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Next Chapter for Jocelyn Hittle

Today is my last day at PlaceMatters, and I’m taking some time to reflect on the last six years. My work here has ranged from the complicated (multi-tool GIS and spatial analysis) to the mundane (sticking labels on our equipment for meetings) in a pattern familiar to anyone working for a small non-profit or business.  Since our inception, the nature of our work has changed as well, focusing more on advising and training agencies and organizations (building long term capacity) and less on organizing and running public participation events.

While many things have changed over that time (for example, I think the first time I helped run a keypad polling event at a meeting the keypads were the size of toasters and now they are the size of a credit card), there are a few constants as well. Some things that I’ve learned:

  • A successful public engagement process is thought out clearly at the outset, but is flexible.
  • Some people love technology.
  • Some people love maps.
  • The integration of many different channels of information into a public process is difficult, but seeing participants better understand the impacts of their choices (and sympathize with the agency staff who have to make difficult decisions all the time) is worth the effort.
  • When running a public meeting, have a Plan B for everything. Also have a Plan C.
  • Online and mobile technology are changing everything, and changing nothing, at the same time. Face-to-face interaction is still the best way to truly engage people in the decisions that impact their lives, in part because it helps establish trust and accountability. That said, a mobile phone poll gets a nugget of information from someone who otherwise wouldn’t be engaged at all.
  • Some people hate technology.
  • Some people hate maps.
  • Our understanding of how the systems in which we live operate is getting better all the time–we have huge datasets and remote sensing and complex analysis and crowdsourcing–and whether something in a community works or doesn’t work still often depends on some ineffable quality we don’t yet get.
  • Also have a Plan D.

Some food for thought.

For those of you that have not heard, I have taken a new position with Colorado State University as Director of their Denver Operational Initiatives. I’ll be working on a variety of projects, but will be focused primarily on CSU’s role within the partnership working on the redevelopment of the National Western Stock Show and Coliseum site. I am, of course, sad to be leaving PlaceMatters and our great partners and clients, but I’m also excited at the new opportunity.

Our Region, Our Plan wins NADO Innovation Award

SC-CRCPicTonyWinnThe Our Region, Our Plan process, which outlines the future for the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester, South Carolina region, recently won a NADO Innovation award for 2013. PlaceMatters’ project Creating Resilient Communities produced some valuable analyses, maps, and datasets that were then incorporated into the Our Region, Our Plan process. The Creating Resilient Communities work was part of a set of demonstration projects recently published in the Journal of Conservation Biology.

We congratulate the BCDCOG and the team that worked to develop this innovative plan, and we are thrilled that our work was useful for this award-winning project. We will watch the implementation of the plan with interest!


CityBuild Denver and Collaborative Hack-a-Happy Hour


PlaceMatters is excited to announce our involvement with the new local initiative called CityBuild Denver.  Started just this year through support from the Downtown Denver Partnership, CityBuild is a group of individuals working to create a strong platform for a diverse group of Denver enthusiasts to come together and collaborate on big ideas that help shape and create the Denver community.  We are a group of creative and thoughtful Denverites that are focused on the incredible opportunity we have in such a dynamic city to help create the place we truly want to live in. This community is just getting off the ground, but we are excited about the tremendous energy and following we have seen thus far.

Along with the rest of the leadership team for CityBuild, we recently celebrated the launch of this initiative with a fun and innovative Hack-a-Happy Hour last week at Denver’s Sculpture Park in LoDo. With a giant canvas and tons of sharpies, we invited folks to come tell us what they love about Denver. The result was amazing – over 60 participants and a beautiful canvas to show for it (if you didn’t get to see it, don’t worry – we’ll be hauling it to most of our future events too). After coloring the canvas, we adjourned to nearby Epernay Lounge for drinks and networking.

Hack-a-Happy Hour Pic1 Hack-a-Happy Hour Pic2 Hack-a-Happy Hour Pic3 Hack-a-Happy Hour Pic4 Hack-a-Happy Hour Pic5 Hack-a-Happy Hour Pic6

CityBuild’s next event will be the First Annual CollaborEat: The Ultimate Community Dining Table, and will take place on October 13, 2013, in Civic Center Park. We will host 200 people for dinner at two giant tables in the park, have key conversations about positive city building, and recreate one of Denver’s oldest parks into a beautiful community dining room. You can RSVP for this FREE event here, and join the Facebook event here. For more information on this event and others, you can find CityBuild on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and if you’re really excited about getting involved (which we hope you are!), you can get on our list here.

CityBuild is an exciting initiative for PlaceMatters to be involved in. As the main PlaceMatters representative on CityBuild’s leadership team, I am very excited to be a part of CityBuild’s leadership team. Not only do I love being able to work on local projects and initiatives in my home and favourite city, Denver, but I also get to experiment hands on with tactical urbanism projects and collaborate with other passionate people who feel the same way. If you do too, then join us!




