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Transit Information for Better Urban Living

Real time information for Chapel Hill transit system

Image originally featured on NextBus news showing real time transit information.

Recently New Urban News featured an article on how transit information and car sharing are making it easier for urban dwellers to get around, save money and shed some CO2 (Smart phones + shared cars = better urban living).  It’s been over a year since Google added transit information to the iPhone.  I blogged about this way back when.  I am glad to see that cities have finally picked up on the importance of shared transit data and open APIs.  For example, Massachusetts released their data and an API last November for five of the busiest bus lines in the system.  Christopher Dempsey of the Massachusetts Dept of Transportation had this to say about the release:

Within an hour, an application (“app”) using the information was placed on Google Earth, giving real-time location of buses on those lines.

• In two days, a programmer created a web page that tracks the buses’ movements.

• In five weeks, the data was on apps for iPhones and Android phones.

• In seven weeks, the data was available for delivery to any phone.

• In March, a shop in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston, installed an LED sign counting down to the arrival of the next bus. The sign cost the shop — JP Licks, a café and ice cream store — $300. It reportedly has brought in additional business from individuals who now know how much time they have for a coffee or a snack before the bus arrives. Many more shops may follow suit. Continue reading

Export Tweets from Twitter

Archivist Screenshot

Screenshot of the Archivist (use it to archive tweets)

Kristen over at Cubit Planning just posted a very helpful set of instructions on how to export Tweets from Twitter.  This is great for planning organizations who may require an administrative record of comments as part of a process or for people who want to create an archive of the depth and breadth of comments around any public process.

We have started using Twitter to engage new audiences around traditional planning processes.  We’ll post some more information here about our experience and some lessons learned.  The thing I like most about Twitter is that in its simplicity it can be shaped and used in many different ways (e.g. interactive story telling or 13 other things besides tweeting).  For now, enjoy Kristen’s how to and check back for some more social media hints, lessons, and discussion.

Sense and the City

I’ve lately been excited by the concept of the senseable city (a term I’m borrowing from MIT). Being able to measure and visualize the intangible rhythms and pulses of a city can be incredibly powerful. As mobile devices are becoming more pervasive, and embeddable sensors cheaper, we have richer amounts of data at our disposal. Now, I know this could feed all your worst nightmares about Big Brother, and as with any technology, in the wrong hands, it could be used for nefarious purposes. However, this isn’t about a centrally controlled system of CCTV’s; this is about large amounts of raw anonymous data aggregated in ways where the whole tells us much more than any one part. Raw anonymous data doesn’t sound sexy, but Current City makes it look sexy:

SMS during New Years Eve from realtime city on Vimeo.

Continue reading

The $10,000 public meeting

Basic rendering of small group exercises with netbooks and pico projectors

Recently, we’ve been doing some thinking about how to upgrade the public meetings to go completely wireless/cordless.  I know this may sound like a silly notion, but we are looking to reduce the amount of friction for planning and holding public meetings and collecting robust feedback.

We currently run most of our meetings using web-connected laptops, a note-taker, a facilitator, keypads, and lots of tape and power cords.  That last part is what we want to get rid of.  We have been using AnyWare (an internally developed brainstorming tool) to collect feedback from a large group of people and poll on issues on the fly.  Our interest in this is to reduce the level of public meeting fatigue by making the meetings iterative and productive toward a set of next steps or actions.  We want to reduce the cost per participant in a public process while increasing the quality of the feedback and interaction.  As such, our goal is not to remove the public meeting altogether but to augment it with innovative web applications that can help move a meeting toward real results and lower the amount of recording, synthesis and reporting that normally happens after a meeting. Continue reading

The end of planning LIVE

UPDATE (4/19/10): The blog is cleaned up now. If you spot anything that is a misstatement, please feel free to comment below and we’ll fix it. Also, if you feel there is a big omission from the log, let us know. Video documentation will be up soon. Also, read Jacob’s summation of the event here.

Join us at 4PM Central for a liveblog of PlaceMatters’ underground session at the APA National Conference in New Orleans.  Please excuse grammar and spelling errors during the event.

5ish minutes until the Salon in the Saloon where we consider the broad question “Is Planning Dead?.”  Join us here in Wolfe’s at the Marriot across the street from the convention center for some dynamic conversation.

[4 PM]

The lineup:

Stella Chao, Director, Seattle Dept. of Neighborhoods
Mary Means, Director of Community Initiatives at Goody Clancy
Ken Snyder, CEO/President PlaceMatters
Rob Goodspeed, PhD student at MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning
Michael Lauer, Principal at Planning Works

Moderators: Jacob Smith and Jocelyn Hittle from PlaceMatters Continue reading

PlaceMatters’ new offering, AnyWare, beginning closed beta

AnyWare is a project I’ve been working on closely for a while at PlaceMatters. It is a web-based tool to brainstorm and evaluate ideas both in real time and over periods of time by large groups of people. It is a definite work in progress, but we are ready to begin letting a certain set of users play with the tools and help us build something better. We developed this tool to help scale up the level of participation that could happen during a planning process. However, it could be just as useful to a Fortune 500 company, a neighborhood association, or an advocacy group. Continue reading

iPlanning on the iPad

The iPad’s unique form factor opens up more possibilities for planning and civic engagement applications that can engage people in a mobile environment.  The iPad is less like a laptop and more like a “window on the world,” which can be held up to view, record and interact with place in ways that laptops and smart phones cannot. It is just big enough to display more useful information and just small enough to cradle that it could be the next killer mobile application.  Tablet PCs or other niche pen based computers that are used only by specific fields never completely delivered the experience that the iPad (and it’s successors) are poised to provide.  The iPad democratizes access to mobile content just a little bit more and is the platform on which new intuitive software can be built. Continue reading

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

For the past two weeks, I’ve been traveling a lot for business and pleasure and I realized that I’ve utilized a healthy mix of transportation options: light rail in Minneapolis, planes between Denver and Minneapolis and Philadelphia, commuter rail in Philadelphia, automobiles in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and good old fashioned walking. What has been great about this trip is that I’ve used each of these methods as part of a transportation system–a network of options. This seems like an obvious observation, but what troubles me is that too many discussions on transportation seem to separate out the various modes (cars, trains, planes and bike/ped) into warring camps.

Continue reading

Google Transit arrives on the iPhone

I knew it would eventually come, but I didn’t realize how excited I would be to hold transit directions in the palm of my hand!  Much of the inconvenience of riding transit is the lack of information.  Google and Apple have just broken through the first barrier of inconvenience by bringing pervasive information to transit riders (which is my only means of getting around Denver).  In case you haven’t heard, Apple just released version 2.2 of its iPhone operating system including updates to the Maps application, enabling transit and walking directions (as well as street view).  Continue reading