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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.


Big Data, Open Data and Planning at #APA13

At APA in Chicago?  If so, join me at 4 PM in Regency C for a panel discussion on Big Data, Open Data and Planning.  We will explore themes around data, technology and urban planning with some of the leading minds in both planning and technology.  This aims to be not just a “how-to” session but also a broader cross-sector conversation where the audience and panelists can learn from each other.  The panel brings together senior technologists and the senior planning counterparts from San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Philadelphia, including:

  • John Tolva, Chief Technology Officer, Chicago
  • Peter Skosey, Executive VP, Metropolitan Planning Council
  • Gina Tomlinson – Chief Technology Officer, City and County of San Francisco
  • Teresa Ojeda – Manager, Information and Analysis Group, SF Planning
  • Gary Jastrzab – Executive Director, Philadelphia City Planning Commission
  • Andrew Nicklin – Director of Research and Development, NYC Dept of Information Technology and Telecommunications

Look forward to seeing you there!


Welcome Jill Locantore to the team!

JillPhotoSquarePlaceMatters is pleased to announce the addition of Jill Locantore, AICP, to our team. As the Director of the Sustainable Solutions Group, Jill brings her years of expertise in regional planning, community engagement, scenario planning, and collaborative decision-making to managing our on-the-ground projects across the U.S.

Jill’s work will ensure our projects continue to support informed, equitable, transparent, and lasting community decision-making. She will initially be working closely on The Mansfield Tomorrow Plan and the New River Valley Livability Initative, as well as working across the country as part of the PlaceMatters Capacity Building Intermediary team. In addition, as Director of the Sustainable Solutions Group, Jill will manage our overall project portfolio to provide opportunities to deploy innovative decision-support and engagement tools and share our successes and challenges, to advance the state of the art.

In her previous positions with the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG), Jill worked with local governments, partner organizations from various sectors, and state and federal agencies to design and implement planning processes that were at the forefront of the use of novel public engagement and decision-making tools.

Jill has a Master’s in Community Planning from the University of Maryland with a specialization in land use and transportation, a Master’s in Cognitive Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a BA in Psychology from Pomona College in California.

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

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!

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!

Planning 3.0: The Singularity is Near?

Okay, it’s time I spill out some conceptual notions I’ve been playing with for a bit in my head because they do less good there and it’s really not fun having a conversation with yourself.  I’d like to start a conversation with you (blogger, tweeter, couch sitter, professional planner, whoever you are).  Some of these ideas may be malformed, misinformed or just plain wrong, but ideas are inexpensive and much better refined.  Let’s get to it:

Planning 3.0

What? Why? We were just getting used to 2.0?  Well Google Chrome is on version 18 and Firefox is trying to catch up at 12, and we’re only on 2?  All false analogies aside, let me explain myself.  A lot of the 2.0 monikers imply the application of web and mobile, networked technologies to a particular subject or field.  3.0, at least in my basic conceit, is about convergence and emergence.  It’s not so much a paradigm shift as a way of thinking about things already happening.  Now 3.0 plays out differently in different subject areas, but in the planning field we have 2 very basic areas converging: the built and the virtual environments.  Instead of one influencing another, they both operate in mutually reinforcing ways.  One very simple illustration of this concept is Chris Harrison’s map of the Internet, which reminds us that this virtual network is still tied to geographic location.

A Visualization of global internet connections by Chris Harrison based on the Dimes project.

But this isn’t just about the infrastructure and where it’s situated in place and subsequently who has access and who doesn’t (although that is important), it’s about the sometimes awkward ballet being played out between the built and virtual environments where one informs the development of another.  For example the geographic cluster of Silicon Valley generating billions of dollars in global, online businesses, which have changed supply chains and skillset needs, which have affected the global distribution of labor, which produce our iPhones, which allow us to check in to physical places in the cities more of us are moving to because…my brain could spin in circles on this one forever.  Each of these relationships has a set of benefits and consequences that the planning profession ought to consider.

So Planning 3.0 is not about something new.  Arguably, it’s something that’s been happening since we started drawing on cave walls (these were very asynchronous ways of communicating, but they’re still around).  We see the echoes of this idea today in everything from Richard Florida’s creative class to the work being done by MIT on WikiCity (among many projects from the Senseable City Lab).  We also see it in the recounting of the impact of timekeeping monks and later the watch on the “synchronous city” in Technics and Civilization (order here or read more about it here) by Lewis Mumford.  Those of you that follow me on twitter may have just noticed something, if not, follow me @synchronouscity.  What’s exciting (or scary) now is that we see these relationships among the built environment and the virtual at a faster pace and at incredible scales.  And this has ramifications for those of us on the grid as well as those of us off.

An End to False Dichotomies

So where am I going with this?  We set up a lot of false dichotomies, one of which I have become increasingly annoyed with: technology: good or bad?  To me that’s akin to the topic food: good or bad?  I understand the point of that conversation, but we always end up talking about the nuance of technology anyway and coming to about the same conclusion: it depends on what you’re talking about.  This food is better to eat with a fork, this one with a spoon.  Well then let’s talk about something else.  In a convergence and emergence worldview we can start talking about the ethics of the use of social media in civic decision-making (there’s one to chew on) OR how how does government need to change in a world where anyone can hold up the bullhorn, or does it OR will we ever be able to sit and breathe again?

