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Linking Equity and Scenario Planning

Kirwan Opportunity Map

Example of Opportunity Mapping from Kirwan Institute

A few months ago, PlaceMatters hosted a webinar “Linking Equity and Scenario Planning” for the Sustainable Communities Grantees.  The webinar featured highlights of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning‘s GO TO 2040 process and its equity components, including increasing access to the scenario planning work via interact kiosks placed in strategic parts of the region.   Jason Reece from the Kirwan Institute gave a great presentation on Opportunity Mapping, which provides spatial representation of some of the inequities in access to opportunity. Boston’s Metropolitan Area Planning Council then discussed the work they have done incorporating equity issues into both the process and content of their scenarios work.  Finally, I wrapped things up with a few additional thoughts on how to communicate complex information.

Our presenters had really valuable thoughts about the linkages between equity and scenario planning–both how to equitably engage people in the scenario planning process and what to measure and think about in scenario development itself. Issues of inequitable access to opportunity are complicated, difficult to measure, and difficult to talk about. Our webinar presenters are at the forefront of making equity a critical part of scenario planning discussions and are examples of how to embed the equity conversation in all aspects of our work.

Watch the webinar below, and please contact us with any thoughts and questions, as this is a topic we continue to explore.

Sustainable Communities Initiative: Equity and Scenario Planning Webinar from PlaceMatters’ Videos on Vimeo.

How to Launch a Project: Imagine Central AR’s Participatory, Celebratory Kickoff

Imagine Central Arkansas Kickoff

Imagine Central Arkansas Kickoff

PlaceMatters has had a bit of a blogging dry spell, but we have a good excuse! In the last month staff members have been to:

We’ve been working hard, listening to our partners challenges and successes, and supporting some great events. More info on some of these trips will be forthcoming on our blog.  I will start things off with some highlights from our first trip, where we helped implement Metroplan‘s (Central AR’s MPO) Imagine Central Arkansas kickoff event.

The kickoff was held in a pavilion at the River Market in Little Rock. Over 200 people enjoyed the local band, popcorn machine, and fantastic fall weather.  They also were able to provide initial input via several interactive stations:

  • An “I Imagine Central Arkansas” station where people could fill in a white-board with their vision for the future of the region and have photos taken with their boards (Metroplan has collected quite a few of these, check them out here).
  • A station for kids where they could draw their favorite places (some in great detail!) and/or build their vision for the future with Lego blocks and paper streets (I got to work at this station and enjoyed every conversation I had with all the young people who came through–not surprisingly, the pool is a popular place, but they also loved the Big Dam Bridge and other regional destinations).
  • Treasured Places Station had a (PlaceMatters’ DIY) touch-table that showed a map where people could place virtual “pins” highlighting places in the region they particularly value and “like” places that others have identified (this map and the Know Your Region quiz was set up by our friend Chris Haller at Urban Interactive Studio, who has done the project website)
  • A “Your Story” Station where we video-taped short statements about what people love about Central Arkansas
  • Know Your Region, a quiz for people to see how much they know about Central Arkansas.
  • A Participation Station where people could learn about how to participate in the process and scan QR codes using their smartphones to see more info on the project website.

PlaceMatters also set up live streaming for anyone who wanted to join the fun, but couldn’t come in person. We also had students from each class at the nearby eStem Charter School join us, and we loved seeing them interact with the technology and provide their ideas.

The following week, Brad Barnett, our Planning Analyst, was back in the region, helping use the touch-tables again for a round of “Hometown Visits” around the region. Along with Metroplan and Gresham, Smith & Partners, Brad helped provide opportunities for participation (similar to the kickoff) in places around the region, part of an ongoing strategy to reach people where they are in their day-to-day lives.

