest challenges of our day.  There were 36 people in attendance representing non-profits, regional and local government, scenario tool developers, private firms, and universities.

Part of the agenda included working on edits and recommendations to a Policy Focus Report on this topic that will be published right around the National APA conference by Lincoln with contributions from OpenPlans, Sonoran, PlaceMatters, Decision Commons and Fregonese among many others helping with edits and filling in gaps.  Additionally, this group talked about a range of topics to really advance this effort into the next year.  These topics included ways in which university curricula could prepare planners with scenario planning skills, data standards and interoperability among tools, sample work programs for regional support, indicators for social equity, and developing clearer approaches to linking planning needs to available tools.

The group was action oriented and very excited to keep the work going before another convening sometime next year.  We will continue to support that conversation using the Open Source Planning Tools Ecosystem (OSPT-Ecosystem) Google Group.  If you are interested in getting involved, feel free to join the group and peruse previous notes from our calls.  Materials will also be available online that came out of this meeting and we will want to engage a broad and deep network of people as we move this effort forward.

On a personal note, I am very excited about all of this and this has become my “extracurricular” work for now as we figure out how to build out the Decision Lab’s capacity to support open source planning tools and scenario planning practice across the country.  We will be building a basic page on the PlaceMatters’ website as a hopeful precursor to something bigger.  Check back for that soon.  This will be a place where you can learn about the ongoing activities and events related to Open Source Planning Tools and will eventually have a compendium of open source tools.

If you have a perspective on how open source can improve planning tools, let us know on Twitter or below in the comments.  More results and documents will follow, so check back on our blog or sign up on the Google group to stay up to date.

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: November 22, 2011

We love online technology here at PlaceMatters, but it doesn't replace offline, in-person engagement.

EngagingCities does a nice job making the case for the importance of merging online and offline engagement strategies.

inCommon links to an op-ed arguing that transparency and information, while essential, do not alone constitute public engagement. We’d argue, for similar reasons, that there’s more to accountability than just transparency.

James Fee, on his Spatially Adjusted, blog gushes on SketchUp and its new “Making Things Real” project. We share his enthusiasm . . . we find SketchUp to be a a powerful tool for visualizing land use and design options (that happens to be free, with thanks to Google).

All Points Blog reports that Flickr added “geofencing,” which creates a privacy option based on the location of a photo. Photos geotagged as being taken with geographic areas designated by users are only shared with specific, pre-selected people. Although this particular tool may not be very useful from a civic participation perspective, it is suggestive of functionality that Flickr might eventually add that could be.

Digital Urban reviewed Instant City Generator for Cinema 4D.

Digital Urban also posted a visualization of “urban complexity” data in London. We always enjoy the videos Digital Urban digs up, including this one. What we found most interesting about this one: the way the visualization highlights the corridors and satellite urban hubs around the central city.

Our friends at the National Charrette Institute posted a list of charrette-oriented resources on their blog.

Some food for thought on Gigaom: the continued evolution of QR codes and the emergence of NFC (near field communication) technology. This post focuses on the offerings of one specific startup called Social Passport, but it offers a sense of the potential for these technologies (especially NFC) in community decision-making, especially projects that involve community members actually out in the community through asset mapping, walkshops, or other participatory activities.

We stumbled across this dated but enjoyable video of Bobby McFerrin leading an “audience participation jam.” It’s an impressive call-and-response participation model that results in some very cool music. We aren’t sure you’d want to structure an entire community participation process on this model, but we can imagine some ways that this could work for pieces of a process.

Snurblog provides a useful overview of crowdsourcing in public participation processes.

PlaceMatters‘ Ken Snyder offers his take on the emerging field of geodesign on Planetizen (and reposted on the PlaceMatters blog).

What did we miss?

HUD Announces New Sustainable Communities Grants

Governor Hickenlooper and other Colorado VIPs celebrate the Denver Metro region’s $4.5 million HUD grant.

