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Housing Recovery in Lyons, CO

Lyons Generic 2

Map of Lyons, CO and flooding effects

Following the 2013 flooding in Colorado, the Town of Lyons continues to navigate the complex world of disaster recovery. The Town is continuously aiming at transparency and public outreach in their efforts to rebuild stronger and smarter. In a landlocked community, the issue of where and how to rebuild housing has been a challenging process. Refer to our November 2014 post, Resilience Planning in Lyons, CO, for a map and additional background on the flood recovery process.

Through our grant with HUD-EPA Sustainable Communities Initiative, PlaceMatters was able to assist the Trestle Strategy Group and enhance their community engagement strategy by bringing high- and low-tech solutions to the process. In October of 2014 the Town had tasked Trestle to conduct additional site analysis for Lyons residents to vote on a site for replacement housing. They had only four months to complete their analysis, with robust engagement for stakeholders, who would ultimately decide if the proposed site was acceptable through a vote.

The first issue that arose was the need to get accurate information to the community on the immense amount of work that had been going on since the flood to determine where housing should go and how it would be paid for. Between the fast pace of disaster recovery, the numerous other concerns of residents, and wide range of ongoing projects, much of the current work on housing recovery was not known to residents. Several different websites hosted relevant flood recovery information and it took searching to find all of the plans, meeting minutes, and analysis that had been performed.

In an attempt to centralize all information in one place in a visually engaging manner, PlaceMatters created an interactive Tiki-Toki timeline. The timeline displays events that happened in Lyons since the floods; it is searchable and allows for colored content bands to help the user navigate the information; and it links back to the original documents they referenced. The Town of Lyons embedded the timeline on the main page of the housing recovery website allowing for residents to more easily navigate information. Residents were then able to easily access the Recovery Action Plan, Housing Recovery Plan, numerous meeting minutes, Board of Trustees deadline information, and recovery videos in one location.


As more residents became aware of housing efforts, concerns also peaked. A primary concern for residents was to not have a clear understanding of what the future held for this process and when they would be heard. We created a simple infographic timeline that gave residents a better understanding of how they would be involved throughout the planning process, what the time frame was, and what the next steps would be. Copy of Lyons Recovery Housing Process

Another key concern was the location of housing. A group named SOPOS, or Save Our Parks and Open Space, formed to voice their opinion against placing recovery housing in Bohn Park, or any other park space. Lyons, CO is a landlocked community, surrounded by open space. This leaves very little space for development within the town limits. Bohn Park was one location being considered for recovery housing.In Lyons, CO any resident can bring any issue to a full town vote with 50 petition signatures. Those working on identifying sites were aware that if they selected Bohn Park for housing, SOPOS would most likely circulate a petition and bring the issue to a town vote.

On January 5, 2015 the BoT voted to use Bohn Park for a future housing project and the design process began. As expected, SOPOS managed to get enough signatures to bring the issue up for a town vote. The town then prepared for the vote, giving residents information on available funding that was related to the initial flood and the importance of timing, and continued to provide information on the site.

In February 2015, the Lyons Housing Collaborative was formed to conduct outreach to residents and provide education and solicit input on recovery housing. The team included the architecture firm Workshop8, the landscape architect DHM Design,  the landscape consultant Urban Oasis, Trestle Strategy Group as the engagement consultant , Boulder County Housing Authority as the master developer, Habitat for Humanity of St. Vrain Valley, and Milender White Construction.  PlaceMatters supported the overall process and the team. The team had a storefront in Lyons, open to answer residents questions on housing issues. They had an Internet presence, held public meetings, conducted weekly site visits and a visit to explore what affordable housing looks like in the area. The outreach was extensive. The architecture firm, Workshop8 gathered resident input in a workshop and then needed to refine and understand resident inclinations, by polling them on design preferences. PlaceMatters was able to support the Team through live keypad polling at the meeting. Keypad polling allows participants to rank or choose preferences with instant feedback, providing transparency and moving discussion forward on the nuances of why residents voiced the opinions they did. The polling is also anonymous, giving residents a safe venue for providing honest feedback without the worry of neighbor reactions.

Residents were pleased with the instant feedback and they were eager to discuss the pro and cons of their choices. The meeting was highly productive and architects were able to leave with a clear understanding of the residents top choice for site layout, construction materials and amenity preferences.

The Lyons Emergency Assistance Fund (LEAF) hired Janaki Jane to assist with communication to displaced residents. Over a year after the flooding, it has continued to be difficult to identify how many residents are still displaced and there is little understood about what, if any, information is being communicated to them. Janaki has taken video of potential types of housing for the displaced residents, but doesn’t have the capacity or tools to edit and share the video.