We feel that the model for the kickoff and round of local meetings was a good one, particularly with the level of interaction that both provided. We almost never want people to spend their valuable time at a meeting where they aren’t providing feedback and input. We’ll be pointing our partners and communities interested in a great model kickoff event to the Central Arkansas example. The hometown visits were also a good idea, and could be very successful in similar projects if the right locations are chosen where there is a lot of foot traffic.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for additional posts about our current project work and our thoughts about what is working well and lessons learned.



Scenario Planning Tools Workshop Highlights

Last week, PlaceMatters and Envision Utah hosted a Scenario Planning Workshop in Salt Lake City for grantees of the HUD/EPA/DOT Sustainable Communities Initiative. In addition to overviews of how scenario planning fits within broader planning projects, the workshop gave attendees a chance to get hands-on training in the nuts and bolts of using scenario planning tools. All of the tools experts provided excellent resources for the grantees, and two things stood out to me in particular:

First, Bill Lennertz from National Charrette Institute gave a great presentation about the charrette process, which uses iterative design sessions in a compressed time frame to generate both design strategies and community buy-in to the process and the solutions. It got me thinking about ways to incorporate Bill’s charrette approach into how we do scenario planning projects; for instance, are there ways that more in-depth working sessions with stakeholders and design-oriented approaches to scenario creation and exploration could plug into typical scenario frameworks? That’s something we’ll be exploring more in the coming months.

I also really enjoyed going under the hood of Envision Tomorrow +. Alex and Nadine from Fregonese Associates went through the details of several of the spreadsheets that drive the Return on Investment model and some of the other features of ET+, which really cemented my own interest in using it both on its own and in concert with other scenario planning tools that we use in our own shop.

All in all, the workshop was a great opportunity to connect with grantees and find how both how they’ve been using scenario planning tools in the past and the strategies they are putting together for their current projects.

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: August 17, 2012

Project Fitzgerald integrates Google Street View with a public input system.

We’ve been on a Blog Roundup hiatus for a few months as we jam full speed ahead on projects in Mississippi, Chattanooga, Erie, Albany, Seattle, Hawaii, Virginia, Arkansas, Denver, and Tennessee, with a healthy dose of conference presentations and training workshops for good measure. But we’re back in the Blog Roundup Saddle …

OpenPlans describes their newest tool for using Google Street View for planning, Project Fitzgerald. Project Fitzgerald, a follow-up to Beautiful Streets (another very cool project) is designed to gather public input on a block-by-block basis.

BMW Guggenheim Lab reflects on their Berlin Lab project, describing some of their participatory engagement strategies.

Engaging Cities has a pile of great stories: web-based games promoting civic literacy created by iCivics, some unusual participatory city planning activities, a research paper on the role of digital media in deliberative decision-making, and the use of augmented reality in neighborhood engagement on development projects.

CoolTown Studios explores the idea of “crowdsourced placemaking.”

The always-insightful Ethan Zuckerman explores some of the complicated equity implications of crowdfunding public infrastructure.

Next American City reports on the public participation element of Chicago’s new cultural plan.

Gov 2.0 Watch cites the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials on the use of crowdsourcing to improve transportation planning. I’m not entirely persuaded by the comparison of transportation public engagement to product development, but the notion of integrating crowdsourcing (which doesn’t have much to do with product development, per se) can actually be pretty useful.

Gov 2.0 Watch also summarizes a new Civic Tripod report by the International Journal of Learning and Media on the impact of mobile games on civic engagement.

Nina Simon published a fascinating piece, drawing on a new paper by Colby College professor Lynne Conner, exploring the idea that the experience of art in Western culture was historically deeply participatory. The understanding of the audience as passive and non-participatory, her argument goes, is a relatively recent development. Becoming more participatory, for art and cultural organizations, might actually be returning to its roots rather than creating a new paradigm.

What did we miss?