HUD just announced its latest round of Sustainable Communities grants, and PlaceMatters is thrilled to be part of two projects teams. One is a $1.8 million grant in Erie County, Pennsylvania and the other is right here in our hometown, a $4.5 million grant for the Denver Metro region. On both of these projects, PlaceMatters will focus on the public participation element, helping to design processes that bring all the interested constituencies to the table and make sure they are all able to contribute to the process and outcomes in a meaningful way. The issues are complicated and critically important, including economic vitality, environmental sustainability, and equity.

PlaceMatters CEO Ken Snyder attended today’s press conference for the Denver Metro project and snapped these photos (which include a bunch local luminaries, including DRCOG board chair (and Littleton City Councilor) Jim Taylor, Governor John Hickenlooper, Congresswoman Diana DeGette, HUD Regional Director (and former Denver City Councilor) Rick Garcia, Congressman Ed Perlmutter, and Senator Michael Bennet.

GeoDesign about process, tools, and interdisciplinary approach

Shannon McElvaney at ESRI is working on a book on GeoDesign — a growing movement of academics, community planning and development practitioners, ecosystem managers, and geospatial tool developers interested in the nexus between geography, design, planning, ecosystem management and community decision making. Shannon asked PlaceMatters to contribute to the book, asking us a series of questions. In the process of answering the first question “What does GeoDesign mean to you?” I fell in love with the combination of the two words and how they truly captured the range of interests engaging in the GeoDesign conversation.

Here were a couple of my thoughts:

GeoDesign is about decisions connected to place. It’s about context sensitive process, perspective, action, and implementation – nature and nurture integrated. The interplay of the two words offers a framework and paradigm for decision making. Geo can be as simple as 2 coordinates pinpointing location or as complex as the geological, biological, social, economic, and built elements associated with a park, city block, neighborhood, town, region, or watershed. Because the word Geo is often associated with the earth and its natural components – natural systems are given appropriate prominence in GeoDesign decision making. Design adds intention to decisions. It can lead to art, economic strategies, building construction, environmental mediation, or conservation priorities to name a few. It can be a single event but is more often an iterative process of continuous improvement. The GeoDesign movement represents a broad range of professionals interested in making the world a better place with belief that location-based decision making provides a valuable framework tackling a wide range of challenges.

Others out there, reading this, active in the GeoDesign movement, what does the term mean to you?

Visit the website if you’re interested in learning more about the GeoDesign Summit hosted by ESRI.

This blog was first posted on Planetizen.

PlaceMatters gets some great press!

Front cover of the October planning magazine

Read about us in this month’s Planning Magazine, Metropolis, or ArcNews

This fall, PlaceMatters is in three publications!  We were part of the Metropolis Technology Issue on page 71 (online link to the article will be available next month).  You can read a brief on community outreach technologies including our own Brainstorm Anywhere.  A more in-depth article on High-Touch/High-Tech Charrettes is in this month’s Planning magazine on page 27 by Bill Lennertz of the National Charrette Institute (and a board member).  You’ll get a hardcopy in the mail if you are an APA member, and it is also available online here. Finally, a nice writeup of the work we did with Placeways in Cape Cod is in the Fall issue of ArcNews and is available here.  This is also a preview of a book chapter in an upcoming book on GeoDesign.

We are really excited to see our work and our partners’ work featured in the press.  Let us know what you think in the comments or on Twitter.

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: October 12, 2011

A crowdsourced 3D reconstruction of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.

Digital Urban posted a video snippet from last month’s Intel Developer Forum featuring Intel CEO Paul Otellini on an idea that is pretty simple even if the technology and processing chops aren’t: create rich 3D models based on millions of user-generated images. This is basically crowd-sourced 3D modeling and it’s very cool.

Digital Urban also shared a link to some amazing 3D video renderings of a massive complex of caves underneath homes in Nottingham. The surveyors used LIDAR technology to create the images.

Digital Urban – again! – also found a link to a promotional video on “articulated naturality web.” We share their skepticism about the claim that augmented reality is going to fundamentally reconfigure the world, we do think AR technology has a lot of potential as a tool for helping people visualize potential changes in a community: architecture or design alternatives for a building, alternative zoning schemes for a neighborhood, and the like. One example of a useful (if modest) augmented reality technology implementation developed for Bosch focuses on kitchen appliances.