PlaceMatters supported communication with residents by assisting Janaki with editing and distributing footage she took of replacement housing examples. The product is an informational video on affordable housing typologies in Boulder County.

The Town voted on using 5-7 acres of Bohn Park for recovery housing on March 24, 2015. Emotions peaked leading up to the vote and you were hard pressed to find a resident who was unaware of the vote and hadn’t been in contact with some form of outreach.

The residents voted not to use this space for recovery housing. A local news outlet, the Longmont Timescall, reported that 614 voted against and 498 voted for using Bohn Park for housing. This is 55% of the voting population and the highest recorded turnout for voting in the town. PlaceMatters role was to provide support engagement and information sharing for replacement housing. Given the mission of the grant we were careful to stay out of political advocacy.

While finding homes for those displaced by disaster is something that we may believe on a personal level, the outcome of the vote does not discount the success in the high level of participation, conversation and engagement the the residents were part of leading up to it. Residents are now looking at a range of options that could still lead to some affordable housing units being built in town to help some of the displaced residents return. Without Federal recovery funding, however, we will mostly see fewer units built over a longer period of time.



Resiliency planning in Lyons, CO

Lyons Generic 2Flooding in September of 2013 devastated Lyons, CO, causing substantial damage to almost 200 homes in the confluence and neighborhoods near the North and South St. Vrain Rivers. This has caused many of these locations to be no longer eligible for development. In a town with very little available and suitable land for development already, the challenge of where to rebuild housing in order to bring back displaced residents and restore community assets is a huge and challenging undertaking. On October 27, 2014, the Town of Lyons Board of Trustees awarded Trestle Strategy Group the work for the Lyons Housing Site Analysis Study and the Lyons Facilities Siting Plan/Municipal Campus Feasibility Study. Both studies will be a trusted source of information for the community to help build a coalition of support, and guide the Town to the best options for the community as a whole.

Through a grant from HUD and EPA’s Sustainable Communities Initiative, PlaceMatters is coordinating efforts between the Town of Lyons, Trestle, DRCOG, CU Denver, and DOLA, and working to facilitate community discussions linked to the Town’s recovery plan and implementation. A lot has happened in a short amount of time, and keeping track of progress, including events and who is involved, can be a challenge with the immense amount of activity that goes with disaster recovery.

PlaceMatters provided support during the Halloween Spooktacular festivities on October 25, 2014 by hosting a booth with flood recovery information. The booth also had the now familiar yellow ribbons for residents. The ribbons represent the still displaced residents. Community members could also sign up to receive the Lyons Recovery Action Plan – a visual tour of the effects of the flood, and each commissions’ strategy towards recovery – and books from local students with stories from the flood.

Along with Trestle, we are also helping the Town build a website and social media page so that anyone can easily find useful information about the amount of work that Lyons has done since the flood, what is currently being done, and key decisions that will be to be made in the near future. To do so, an interactive timeline (to be built built on the Tiki-Toki platform) on the Town’s webpage will link to resources and help residents see the amazing amount of background work that has been done around these challenges.

The timeline will provide a visually engaging way to explore past, current and future efforts, milestones, and opportunities for involvement and input. It will include videos, audio, images, text and links to information. Most importantly, it will bring together all of the pieces of recovery to one location to easily navigate. We are hoping the timeline will be on Lyons’ website by next week.

In addition, many people from the community have worked hard during the last year to get Lyons’ residents to tell their flood stories; we are working with those community members to gather and publish the stories they collected on a common platform. Hopefully this platform will bring recognition to their outreach efforts and continue building the community’s unique identity.

“Using Tools and Data to Inform Equity-Oriented Decision-Making” webinar on October 15

Join PlaceMatters for a webinar on Using Tools and Data to Inform Equity-Oriented Decision-Making.

Date: October 15, 2014

Time: 3:30 pm – 4:30 pm EDT


Join us to learn about three strategies for thinking about and improving equity in our regions. University of Maryland will demo OppMap, a web-based tool for community-driven opportunity mapping in the Baltimore region. Jason Reece of the Kirwan Institute will show how historical analysis brought clarity to equity discussions in Cleveland. Holly St. Clair of MAPC will share lessons learned about how tapping into empathy can help cultivate an open environment for discussing equity.

Questions? Contact Critter Thompson at PlaceMatters.

This webinar session is provided through the Sustainable Communities Learning Network. The primary audience is members of the network, but anyone who is interested may participate.


NEW DATE: Engagement Tech for All Webinar now on June 26

Join PlaceMatters for a webinar on Engagement Tech for All.

