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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?

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: April 24, 2012

Next American City reports on New York’s use of wikis to solicit feedback on an overhaul of its data publishing rules and on Oakland’s move toward an open data environment.

A new “collective online urban planning platform” is hitting the streets. Grist describes Neighborland, the latest in a growing ecosystem of promising tools for enabling community members to collect and organize ideas (with a hat tip to the Guggenheim/BMW LAB blog). The project grew out of Candy Chang’s amazing (but simple) participatory art installations in New Orleans (and now elsewhere), and Candy Chang posts about Neighborland on her blog as well. If you don’t know Candy Chang, well, you probably should.

Museum of the Future draws a useful distinction between outreach (communicating with people unknown to you and connecting them to your institution) and engagement (converting people from passersby to enthusiasts). Outreach can lead to engagement, but it’s a mistake to conflate them. Gov 2.0 Watch cites a TechPresident story exploring at a similar distinction between feedback and engagement.

EngagingCities argues, through two case studies, for a “blend of moderate technology venturing (in terms of scale), the readiness to look abroad for inspiration and solutions, and … deep engagement with their citizens throughout the process.”

EngagingCities also writes about Denver’s new participatory budgeting process and tool (Delivering Denver’s Future). It looks promising, and the team behind it is a capable group (we are fans of Urban Interactive Studio), but we’re also looking forward to the next generation of participatory budget tools that help constituents better understand the on-the-ground implications of the various budget options. It’s one thing to give constituents budget allocation options, which is what most participatory budget tools do, but it would be quite another if the users understood how levels of service or the quality of life in their community would actually be impacted by those various options.

Participatory budgeting is getting plenty of attention these days, including a New York Times article several weeks ago providing a detailed account of a participatory budgeting project covering four City Council districts in New York and and an Intellitics post mapping participatory budgeting projects around the world.

The concept, specs, and implications of Google Glasses are slowly working their way through the pundit/observer/technologist-o-sphere. We share Digital Urban’s sentiment: “With technology it always seems like one is waiting for the next big thing, but this takes it to another level….”

The Denver Post covered the Box City event here in Denver, sponsored by the American Institute of Architects Colorado, enabling 200 kids to design and build a mock city (another h/t to BMW Guggenheim LAB).

Finally, Planetizen writes, now that everyone is back home from the American Planning Association conference in Los Angeles, about the “winds of change” blowing through the APA.

What did we miss?

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: March 14, 2012

Participatory mapping in action (the from TheCityFix blog, is by Lee Shiver.).

The City Fix describes some examples and some of the value of participatory mapping in urban planning.

Engaging Cities blogs on a similar theme, writing about the use of maps in community decision-making.

The New York Times has a lengthy piece on IBM’s Smarter Cities implementation in Rio de Janeiro and IBM’s vision of a data-driven city.

We keep coming across more info about the new crop of massive, multi-touch, multi-user tables, including a promotional video from Ideum on their MT55 Pro 55″ (with a “vandal-proof case”), starting at $22,000. Yes, we are drooling.

NCDD reports on a Chris Quigley presentation about using gamification to support digital engagement.

Augmented reality technology continues moving forward. Although the tools they use here – a promotional app for a hotel – are pretty advanced, they give a sense of where AR technology is headed and the types of applications that might be useful in a decision-making context.

Open Source Planning offers some thoughts on open data and on the hype around City 2.0. It’s helpful to us in thinking about our upcoming “Community Engagement in Intelligent Cities” panel at the American Planning Association conference in April.

Ascentum makes an argument about validating the economic case for public involvement in policy decisions.

InCommon mentions a new e-commenting system adopted by the City of Arcata, CA. The Granicus system allows community members to submit comments online in response to the agenda items listed for the next public meeting of the City Council or other public bodies. We’ve been using the system in Golden, Colorado for a couple of years now, and while its functionality is pretty basic and use by Golden residents is pretty minimal, it does offer another channel for providing comments. It’s really just a web-based commenting system, though, and doesn’t break any decision-making ground.

And this time-lapse video from the International Space Station made the Roundup just because it’s cool.

What else did we miss?

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: February 29, 2012

Kids and adults alike have at it in the Lego "free play" building area at the National Building Museum.

Kids and adults alike have at it in the Lego "free play" building area at the National Building Museum.


BMW Guggenheim Lab blog reflects on some Lego-based experiments in exploring urban form at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

Planetizen has a guest post by Rob Goodspeed on the implications of big data for urban and community-planning (a subject we’ll be focusing on during our panels at the American Planning Association conference in April).

Ethan Zuckerman explores the use of (and challenges of using) video in a civic participation context.