The challenges of creating effective civic participation processes mirror the challenges of architecting participatory museum exhibits, which is why we often find the Museum 2.0 blog so worthwhile. Her recent post on the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History’s “Race Through Time” scavenger hunt is no exception: an innovative effort to engage folks that don’t end up participating through conventional engagement pipelines.

PEP-NET writes about a new civic dashboard in Birmingham (UK), noting the irony of the cost of building an IT infrastructure that enables widespread access to civic data.

The Case Foundation blog summarizes some lessons learned on conducting a virtual convening. Although it’s more oriented toward convention meetings done virtually, the lessons are largely applicable to community engagement efforts of all types.

EngagingCities blogs about a web-based crowdsourced tree inventory application that throws in estimates of the impact of inventoried trees on stormwater retention, carbon sequestration, and air quality.

EngagingCities also posted a short primer on some basic flavors of architectural visualization: photosimulation, 3D simulations like CommunityViz, and virtual reality environments like Second Life.

Noah Raford posted his completed PhD dissertation. We can’t claim to have read it, but it’s very on point – “Large Scale Participatory Futures Systems: a Comparative Study of Online Scenario Planning Approaches” – and look forward to browsing.

The Institute for Local Government is making available a tool for assessing the effectiveness of public engagement efforts (h/t to inCommon).

The Goodspeed Update contemplates the art and science of designing urban planning processes, focusing largely on Detroit.

Gov 2.0 Watch describes the CommunityPlanIt platform, a web-based social network intended to create deliberative discussion on school performance in Boston. PlaceMatters’ Jason Lally discussed this tool among others in a blog post earlier in the year on the use of game elements to enhance engagement.

What did we miss?

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: September 20, 2011

Sustainable Cities Collective describes a very cool Toronto project using Twitter and historical plaques around the city as the basis for a participatory historical mapping project.

Among the potential challenges of architecting a good community engagement and decision-making process: participants who are intent on disrupting and sabotaging the process. inCommon reflects on an article in the California Planning & Development Report highlighting efforts by Tea Party activists to disrupt regional and statewide engagement around climate change and livability.

Engaging Cities has a solid post on participatory budgeting, and inCommon describes an ongoing participatory budgeting effort in New York City. We love the approach, but helping communicate context and trade-offs is critical.

Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space comments on an LA Times column about the “sorry state of public dialogue and civic engagement in the U.S.” His suggestion: “The solution to the corrosive spirit of U.S. politics is not more politics.” Instead, columnist Gregory Rodriguez, suggests we should focus on building empathy. “There’s certainly a crisis in civics today, but it’s the product of a profound disconnect between our political engagement and our moral engagement. Democracy is great, but citizens still need inspiration and empathy to make it flourish. If we really want to promote civics, maybe we should skip the town hall in favor of the concert hall.”

Open Source Planning writes about a new project called Civic Pheromones (formerly Ether). It’s an interesting idea focused on aggregating feeds from civic websites. We can’t help but wonder, though, if the real challenges are around curation and discovery. Just to use one pertinent example, there’s a huge difference between creating an aggregated stream of news and information about civic participation (easy) and creating a curated roundup of especially interesting blog posts (harder).

Engaging Cities describes a collaboration between the Emerson College Engagement Game Lab and the City of Lowell, Massachusetts: an interactive web-based game as a community input tool for a recent community master plan process. Their goals included – as you might expect – engaging a broader spectrum of community members. We’d find it really interesting to hear more about how well it actually worked. Did a wider range of community members participate? Were the online participants the same or different individuals from those that participated in the traditional in-person meetings, and if different did they actually add to the diversity of participants, as well?

National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation writes about a new PBS special on the “What’s Next California Deliberative Poll,” a documentary on the use of a deliberative polling process engaging 400 California residents to think through and make policy recommendations on a range of critical issues. Any approach to civic participation relying on shared learning and thoughtful discussion is worth some attention, and the deliberative polling process fits the bill.