Civic hackathon inspires competition, collaboration around planning and sustainability apps in Denver region

This past weekend, July 27th to the 29th, PlaceMatters presented Colorado Code for Communites: A Civic Hack-a-Thon at the Uncubed Coworking space in Denver.  With the support of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities and a number of sponsors and partners, we had a successful event that brought open data, talented coders and designers, and plenty of food and refreshment to produce a strong set of ideas culminating in 2 winning applications to help advance sustainability and livability within the region.  If you don’t get through this whole blog post, please at least jump below for ways to get involved in this growing effort.

Participants watch final presentations at Colorado Code for Communities

Participants watch final presentations at Colorado Code for Communities

First, I would like to acknowledge all of the hard work of the nearly 30 participants and a number of partners and advocates that made this a truly inspiring community driven event.  In the end our panel of judges chose 2 applications that will receive additional support from PlaceMatters and it’s network of partners as well as mentorship from Galvanize (a local firm supporting investment in entrepreneurial activity through 3 pillars: venture, community and curriculum).  These applications were:

  • EndPoint – an app built to provide information about the characteristics of your neighborhood and help to support more sustainable choices.  In a weekend, the team produced an application using open data from the Denver region including crime data, transit stops, libraries, and demographics among other data.  They also managed to pull together a well documented API to serve that data back out to developers in the city.  The team included: Levi Beers, Clay McIllrath, Jon Hemstreet, Jiran Dowlati
  • RadRoutes – pitched by Justin Lewis and Jill Locantore of the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), this application crowdsources ratings of the various bike facilities and provides additional mashups of crash data and bike theft data to help improve biking in the region.  It also provides great feedback to DRCOG to make planning decisions on future investments around safety and building a more complete bike network. The team included: Justin Lewis, Michael Lockwitz, Jeremy Thiesen, Mark Scheel, Mehdi Heris
The EndPoint team hacks away at their winning application

The EndPoint team hacks away at their winning application

It was a hard decision and we had a number of other apps including:

  • CityCycle – an application offering a clearinghouse of information to cyclists in the region on routes, bike racks, and BCycle (bike sharing) stations. The team included: Oza Klanjsek, Ian Harwick, Shilo Rohlman
  • MyFairElection – an application offering increased transparency on election day for polling locations.  You can find polling location data, the laws affecting voting in your state, check in and out of polling locations to report wait times, rate polling locations, and share that you voted with friends on your social networks. The team included: Karen Suhaka, Cole Chambers, David Miller, Philip Hickey, David Chapman, Curtis Floth
  • Parking Thief – parking data is notoriously hard to collect and keep up to date.  This app gamifies the data collection process and helps support better decisions around parking and aids in parking management.  For example, get more points if you park at a Park and Ride and take the light rail or bus in to downtown. The team included: Vui Nguyen, Andrew Corliss, George Peterson
  • Transit Trends – in the absence of real time information, this app allows transit users to report the arrival time of their bus or train and rate the experience.  The app could be used to alert users downstream of a late bus.  It can also be used to provide real time feedback to the transit agency on the quality of service and support future service decisions. The team included: Laura Leslie, David Viramontes, David Stile, Jim Lindauer

We have encouraged everyone to keep on hacking and stay engaged as this is just the beginning of building a robust civic hacking community devoted to building more sustainable and vibrant communities throughout the region.  You can check out more presentations and resources from the weekend on the wiki and read a round up of the weekend’s event from Tekhne (our media sponsor). Continue reading

Scenario Planning and Equity

Last week, PlaceMatters convened a peer exchange event in Seattle to look at how to better integrate social equity and scenario planning. The event, part of the HUD/EPA/DOT Sustainable Communities Initiative, brought together regions from around the country who have strong track records of engaging both topics, and the peer exchange format allowed for some great conversations. A couple personal highlights:

  • Boston’s regional planning agency (MAPC) is doing some amazing things that link together data and mapping with the Weave  platform. For instance, the one pictured below links a chart and map so that you can highlight an element of either the map or chart and it highlights the corresponding element on the other side (rather than trying to make sense of my description, I suggest you test it out).