EngagingCities (in a guest post by Rebecca Sanborn Stone) describes three very cool art-based civic participation projects designed to inform community planning efforts.

Engaging Cities also describes Crowdmap, a platform for gathering crowdsourced information and viewing the data on a map and with a timeline.

Bang the Table reports on a new study on the impact of e-participation efforts, focusing on projects in Seoul, South Korea (h/t to Gov 2.0 Watch).

Intellitics describes the Knight Foundation’s new Engagement Commons initiative.

Open Source Planning reflects on scenario planning.

Spatially Adjusted lusts after the new Ideum MT65 3D display … a 65″ 3D touch screen monitor introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show last month. It’s expected to sell for $18,000 when it’s released this spring. We aren’t likely to buy one anytime soon, but we share the sentiment.

The mobile industry association GSMA and the software company mCRUMBS are launching an augmented reality app for the Mobile World Congress, which offers another example of how augmented reality technology can provide rich, location-based content in a way that might be useful for community planning and decision-making.

On the PlaceMatters blog you’ll find posts on “The Tension Between Participatory Art and Participatory Decision-Making,” engaging community members around vacant property issues, and big data (and the use of Twitter and other geotagged data to understand human behavior in cities).

What did we miss?

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: February 15, 2012

The professionals who lead community planning efforts are often less diverse than the communities they are working with.

Professional planners, urban designers, and architects (this is our own Ken Snyder working on a comprehensive plan project in Shreveport) are typically much less ethnically diverse than the communities they work with.


Grist explores the lack of people of color as professionals in the fields of planning, urban design, and architecture, and what that means for community design processes (h/t to Planetizen).

Metaio has a new video showing some impressive improvements in their augmented reality engine, most notably with “3D markerless tracking,” aka real-time orientation of the mobile device. The original videos illustrating the technology were very cool but were shot in a controlled lab environment. That’s not true here.

Artist Candy Chang is at it again with another “Before I Die” interactive art installation, this time in London. We love this.

This is cool: a diversity of Swedish citizens each get to tweet under the @Sweden handle for a week at a time: “Every week, someone in Sweden is @Sweden: sole ruler of the world’s most democratic Twitter account.” Time and others have reported on this.

This is dated but we stumbled across it recently … a performance-based approach to community engagement on land use and urban design issues in Portland by the Sojourn Theater.

Here’s a new tool in Washington state for helping voters sort through issues, discuss and deliberate about them with other voters, and identify points of agreement and potential compromise (h/t to Jon Stahl’s Journal).

TheCityFix describes a photo- and art-based project aiming to engage younger community members in a rethinking of public transit.

We’ve started thinking about ways Pinterest (which is experiencing spectacular user growth and now drives more referral traffic on the web than Google+, YouTube, Reddit, and LinkedIn combined) could be helpful in community engagement efforts. Its ease of use and its deeply viral dynamics may make it a really useful tool for collecting and sharing images. The Museum of the Future and Quicksprout each have some nice summaries of potential uses. Don’t be misled by their focus on museums and marketing, respectively … many of their suggestions apply more broadly.

The New York Times takes a stab at a mildly interactive data visualization of the President’s 2013 budget proposal.

EngagingCities reports on a new study by the Corporation for National and Community Service exploring internet use for civic life across generations.

In a separate post, EngagingCities reflects on “the democratization of mapmaking” and some of the implications for civic participation.

EngagingCities (which ties for the ‘most mentions’ award this week) also describes the growing momentum around the idea and emerging field of geodesign.

Digital Urban has three posts that we spent some time with, as well: one offering a first look at the new CityEngine and an integration with Lumion (which collectively they call “a game changer”), a more detailed look at the CityEngine and Lumion combination, and a third demonstrating live 3D Kinect-based streaming.

California Common Sense launched a new civic engagement website focused on state policy and financial issues, providing background on issues, soliciting opinions, and sharing those opinions with elected officials (h/t to Gov 2.0 Watch).

And on the PlaceMatters blog we posted a rundown of some easy rules for screwing up your public process.

What did we miss?

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: January 18, 2012

OpenIdeo is poised to announce the winner of their “restoring vibrancy to cities” crowdsourced challenge, winnowing down an initial list of 331 concepts to a short list of 20 finalists and now to a single winner.

YPulse reports on Sesame Street’s new augmented reality app unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show last week.

Civic Commons launched the Civic Commons Marketplace to help government folks find the best online engagement tools for their own community’s needs (h/t to EngagingCities for the heads up).

Continue reading

Most Exciting Trends in 2012: Mobile, Social, and Local

PlaceMatters’ Ken Synder using his smartphone as part of a Walkshop demonstration. We expect to see increasingly cool and robust ways to use smartphones in community decision-making in 2012.

