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PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: November 22, 2011

We love online technology here at PlaceMatters, but it doesn't replace offline, in-person engagement.

EngagingCities does a nice job making the case for the importance of merging online and offline engagement strategies.

inCommon links to an op-ed arguing that transparency and information, while essential, do not alone constitute public engagement. We’d argue, for similar reasons, that there’s more to accountability than just transparency.

James Fee, on his Spatially Adjusted, blog gushes on SketchUp and its new “Making Things Real” project. We share his enthusiasm . . . we find SketchUp to be a a powerful tool for visualizing land use and design options (that happens to be free, with thanks to Google).

All Points Blog reports that Flickr added “geofencing,” which creates a privacy option based on the location of a photo. Photos geotagged as being taken with geographic areas designated by users are only shared with specific, pre-selected people. Although this particular tool may not be very useful from a civic participation perspective, it is suggestive of functionality that Flickr might eventually add that could be.

Digital Urban reviewed Instant City Generator for Cinema 4D.

Digital Urban also posted a visualization of “urban complexity” data in London. We always enjoy the videos Digital Urban digs up, including this one. What we found most interesting about this one: the way the visualization highlights the corridors and satellite urban hubs around the central city.

Our friends at the National Charrette Institute posted a list of charrette-oriented resources on their blog.

Some food for thought on Gigaom: the continued evolution of QR codes and the emergence of NFC (near field communication) technology. This post focuses on the offerings of one specific startup called Social Passport, but it offers a sense of the potential for these technologies (especially NFC) in community decision-making, especially projects that involve community members actually out in the community through asset mapping, walkshops, or other participatory activities.

We stumbled across this dated but enjoyable video of Bobby McFerrin leading an “audience participation jam.” It’s an impressive call-and-response participation model that results in some very cool music. We aren’t sure you’d want to structure an entire community participation process on this model, but we can imagine some ways that this could work for pieces of a process.

Snurblog provides a useful overview of crowdsourcing in public participation processes.

PlaceMatters‘ Ken Snyder offers his take on the emerging field of geodesign on Planetizen (and reposted on the PlaceMatters blog).

What did we miss?

GeoDesign about process, tools, and interdisciplinary approach

Shannon McElvaney at ESRI is working on a book on GeoDesign — a growing movement of academics, community planning and development practitioners, ecosystem managers, and geospatial tool developers interested in the nexus between geography, design, planning, ecosystem management and community decision making. Shannon asked PlaceMatters to contribute to the book, asking us a series of questions. In the process of answering the first question “What does GeoDesign mean to you?” I fell in love with the combination of the two words and how they truly captured the range of interests engaging in the GeoDesign conversation.

Here were a couple of my thoughts:

GeoDesign is about decisions connected to place. It’s about context sensitive process, perspective, action, and implementation – nature and nurture integrated. The interplay of the two words offers a framework and paradigm for decision making. Geo can be as simple as 2 coordinates pinpointing location or as complex as the geological, biological, social, economic, and built elements associated with a park, city block, neighborhood, town, region, or watershed. Because the word Geo is often associated with the earth and its natural components – natural systems are given appropriate prominence in GeoDesign decision making. Design adds intention to decisions. It can lead to art, economic strategies, building construction, environmental mediation, or conservation priorities to name a few. It can be a single event but is more often an iterative process of continuous improvement. The GeoDesign movement represents a broad range of professionals interested in making the world a better place with belief that location-based decision making provides a valuable framework tackling a wide range of challenges.

Others out there, reading this, active in the GeoDesign movement, what does the term mean to you?

Visit the website if you’re interested in learning more about the GeoDesign Summit hosted by ESRI.

This blog was first posted on Planetizen.

PlaceMatters gets some great press!

Front cover of the October planning magazine

Read about us in this month’s Planning Magazine, Metropolis, or ArcNews

This fall, PlaceMatters is in three publications!  We were part of the Metropolis Technology Issue on page 71 (online link to the article will be available next month).  You can read a brief on community outreach technologies including our own Brainstorm Anywhere.  A more in-depth article on High-Touch/High-Tech Charrettes is in this month’s Planning magazine on page 27 by Bill Lennertz of the National Charrette Institute (and a board member).  You’ll get a hardcopy in the mail if you are an APA member, and it is also available online here. Finally, a nice writeup of the work we did with Placeways in Cape Cod is in the Fall issue of ArcNews and is available here.  This is also a preview of a book chapter in an upcoming book on GeoDesign.