    DataCommon, built on the Weave platform

  • The Puget Sound Regional Council has teamed up with Impact Capital to develop a regional equity network that is making sure equity issues are central to their planning project. I was particularly impressed with the regional equity network concept (more on that here) and the way the small grants program is tapping into existing institutions and networks to build civic capacity and engagement.
  • Finally, Dr. Gerardo Sandoval, a professor at University of Oregon, is looking at how undocumented immigrant communities can be better engaged and included in planning processes, including scenario planning. He had some great examples of things like commute patterns by bike that would likely get missed in a typical scenario planning process. It’s incredibly easy to lose sight of how much diversity there is in the way people use the built environment, so his research is a much-needed check to the scenario planning and civic engagement worlds.

These sorts of conversations, in which professionals are able to share lessons learned and collaboratively talk about solving current challenges, are incredibly valuable but unfortunately rare opportunities. They’re possible because of the innovative Sustainable Communities Initiative, and I hope they’re able to become more regular parts of the planning world.

PlaceMatters at South by Southwest Eco! – vote for our panel

Logo for SXSW EcoPlaceMatters is on a panel submitted by OpenPlans’ Aaron Ogle and Rob Goodspeed of MIT to talk about data and cities at SXSW Eco.  We would love to go, and we hope you want us to go to.  We need your support and votes to get us there.  The panel is called “Measure it, improve it: data for better cities.”  Here’s a description:

Lord Kelvin famously said, “If you can not measure it, you can not improve it.” He was talking about physics, but the same applies to cities. Recent years have seen a proliferation of available data about cities – from real-time transit locations to trees, impervious surface to bikeshare locations. And where data doesn’t yet exist, crowd sourcing and mobile phone sensors provide new opportunities for data collection. This panel will discuss different examples of how data is being collected, analyzed, and visualized for planning and designing more sustainable cities. You’ll hear from a software developer, planner and researcher, all working on data collection and analysis tools to create better places to live and work.

Voting closes June 29th.  Get your votes and comments in soon and we hope to see you there!

Participation by Design: Connecting People to Place

This post represents the wrap-up of our 20 blog series called Participation by Design.  The series focused on the diversity of participatory decision-making tools that communities can use for land use plans, transportation plans, sustainability plans, or any other type of community plan. Our guest bloggers covered the gamut, from low-tech to high-tech, web-based to tactile, art-based to those based on scenario planning tools, and more. We welcome your feedback and would love to hear about the participatory design strategies that you’ve found to be the most useful.

Participation by Design Blog Contributors

Thank you to all the contributors to this series!  I really enjoyed reading each of the pieces and the different perspectives they brought to an ongoing conversation.  It was interesting to see common links amongst diverse topics. Not surprisingly, the importance of place-specific context came up frequently as a critical ingredient for planning, from multiple standpoints.  Here are some highlights showing the range of contributions and how they address the issue of context.

On data, tools, and technology issues, we have several contributors including Rob GoodspeedDaniel Saniski, Jason Reece, and Jason Lally.  Daniel describes how local information is critical to understanding complex data sets, giving an example in Denver where place-specific context was needed to accurately interpret unemployment stats in a region. Rob addresses techniques that integrate GIS and visualization tools to help people understand tradeoffs within the context of a specific transit oriented development.  Jason Reece of the Kirwann Institute examines spatial analysis techniques that can be used to address some of the more complex issues of equity, mobility, and economic development linked to place. A technique known as Opportunity Mapping provides a GIS-based platform for engaging a broad number of community stakeholders, and simultaneously focusing on the equity concerns of marginalized communities.