Celebrating 11 Years of PlaceMatters

IMAG0697We are so excited to be celebrating the 11th anniversary of PlaceMatters! Over the last 11 years, a lot has changed here at PlaceMatters, but we still believe in our original mission to support the creation and maintenance of sustainable, vibrant communities by improving decision-making.

Originally launched in 2002 and then spun-off and re-created in 2007 as an independent 501(c)3 organization, we have spent the last 11 years supporting the creation and maintenance of sustainable, vibrant communities through improving decision-making in our on-the-ground projects, research and publications, and local and national partnerships.

In celebration of our 11th anniversary, we hosted a reception at our new offices at Uncubed (15th and Blake St. in Denver’s LoDo) a few weeks ago. With drinks, delicious catered bites from The Foodie Call, music, and table tennis, we celebrated with the successes of PlaceMatters over the last 11 years. We would like to thank wholeheartedly our dear friends Brian Gryth (Program Manager at Business Intelligence Center for Colorado Secretary of State), Holly St. Clair (Data Services Director at Metropolitan Area Planning Council), and Wendy Hawthorne (Executive Director at Groundwork Denver) who gave testimonies to the excellence and importance of the work that we do at PlaceMatters. It was exciting for us to hear the positive impacts that we have made, and empowering for us moving forward to continue the work we are so passionate about doing.


So what’s next for PlaceMatters? We will continue our work on on-the-ground projects, working with communities, regions, and organizations to improve decision-making processes. We are also continuing to improve upon our own methods and building partnerships with other organizations who do the same, such as our new open source tool CrowdGauge. In addition to this, we have been working closely with Matter, a Denver local design and communications firm, to launch our new website in the coming months. Look for an announcement of the new website soon.

Thank you to all those who have supported us over the years! Your continued support is essential in keeping our work going. Want to stay in the loop on what’s going on? Follow us on Facebook or Twitter or sign up for our email list here. You can also support PlaceMatters financially here.


PlaceMatters Presenting at EcoDistricts Summit (and get a discount!)

PlaceMatters is a Community Partner for the EcoDistrict Summit coming up in Boston in November. I am also moderating a panel with James Miner from Sasaki Associates and Liza Morehead from Greater Portland Pulse called “Communicating Complexity: Using Interactive Data to Inspire Neighborhood Action.” We’ll be focusing on how to collect and communicate complex information to shape decision making and inspire action. If you are interested in attending, friends of PlaceMatters get a 10% discount. Contact us for more info.

The EcoDistrict folks just announced the keynote for the event as well–Steve Pemberton, Chief Diversity Officer and Divisional Vice President at Walgreens. I’m looking forward to hearing his thoughts on district scale work and sustainability.

Jennifer Evans-Cowley on the Future of Online Education

PlaceMatters’ Board member Jennifer Evans-Cowley, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Administration for the College of Engineering and a Professor of City and Regional Planning at The Ohio State University, is well-versed in the use of online education. Below, Jennifer comments on the future of online education–read on for her guest post.

What is the future of online education anyway?IMG_7540
What is the first thing you do when you are out and about and come across something you don’t know? If you are like me you Google it. For example, I was recently in a debate over different kinds of crabs and I had to look it up on line to see what they look like. We have increasingly come to expect that we can learn the things we need to know on demand, whether it is the trivial to that which we need as professionals.

Enter the massive open online course (MOOC). A MOOC delivers access to connect anyone, anywhere to a course. MOOCs allow people to learn in a highly flexible environment and allows participants to engage as much or as little as they may wish with the content in the course. At Ohio State University, we partnered with Coursera as our MOOC platform.

This past May I offered a course, TechniCity, bringing together thousands around the world to discuss technology and its applications in planning. PlaceMatters’ Jason Lally (now with the SF Mayor’s Office of Innovation), participated in a lecture speaking to the importance of code-a-thons.

The result was thousands of people imagining how technology can better be used to enhance their city. One of the most exciting ways that participants shared their ideas is through their final project. Ranging from videos, to posters, to reports, we were truly impressed with the diversity and practicality of the exciting ideas that participants brought forward.

TechniCity will be offered again in February, 2014 and is open for registration at

Book Review: Who Counts? The Power of Participatory Statistics

WhoCountsCoverIn the past year, I’ve been focusing more on one of the roles that PlaceMatters is uniquely positioned to play—getting information from academics and researchers into the hands of practitioners. Because PlaceMatters bridges the research and tool/method development world and the practitioner world, we can help make sure practitioners are learning from research happening in universities on topics ranging from individual and group decision-making to tool development to effective data visualization.

Along these lines, I was recently sent a copy of the book “Who Counts? The Power of Participatory Statistics,” a collection of articles and case studies on the use of participatory data and information collection and knowledge sharing. The book, edited by Jeremy Holland at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, focuses on international development and describes best practices for a variety of participatory techniques.