Date: June 26, 2014

Time: 1:30 pm – 3 pm MDT


“Civic Technologies” are gaining increasing interest as a way to engage hard-to-reach populations in community planning and decision-making. Low income people, as well as people of color, immigrants, people with limited English proficiency, and youth are often un- or underrepresented in these processes.  Reasons for this lack of engagement include limited city budgets and staff capacity, absence of awareness of opportunities to engage, limited language skills and reading comprehension, and previous negative experiences resulting in mistrust or hostility towards government.  While not a panacea, civic technologies can enhance the toolkit available to planners and decision-makers who want to broaden public engagement. PlaceMatters recently released a report, funded by the Ford Foundation, on best practices in the use of civic technologies to reach underrepresented populations. The webinar will feature findings from the report, as well as case studies from communities that have effectively leveraged the widespread use of mobile phones, social media, and other technologies to engage a broad audience.  Join this webinar to learn more about the latest innovations in the field of civic technology, and the potential for these technologies to advance transformational change in communities, particularly around the lives of low-income people.


* Jill Locantore, Program Director, PlaceMatters
* Frank Hebbert, Director, OpenPlans
* Tamir Novotny, Senior Associate, Public Sector Innovation, Living Cities
* Holly St. Clair, Director of Data Services, Metropolitan Area Planning Council

This webinar session is provided through the Sustainable Communities Learning Network. The primary audience is members of the network, but anyone who is interested may participate.

Community Engagement Training May 22

Join PlaceMatters for a training on
Tools for Effective Community Engagement

Date: Thursday, May 22, 2014

Time: 2:00 – 4:00 pm

Place: Loveland Public Library, 300 North Adams Avenue, Erion Room (2nd floor)

Note: This training will be recorded and broadcast live on the internet via Livestream at 


This training is for Colorado communities affected by the 2013 floods, including local government staff and elected officials, and community-based partner organizations (e.g., housing authorities, parks and recreation districts, and private and nonprofit partners, etc.). Other local governments and community-based organizations throughout Colorado are welcome to participate remotely via the internet, and in person if space is available.

Topics to be covered:

* Principles of effective public engagement

* Tools and techniques appropriate for different levels of public engagement

* How to integrate informed decision-making into the process

* Special considerations for community engagement during disaster recovery


The training will be casual and interactive, with plenty of time for questions and answers throughout.

Questions? Contact Jill Locantore at

AICP CM credits available.


Presented by:


Announcing Community Outreach Internship – Summer 2014

Active Transportation Initiative

Since the 1950’s American cities have made many decisions around land use and transportation based on data related to cars, particularly congestion levels. As more and more communities respond to the groundswell of interest in biking and walking, they’re discovering a lack of tools and data needed to make more informed decisions around active transportation. PlaceMatters’ Active Transportation Initiative assists communities that want to become more bicycle and pedestrian friendly by clarifying the complex decisions that make active transportation possible, pioneering techniques for civic engagement tailored to these issues, and providing tools to gather the data and community experiences that allow for informed decisions. PlaceMatters has several internship positions available within its Active Transportation Initiative. This document describes the Community Outreach and Engagement position; please stay tuned to our website for additional positions.

Community Outreach and Engagement Intern

The ideal candidate for this position is someone who is outgoing and energetic, enjoys working with a wide range of people, and is passionate about creating great, walkable neighborhoods. You will work closely with both PlaceMatters and WalkDenver staff to support outreach efforts related to WALKscope (, an open-source tool developed by PlaceMatters and WalkDenver to crowdsource data about walkability. You will also help support neighborhood organizations and other entities that are interested in using WALKscope for a specific project.

What you will learn:

– Innovative tools and techniques for community engagement;
– Planning, design, and facilitation of interactive community workshops and neighborhood walk audits;
– How to summarize community input and prepare written reports;
– Evaluation of community engagement efforts;
– Use of mobile technology to crowdsource pedestrian data;
– Use of crowdsourcing to engage residents in a dialogue about active transportation;
– How crowdsourcing tools can support more informed, inclusive decision-making about land use and transportation;
– How neighborhoods, non-profit organizations, and community foundations can collaborate on important community issues;
– Walkability issues and challenges facing Denver neighborhoods.

What we require:

– Background in community planning or a related field;
– Interest in public engagement and active transportation issues;
– Strong written and oral communication skills;
– Comfortable speaking in front of a large group;
– Well-organized;
– Flexible and able to adapt when things don’t go as planned;
– Proficient in Microsoft Office;
– Comfortable with mobile technologies.