Nick Bowden and Jennifer Evans-Cowley provide observations on the efficacy of online sites and the use of social networking tools to encourage public participation linked to community planning.  For Nick, it boils down to content and context.  Online sites should not shy away from content that is emotional since emotion drives interest. Sites also need to be rich in context—linking people to the efforts of others and connecting people to the places they care about—since it is this context that fosters a sense of personal ownership and motivates people to get more involved.  Jennifer’s research looking at the use of social networking tools in Austin shows how communities can dramatically increase the number of people engaged in planning conversations by tapping into the blogosphere of respected bloggers and writers in the region.  Instead of trying to create a new following for a given community initiative, she suggests engaging established bloggers, adding to their conversation with thoughtful responses, and encouraging them to encourage others to link to the initiative.

On the artistic side of the planning spectrum, we had great pieces on museum exhibits, public art installations, and variations of performance art.  Jasper Visser notes the effectiveness of Candy Chag’s art installments in drawing people into meaningful conversations.  It is her skillful balance of urgency and simplicity that causes people to pay attention and to contribute their own personal reflections. Nina Simon, a thought leader in the museum world, focuses on how to make exhibits more engaging.  On her Museum 2.0 blog she suggests the role of museums is to create space that “encourages safe, friendly collisions in a community-wide pinball machine.” And in our last installment of the series, PlaceMatters’ own Jocelyn Hittle explores the potential of combining the somewhat whimsical qualities of flash mobs with the popular desire to celebrate the places we love, and how these gatherings might be used to catch people’s attention and encourage them to participate in other community building efforts.

The series also included terrific posts by Corey Connors on engagement with smartphones, Ethan Zuckerman on communicating complex data, Eric Gordon, Carissa Shively Slotterback & Cindy Zerger, Matt Baker, Jeff Warren, James Fishkin, Chris Haller, and Karen Fung on a range of very specific tools and techniques, Ariana McBride on using storytelling in decision-making, and Augusta Prehn on engaging kids in planning.  Thanks again to the contributors and thanks to many of you that provide comments and follow-up insights.  Stay tuned for our next series to be announced in the Fall.

Participation by Design: Flash Mobs, Frivolity, and Fun–Performing Arts and Planning

This post, by PlaceMatters blogger Jocelyn Hittle, is the twentieth in a slightly-more-than-a-month-long series on the impressive diversity of participatory decision-making tools that communities can use for land use plans, transportation plans, sustainability plans, or any other type of community plan. Our guest bloggers are covering the gamut, from low-tech to high-tech, web-based to tactile, art-based to those based on scenario planning tools, and more. We welcome your feedback and would love to hear about the participatory design strategies that you’ve found to be the most useful.

Photo courtesy of Flickr User LegalAdmin, Creative Commmons.

Performance in Place! A Seattle flash mob, couresy of flickr user LegalAdmin

I hesitate to admit this, but as a once and future singer and dancer, I have often dreamed of walking down the street and having everyone around me—preferably a meter maid, constable (yes, a constable not a policeman), grandmother walking her dog, newspaper delivery boy, and cabbie—begin singing and dancing.  If you’ve seen pretty much any musical, you know the scene I’m sketching out here.

Here’s what many of you know already: This. Can. Actually. Happen.  Heard of flash mobs? Well, I have, and for me they are a dream come true.  Seemingly spontaneous public dance (and sometimes singing) performances, they are lighthearted, unexpected, and then over—everyone in the mob moving on as if nothing had happened.  They range from the most amateur to highly sophisticated (T-Mobile’s flash mob advertisement is probably the best known example).

Improv Everywhere, a group started by Charlie Todd, a comedian formerly of the Upright Citizens’ Brigade, is behind some of the most creative flash mobs, and other unexpected public acts of frivolity.  Their “no pants subway ride” event has been been livening up New Yorkers’ morning commute for years, and has now been replicated across the country, including here in Denver on our light rail.  Check out Todd’s TED talk for more examples.