The book’s introduction is packed with useful information and an overview of participatory statistic and grassroots data collection and use, and how recent improvements in methodology are making participatory research more robust. In addition, I was particularly interested in the chapter on Participatory 3D Modelling, by Giacomo Rambaldi of the Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation in the Netherlands.

Rambaldi discusses examples of the use of large 3D representations (generally the base of which is constructed using thin layers of durable material. Participants then add push pins, yarn, and other markers to represent their mental maps and knowledge of the area. Many features can then be verified using GPS, and the resulting maps are frequently more accurate than official maps. Rambaldi describes a process like this in Ethiopia that was geared toward helping the community repair environmental degradation from deforestation.

The mapping process in Ethiopia provided an opportunity for adults to remember and describe to youth what the environment had been like, and realize the impacts of deforestation on livelihoods. In addition, it provided an educational opportunity for all, since the mapping exercise meant participants thought about the connections between different parts of the ecosystem.

While this chapter was perhaps the most similar to work that PlaceMatters does in the U.S., there are many case studies and articles that are relevant to informed civic engagement in decision-making processes as well as the use of participatory statistics in evaluating program success. A few points that were raised overall, among projects around the world:

  • Participatory GIS, research, modeling, etc. must be carefully designed to be authentically participatory and include not only the elite
  • The information that comes out of participatory processes can lead to community empowerment, but also to the use of the data and information to further disempower residents—for example, identification of additional resources to be extracted by business or government. (PlaceMatters has been working on the flip side of this coin, advocating for the opening of datasets for the public to use).
  • New technologies such as OpenStreetMap, Ushahidi’s Crowdmap, wikis, and mobile tech are making participatory research, data collection and statistics easier and more accurate.

While “Who Counts?” focuses on international projects, its take-home lessons resonate with anyone working on engaging community. Some of the methodologies described would be easily transferred to domestic settings, and could be an improvement on the way we are engaging (particularly in non-urban settings). The book is worth a look, even for those of us not in international development.

Want the book? Here’s the info: “Who Counts? The Power of Participatory Statistics.” Edited by Jeremy Holland, with an Afterword by Robert Chambers. Published by Practical Action Publishing.




PlaceMatters work in Chula Vista published in best practices in modeling text book

The Future of Cities and Regions

The Future of Cities and Regions

A case study of PlaceMatters’ work in Chula Vista was published this year in The Future of Cities and Regions: Simulation, Scenario and Visioning, Governance, and Scale. The book features best practices in urban and regional simulation with nine case studies from around the world. The chapter was researched by our 2010 PlaceMatters’ Fellow, Elise Novak, in collaboration with Ken Snyder and Doug Newman (project leads) highlighting the project’s innovative integration of sophisticated building energy analysis and VMT modeling with planning at the neighborhood scale. The integrated use of land use, transportation, and building energy technologies was shown to reduce aggregate energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions of a large-scale development project by as much as 45% when compared with the Title-24-compliant project. The book is available in hardcover and as an ebook.

EcoDistricts Summit Coming Up! Submit a Proposal

POSI_Summit-LogoPlaceMatters has recently been talking with EcoDistricts (formerly the Portland Sustainability Institute) about their work in Portland, and their pilot projects in Target Cities across North America. We are particularly interested in how communities can be engaged in and informed by an EcoDistrict in their city. We have also signed up to be a Community Partner for their upcoming summit in Boston. Figuring that some of you might be interested in participating, the info on their call for session proposals is below.  For more info on the summit itself visit the EcoDistricts website.


Join us in Boston November 12-14 for the EcoDistricts Summit, a can’t-miss event for leaders who are shaping and building the cities and urban neighborhoods of the future. Each year the Summit convenes leading municipal policymakers, developers, business leaders, planners, and community leaders – people with decision-making power – to share best practices and shape the growing EcoDistricts marketplace. We invite you to shape the 2013 Summit by proposing an innovative education session. Deadline for submissions is Friday, July 19. Please see our Proposal Guidelines for more information.

Smartphones and civic engagement


One of the concerns that often accompanies the usage of technology like smartphones for civic engagement is a fear that they only reach a small and sometimes over-represented portion of the population. Well, the good folks at Pew Research Center published a study last month that found we’ve made it past the 50% mark for smartphone ownership. In typical Pew fashion, there are some really interesting insights in the slicing and dicing of demographics in the report. For instance, only 9% of respondents reported not owning any cell phone (and yes they did include land line calls in the survey). Of course, cell phones are just one of many mechanisms for engaging stakeholders, and are probably best used as ways of augmenting conventional engagement approaches. While we’re still a good ways off from full adoption of smartphones, there’s good reason to be excited about mobile technology for crowdsourcing, outreach, and other purposes.

And in other news of smartphones and the people who use them, check out this map of smartphone usage by brand. Notice any breakdowns along other demographic features?