About PlaceMatters

PlaceMatters is a non-profit organization that works with our partners to create and maintain sustainable and vibrant communities by improving decision-making processes. We work across the United States—currently our projects range from Hawaii to Albany, NY—to bring more people to decision processes, and ensure that their decisions are based upon robust local information and models.  More information is available at:

PlaceMatters is a relaxed, team-oriented work environment.  Internships include a stipend and transit pass. This is a temporary part-time position.

Candidates should have experience in or knowledge of community decision-making, sustainability principles, and be well organized, have good public speaking and written communication skills, and have an interest in improving community decision making via equitable, informed, and transparent decision-making processes.

To Apply

To apply, please submit your contact information, cover letter, resume, and writing sample online via by April 11th. Interviews will be conducted the week of April 21st and finalists selected by April 28th.

PlaceMatters 2014 Internship Program – Community Outreach Intern Announcement PDF



Digital Engagement: Challenges and Strategies for Local Governments

Digital technology is quickly integrating into our lives: recent data from the Pew Research Center show that 91% of American adults own a cell phone, among which 58% are smartphones. If you are still questioning the pervasiveness of digital technology, simply watch a 2-year-old toddler unlocking your smartphone or tablet and making it all the way to her favorite game (or your emails). Civic participation in comprehensive planning is no exception to this trend: an increasing number of municipalities and government agencies are using digital community engagement tools to reach broader audiences, make the process innovative and fun, and complement traditional in-person strategies.

At the forefront of this trend is the City of Salt Lake City, which already implemented a wide range of digital engagement tools, including websites, Open City Hall, blogs, SpeakOutSLC, social media, and Textizen. Like many cities using these types of tools, Salt Lake has faced some challenges. Because so many people can participate online, the amount of input can quickly become overwhelming and difficult to analyze. Further, the City wasn’t sure how to evaluate the effectiveness of the tools it was using, especially compared to other outreach methods. To address these challenges, Salt Lake City asked PlaceMatters to research and make recommendations on the following two questions:

  1. How to synthesize (compile and summarize) the input gathered through digital outreach methods into a format that is useful for local government planners and decision-makers?
  2. How to evaluate the effectiveness of digital outreach methods?

Our research involved three steps: first, we interviewed Salt Lake City’s engagement manager and conducted an online survey of approximately 20 selected City staff. Second, we carried out a thorough literature review of previous research on the topics. Finally, we interviewed academics and practitioners, both inside and outside the US, with expertise in public engagement generally and digital outreach in particular.

Based on this research, PlaceMatters made the following recommendations to the City, which any government agency interested in using digital outreach tools should consider:

  1. Confirm the key objectives the City hopes to achieve through the use of digital outreach tools. For example, we identified three objectives for Salt Lake City: “engage a diverse group of stakeholders,” “increase trust in government,” and “enhance citizen knowledge of policy issues.”
  2. Establish a systematic approach to evaluation with minimum standards to be incorporated into all public engagement efforts, and build these into individual and department work plans. Specific categories and methods of evaluation include ease of use, usage, efficiency, and effectiveness.
  3. Establish a central repository of public input. The idea is to store public input collected through diverse methods and across different projects in a centralized location, using a tool that is easy to use and search through.
  4. Dedicate staff and resources for public engagement.
  5. Share practices and evaluation results internally and externally. Building a culture of community engagement and evaluation both within the community and nationwide will lead to continuous improvement in engagement tools and techniques.

The full report is available for viewing or download below. Please contact Marine Siohan ( for any additional questions, feedback or comments.

Digital Outreach in Salt Lake City: Evaluating Effectiveness & Synthesizing Input


Engagement Tech for All

“Civic Technologies” are gaining increasing interest as a way to engage hard-to-reach populations in community planning and decision-making. Low income people, as well as people of color, immigrants, people with limited English proficiency, and youth are often un- or underrepresented in these processes.  Reasons for this lack of engagement, according to earlier research by the non-profit OpenPlans, include limited city budgets and staff capacity, absence of awareness of opportunities to engage, limited language skills and reading comprehension, and previous negative experiences resulting in mistrust or hostility towards government.  While not a panacea, we believe that civic technologies enhance the toolkit available to planners and decision-makers who want to broaden public engagement. 

However, little has been written to date about how civic technologists focused on reaching underrepresented communities can most effectively approach their work.  In response to this issue, PlaceMatters conducted best practices research, with support from the Ford Foundation.  We are pleased to release “Engagement Tech for All: Best Practices in the Use of Technology in Engagement Underrepresented Communities in Planning” today.