Five trends I’m excited about for 2012:

1) Mobile Everything
It’ll all be about mobile in 2012. Smartphone sales continue to grow, and consumers are increasingly shifting from PC-based web activity to using smartphones. Because of the pervasiveness of mobile devices and the growing sophistication of both native and HTML-based apps, many of the tools that groups like PlaceMatters use will rely increasingly on versions that run on mobile devices. This will present some terrific opportunities, but it will also mean we need to be even more mindful of digital divide problems, ensuring that individuals without mobile devices and communities with lower mobile penetration are still able to fully participate and contribute.

2) Social Media Goes Even Bigger
Although Facebook use has already reached mind-boggling proportions (more than 800 million active users, according to Facebook), we expect that Facebook and other social media products will become even more universal and essential as engagement platforms, web portals, and discovery engines. Civic participation will increasingly rely directly on Facebook and social media and on tools that themselves are built on social media platforms. Continue reading

Looking Back at 2011: Augmented Reality, Mobile, and Regional Sustainability Planning

Augmented reality applications haven’t yet reached their potential as a community decision-making tool, but they are maturing quickly.

Way back in January of 2011, I asked my colleagues here at PlaceMatters what they were most excited about for the new year. Here’s a quick look at how our expectations for 2011 tracked to what the year actually held:

Ken was excited about how the rumored addition of a camera on the new iPad would enable very cool augmented reality apps that might include, for example, information like bus routes, Walkscores, and zoning proposals. As it turns out, the iPad 2 rocks but the augmented reality technology still has a ways to go before it really plays a role in community decision-making. Nonetheless, augmented reality technology is advancing, including implementations by Bosch Home Appliances, CASA, and Wikitude Drive. Ken was also excited about integrating interactive touch tables into public meetings (which we’ve been doing a bunch), about emerging online community dashboards (which are more and more common now), and about the PlaceMatters Decision Lab, which in 2011 started to find its sea legs and is poised for some great work this year.

Jason pointed to mobile apps. He was excited about the growing smartphone adoption rate (Pew reported 35% mid-year) and technological advances in the apps themselves enabling low-cost and high-value engagement tools. And he was right in his prediction about the expanding use of game-based approaches to civic participation, as well, like Crowdsourced Moscow 2012 and those Jason described in a May blog post (“Can Games Save the World?“).

Jocelyn’s enthusiasm was more focused on federal policy and funding rather than technology, in particular the ramping up of the HUD Sustainable Communities Grants program. Forty-five regions and communities across the country begin implementing HUD grants, kicking off a fundamental shift in the way the federal government tackles regional planning. PlaceMatters has long championed the integration of transportation, land use, housing, and environmental considerations in regional planning, and to watch this integration begin occurring in so many places across the country was truly exciting. And in September, HUD announced the recipients of a second round of grant awards, including two that PlaceMatters will work on (Erie County, PA and the Denver Metro region).

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: January 5, 2012

TechCrunch reports on a seriously cool new augmented reality application: instant translation of foreign-language text. It’s not hard to imagine how useful a tool like this might be for community decision-making efforts in mixed language communities.

Cooltown Studios describes Popularise, an unusual private sector approach to crowdsourcing development plans. I’m not convinced the “long tail” metaphor makes sense here, and it’s not clear how the developers will actually use the crowd-supplied preferences given all the other considerations that the developers have to take into account, but it’s an intriguing idea.

Museum 2.0 has a great list of lessons learned over the last year about designing for participation (and links to another great list on The Museum of the Future blog).

Gov 2.0 Watch points us to a fascinating online, multiplayer city-building game called “Crowdsourced Moscow 2012.” Although we haven’t had a chance to play the game, a few things stand out in the promo video: players adopt one of several roles, each with specific interests and strengths; making tradeoffs is embedded in the gameplay; background information relevant to the various choices players must make is part of the game experience; and the game is intended to help participants imagine a wide range of possible futures.

As Intellitics reports, the New York Times launched another crowdsourced budget cutting project, this time focusing on the planned $450 billion in Pentagon spending cuts over the next decade. The problem, common to budget calculators, is that it’s very difficult to determine the real impacts of any of the choices. While those impacts are often the subject of fierce debate (e.g., just how valuable is the V-22 Osprey or the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter), without this context it’s not clear how well participants understand the trade-offs between the options they are presented with.

Intellitics also reports on a new study exploring online deliberation design. The study evaluates a range of design considerations and the empirical evidence on their utility and effectiveness.

What did we miss?

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?