The primary reason I am most excited by this way of thinking about planning’s future is that the conversations get more interesting and we get to peel back layers.  It leads to questions that may help us design better interfaces (physical and virtual) for people to interact with civic decision-making and in turn cities that respond better to the needs of her residents.  It lets us get at the fundamental issues of technology use among different groups and design solutions that are appropriate to context, place and need.  Ultimately, rather than being passive observers of this phenomenon, we, in the planning profession, begin to put theories, words and actions to being progressive problem solvers with ever better tools and perspectives.  Planning 2.0 is so 2005, let’s move the conversation forward (sheesh, I know, no patience).

The Shoulders of Giants

These thoughts have been brought to you by many thinkers, far smarter than I.  If you don’t know these references, check them out:

Emergence: the interconnected lives of ants, brains, cities and software by Steven Johnson (the book that had the most influence on my perspectives on planning)

City of Bits, e-Topia, and Me++ by William Mitchell

Technics and Civilization and The City in History by Lewis Mumford

Splintering Urbanism by Steven Graham and Simon Marvin (actually a textbook from my Digital City class years ago at Penn State. Very in depth exploration of the impacts of globalization and technology – among other topics – on urbanism)


So what do you think?


Send in your Ideas for our Code for Communities

Views from the Mile High
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Matt Santomarco via Compfight

Just posted an appeal for your ideas about apps we can build in Denver on local, regional and national data to support economic vitality and sustainable communities.  Just to get the ideas floating, think of some of these questions:

Head on over to Denver Code For Communities and submit your ideas there.

Opening Access to Scenario Planning Tools and a Changing Planning Paradigm


Download the report “Opening Access to Scenario Planning Tools” from the Lincoln website.

Having come off of a really great APA 2012 in Los Angeles, I’m very excited about the energy and momentum building for some of the topics I’ve devoted a lot of my professional and personal energy to.  One of my main roles at PlaceMatters is to open up the tools available in planning by supporting and building a community around tool development, use and experimentation.

While we’ll still build and experiment with tools at PlaceMatters in our on the ground work, we are turning things inside-out here and making tool development an exploratory and collaborative process as much as we can.  We’ve started this through our involvement with the Open Source Planning Tools group, which has regular monthly calls and, so far, 2 annual workshops [join our discussion on Google Groups] supported by a joint partnership of the Lincoln Institute and Sonoran Institute.  While I am excited about the tools we can build together as a community, my ultimate passion lies in the possibility for paradigm shifts and transformations about how we think of planning and the mechanisms we have for implementation.  The scenario tools that we want to open access to are a means and not just an end for me.

You can see a little preview of where all this is heading in the Lincoln Policy Focus Report Opening Access to Scenario Planning Tools [download] [and read more about the report here, here and here].  The final recommendation addresses “advancing new concepts to address future challenges.”  Maybe a bit vague and open ended at this point, but this is where the exciting transformations could occur if we move this conversation.  This recommendation speaks to the conundrum we have if we are successful at making scenario planning tools more adaptive and flexible and yet have static implementation mechanisms like zoning and subdivision ordinances that do not reflect emerging realities captured in our explorations of many possible futures.  Tools and ways of thinking are now catching up to the pace of change in our dynamic world.  We stand at a milestone in a conversation that arguably traces back to Christopher Alexander and early systems thinking, where technology, research and policy can converge to give us a regulatory system that is more adaptive and responsive to the needs and challenges of modern cities [see also: earlier blog post on a Pattern Language].

We haven’t formalized this discussion yet, but you can track it at  Ray Quay, who has many more intelligent insights into this topic, will help us shepherd this conversation into something more robust over the coming years and I’ll be prodding us along as much as I can in my role at PlaceMatters.  This is an important and exciting conversation to have and I think it will bring a number of folks together from many fields and interests.  It will also bring about a number of challenges we’ll have to figure out together as a community and profession like:

  1. What does a planning education look like in the future?
  2. What does the planning profession look like in the future? How should it change?  What are the unwavering core skills of the profession?
  3. What’s the right amount of flexibility in planning regulations (for example, some of the inflexibility is by design to save us from externalities of rapid and overwhelming development; what inflexibility can we cede if we have better systems for tracking change?)
  4. What are the challenges in fitting this into a democratic, representative decision-making process?
  5. How do we keep the process of planning and city-making human in light of these new tools and vast amounts of data?  Can we or should we avoid positivist approaches to planning and how can tool design keep us from marching down the path of metrics and data without human context?
  6. And many more…including more insight from Rob Goodspeed in this past blog post referencing E.S Savas’s 1970 Science Article Cybernetics in City Hall

Would you like to join us in the conversation and community building?  What other questions do we need to consider in this possible future?  Who are the early predecessors of this movement that we should bring out into the light again?  Help us shape the conversation.

Cross-posted on