Good Cities describes “Give a Minute,” a virtual suggestion box that’s expanding to New York City (building on their current operation in Chicago). They write: The coolest thing about Give a Minute is that it gives big-time politicos and heads of government agencies a chance to actually respond to the suggestions from city residents. So Mayor Mike can actually ‘endorse’ an idea that he likes and offer feedback that goes directly back to the person who suggested it. We think he’ll actually comment, too, since Bloomberg is totally behind the idea . . . ”

On the PlaceMatters blog, Jason highlights Esri’s call for geodesign case studies and celebrates a HUD grant to our friends at the Center for Neighborhood Technology (and their partner Manhattan Strategy Group) to develop a national housing and transportation affordability index. This project will build on their earlier H+T Affordability Index for 337 metropolitan regions across the U.S. Jason makes the case for making all of those data available through a public API.

What did we miss?

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: September 14, 2011

A very cool engagement strategy: Harry Potter-style map that reveals new areas as you travel thru a museum (h/t to All Points Blog).

Digital Urban shows off a cool augmented reality implementation: incorporating 3-D content, overlaid on the iOS video feed, that can be manipulated through user interaction in real time.

EngagingCities thinks through hackathons and some of the opportunities and challenges of government app-creation efforts.

More from EngagingCities: three fun tools (games?) for community planning.

And another post from what is our favorite blog this week: EngagingCities describes an awesome art-heavy “collaborative mapping” process in Tokyo.

There’s a really nice Nick Grossman interview courtesy of the Open Plans blog.

A new study: federal agencies need to improve public participation standards.

The BMW Guggenheim Lab created an “Urbanology” web site. Answer a series of questions and the site will create your own ideal “future city” and compare it to other cities around the world. It’s an interesting idea but the execution isn’t very strong yet. For instance, the trade-offs – an essential element in any future scenarios type of tool – just don’t make a lot of sense.

As reported on a bunch of blogs over the past couple of weeks, the White House launched a new “We the People” initiative inviting citizens to submit e-petitions seeking federal action on presumably just about anything. The system allows anyone to create a petition; if at least 150 people sign the petition it becomes publicly searchable on the White House site. The White House committed to reviewing and responding to any petition receiving at least 5,000 signatures within 30 days. You’ll find some thoughtful comments on the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation blog, and a couple of more skeptical reviews on Intellitics (“White House Petitions: The Need for Robust FAQs” and “White House Petitions: a Small Sample of Popular Feedback“).

We are technology enthusiasts at PlaceMatters, but we agree with A Planner’s Guide that technology needs to be used thoughtfully and in ways that are appropriate to the audience and the context.

A cool, sticker-based engagement project on Grist.

StreetsBlog reviews the book “Visualizing Density,” which includes photographs and descriptions of 250 neighborhoods across the country. The goal: “provide an impartial and comparative view of the many ways to design neighborhoods.” Actual photographs of actual neighborhoods aren’t what we usually think of when we talk about visualization tools, but it seems like one pretty obvious and useful approach.

What did we miss?

Award Winning Home Town Planning

Since I’m currently spending some time in my home town of Fort Collins, CO, I wanted to belatedly point out that our work on Plan Fort Collins has wrapped up, and the new City Plan was adopted late last year. Plan Fort Collins was also recognized by the Colorado Chapter of the American Planning Association with an Outstanding Planning Project Award in June 2011, making it the third of PlaceMatters’ projects to receive CO APA recognition.

Plan Fort Collins had an extensive public engagement process to update the City’s land use and transportation plans, both of which were already recognized as excellent plans with a focus on sustainability.  The public engagement process included a large kickoff event and several smaller events that PlaceMatters helped to facilitate, using Brainstorm Anywhere and keypad polling, as well as other facilitation techniques and tools.

We are proud to have been a part of another award-winning project.  Personally, I look forward to seeing the results of Plan Fort Collins in the coming years whenever I am visiting home,  since Fort Collins is a Place that Matters very much to me.