Mobile: An emerging frontier in civic engagement

Widespread adoption of mobile technologies is enabling some households to leapfrog the “digital divide.”  The Pew Research Center reports that as of May 2013, 91% of American adults had mobile phones, including 86% of adults with lower incomes.  Pew further reports that African-Americans and Latinos use social media slightly more than whites (non-Hispanics), and are more likely than whites to want the government to post more information on social media.

Case studies highlighted in the report illustrate how planners can leverage this widespread use of mobile phones and social media to engage a broad audience.  Mi Parque, for example, is a bi-lingual mobile smartphone application that gathers input about a 23-acre park being developed over a former Superfund site in Little Village in Chicago. The application was created by an all-women team including Motorola and several students and faculty affiliated with the Open Youth Networks from Columbia University, mentored by engineers from several tech companies. The report also describes #VizLou, a Twitter-based social media tool and website, developed by Living Cities in partnership with OpenPlans, which invites youth (“Visionaries”) in Louisville, KY, to engage around civic issues.

Emerging Best Practices

General best practices that emerge from the report include the following:

  1. Members of the target population should provide input on tool development, to ensure the tool will be accessible to and used by the community.
  2. For underrepresented communities in particular, new tools or add-ons should be built based upon tools and technology these communities are already using.
  3. Visual communication, including graphics, short videos, and images are often a more effective means of communicating and engaging underrepresented groups that have a variety of language and educational backgrounds.
  4. Tools that track user demographics can help practitioners evaluate the effectiveness of the tool in reaching target populations, and demonstrate the value of the tools to sometimes-skeptical public decision-makers
  5. Regardless of the outreach method used, the most critical determinant of success (real and perceived) is whether the input gathered is reflected in decisions, actions, and outcomes.  Quick implementation of on-the-ground changes, even small ones, can demonstrate the responsiveness of public agencies to community input and needs.
  6. The most effective examples of technology-based tool use take advantage of social networks, community groups, and trusted advocates that already exist in the real world, and use these tools to support, rather than replace, face-to-face interaction.

Our report concludes by noting that, while communities are using technology to effectively engage typically underrepresented groups, rigorous evaluation of these efforts has been limited.  In some cases, communities need to collect additional data to more accurately determine who is participating, and to meaningfully compare the costs and benefits associated with different tools or outreach methods.  For example, better information on demographics and cost per participant associated with hosting public meetings versus engaging residents through online or mobile technologies can help communities use limited resources more efficiently, and to target more expensive outreach methods to specific groups that may be difficult to engage otherwise.

Click the links below to download the main report and related appendices:

Engagement Tech for All: Main Report

Engagement Tech for All: Appendix A

Engagement Tech for All: Appendix B


This post also appeared on the Living Cities blog, The Catalyst.

Webinar: Transitioning to Long-Term Community Engagement

Join PlaceMatters and PolicyLink for a webinar on Transitioning to Long-Term Community Engagement.

Date: February 19, 2014

Time: 12:00 – 1:30 pm MDT


Comprehensive planning that integrates the needs and expertise of a broad range of sectors, communities and approaches is the foundation of HUD’s Sustainable Communities Initiative.  With the grant program’s emphasis on increasing the engagement of historically marginalized communities in the planning process, local governments and regions have been forging new relationships, new problem-solving methods, and new, inclusive decision-making tables.

The challenge now is how to transition this work into long-term strategies and institutionalized practices for continued community engagement beyond the grant-funding period.  PlaceMatters and PolicyLink have therefore teamed up to host a webinar on strategies and resources for institutionalizing inclusive, meaningful engagement through behavioral, organizational, structural or other changes.

The webinar will feature speakers from two different communities that are on the forefront of implementing long-term strategies for community engagement – the Kansas City Region and Piedmont Triad.  Join this webinar to learn about the approaches these regions are exploring and using to continue and institutionalize the public/community partnerships developed during the SCI planning phase.


  • Jill Locantore, Sustainable Solutions Group, PlaceMatters (moderator)
  • Sarita Turner, Senior Associate, PolicyLink
  • Ron Achelpohl, Assistant Director of Transportation, Mid-America Regional Council
  • Gloria Ortiz-Fisher, Executive Director, Westside Housing Organization
  • Mark E. Kirstner, AICP, Director of Planning, Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation
  • David Allen, Communications and Youth Outreach, Beloved Community Center, Greensboro, NC

Please contact Jill Locantore at if you have any questions.

This webinar session is sponsored by the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities at U.S. HUD. The primary audience is Sustainable Communities Partnership grantees and their consortium partners, but anyone who is interested may participate.



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.