What I’ve been thinking more about is how to relate this kind of public performance (mostly the kind that includes wearing pants) into the place where it is being held, because place matters (sorry).  There are examples of visual arts that use the context of their place, most famously Christo and Jeanne-Claude.  I’m interested in how we can similarly tie place to performance.  There are a few silly examples of using the context of a performance as part of the performance itself–this pool flash mob, for example–but I’m interested in rooting performance more clearly in the place in which is is happening,  linking these performances to planning processes to make the planning process more fun, involve the often overlooked groups of performing artists in a community, highlight a community’s strengths or challenges, and create excitement around a planning process.

Other performing arts options have been incorporated into planning processes–check out Winston-Salem’s video featuring local musicians that encourages people to get involved in the update of their comprehensive plan, for example.  The kickoff and wrap-up events of planning processes are also increasingly celebratory and feature live local music and cuisine (e.g., Imagine Austin’s launch of their comp plan, the New River Valley Livability Initiative’s kickoff).  On the more innovative end of things is the Sojourn Theater’s work incorporating dance and other performances into their BUILT process, which allows participants to discuss and place various land uses on a “game” board.  (On a side note, the BUILT process is being modified for the New River Valley Livability Initiative to fit a more rural context, and in this case is not using the performance art.)

There seem to be more examples of use of visual arts and storytelling in planning processes, including PlaceMatters’ own work on the Philadelphia LANDvisions project, than performing arts.  APA has a series of briefing papers on the arts in planning and they really don’t mention performing arts in any substantive way–and I’m interested in gathering more examples.  If you know of projects that have used performing arts (dance, music, theater, improv comedy, anything along these lines) please let me know.

I’ll be posting more about this topic outside of this Participation by Design series, particularly in cases where we are able to use performing arts in our current projects and have some lessons learned to share.

Jocelyn Hittle is the Director of PlaceMatters’ Sustainable Solutions Group, where she focuses on designing and implementing planning processes that are informed, equitable, creative, and transparent. She focuses on communicating complex information, involving typically underrepresented groups, and organizing spontaneous dance performances.

Introducing Denver’s Beautiful Streets

Denver's Beautiful Streets Screenshot

Denver’s Beautiful Streets is an experiment in pairwise crowdsourced preferences.

At PlaceMatters, we’ve been looking for ways to test new platforms for civic engagement that use all the benefits of online technology to explore physical places and what we love about them (read some more about this concept as it relates to Planning 3.0).  At APA 2012, I was on a panel on data literacy with Frank Hebbert of OpenPlans when he showed off a project called Beautiful Streets.  I was instantly enamored with the simplicity and beauty of being able to do quick pairwise comparisons using Google Street View.  We saw an opportunity to take an experiment done in Philadelphia and apply it in Denver ahead of our summer hackathonto generate a test case for simple engagement methods and generate a large amount of data.

In partnership with OpenPlans, we are proud to announce Denver’s Beautiful Streets.  Over the next couple of months we will be asking the city to answer the basic question: which street is more beautiful?  We hope to generate a large database of crowdsourced data on preferences for streets throughout the city.  The choices have been randomly generated across the city.  This dataset will then be available for coders and designers at our summer hackathon to visualize and interpret using other available datasets in the region.  We are very excited about this because it will help us test an interface that could be used in the future on specific planning and civic engagement processes here in the region and across the country.  All of the data will be transparent and even the source code is available as an open source project on GitHub, and if you want to get an idea of some next steps, check out the public issue tracker.

Please join us in this experiment by participating and getting the word out to your friends and colleagues.  Share your experience on your own blogs, Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus.  We know there are and will be flaws, but with your help we can kick the tires and squash some bugs to make this an even more useful platform for civic engagement.  Let us know what you think in the comments below and on twitter with hashtag #beautifulst.  Also, read more about the original genesis of this project as a Valentine’s Day gift to the city of Philadelphia.  Looking forward to your participation and feedback!

P.S.  Additional specific credit to Aaron Ogle (@atogle) and Mjumbe Poe (@mjumbewu), and the Civic Works team at OpenPlans!