We are really excited to see our work and our partners’ work featured in the press.  Let us know what you think in the comments or on Twitter.

Esri calls for GeoDesign case studies

I recently received a request to post a call for case studies from a colleague at Esri, Shannon McElvaney.  The announcement is quoted below.  You can see some an example of our work in Cape Cod written up by Ken here, or watch an interview with Matt Baker on GeoDesign, or take a look at a GeoDesign bibliography if you want more information on GeoDesign in theory and practice.  Looking forward to seeing more case studies from people in the future.

Esri is actively seeking GeoDesign case studies for possible publication. The objective is to demonstrate GeoDesign principles in practice as a way to communicate these concepts to folks who are interested in learning more about GeoDesign. The cases need to be actual cases, not theoretical demonstrations. Cases may qualify for use in a GeoDesign Case Study book (currently being written), or they may be used as GeoDesign stories for ArcNews. Continue reading

A Pattern Language for the Public: Esri Acquires Procedural

In 1977, Christopher Alexander co-authored the book A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings and ConstructionAlexander and his co-authors lay out a series of generative patterns that form a language of solutions and problems in the built environment.  While one can argue about the patterns themselves, the thinking behind this book is what interests me the most.  This systems thinking is at the basis of many computational operations that rely on understanding the parts and the whole that they create (which is much greater than just summing up the parts).  Generative grammar applies similar thinking to language and shape grammars are at the basis of computational approaches to design (and may be most closely associated to Alexander’s pattern thinking).

3D Rotterdam in City Engine

This image from Procedural showcase (linked on this image) showing 3D Rotterdam. ArcGIS was used as well in this showcase project.

Why this nerdy, esoteric introduction?  Well, at the Esri User Conference plenary, Jack Dangermond announced the acquisition of Procedural, the Swiss makers of CityEngine.  CityEngine uses shape grammars and procedural modeling to rapidly generate 3D cities from 2D data.  Users can apply rules and iteratively generate patterns of development.  This may sound like something for someone’s PhD thesis, but really it is readily applicable to the real world.  You see, since the beginning of zoning and land use regulations, planners and cities have been engaging in a sort of defunct systems urbanism.  Buried in the legal language of land use codes and regulations are rules that give birth to the functional forms we see in our cities and towns across the country. Planners know these rules as things like setback requirements, floor area ratio, permitted uses, and so on. Continue reading

New Spatial Decision Support Portal Available

SDS Knowledge Portal graph

SDS Knowledge Portal graph. Users can click on the graph to explore the relationships within the ontology.

The folks at the University of Redlands have announced the latest version of the Spatial Decision Support (SDS) Knowledge Portal.  Working with the SDS Consortiumof which PlaceMatters is a member, they have polished the interface to make the SDS ontology more accessible to users.  The SDS ontology is an expert-driven approach to provide semantic consistency when talking about spatial decision and planning related processes.  The ontology is built on linked concepts that structure the way in which we think and talk about spatial problem solving.  For example, planning is a spatial decision problem type which has a series of related methods, which may have a set of phases or steps and so on.  These relationships are mapped graphically on the site through an interactive browser that allows the user to explore the ontology by clicking on the related nodes (image above), or a user can browse the ontology in a hierarchical fashion.

Additionally, the SDS portal has a special GeoDesign view that can be accessed in the upper right-hand corner.  Switching to this view gives the user a perspective on a slightly narrower domain of GeoDesign problem types.  GeoDesign is an evolving field of cross-disciplinary practitioners, educators and researchers that are looking at the relationship between geography and design.  While there is no singular agreed upon definition, SDS characterizes GeoDesign the following way:

From the SDS perspective, GeoDesign has a broader sense and a narrower sense. In the broader sense, GeoDesign is a process of creating solutions for geo-spatial problems, involving design and decision making activities at various stages of the process. Typical stages of this process include

  • design goal identification and design requirement development
  • design process mapping
  • condition assessment including data development and domain knowledge process model development
  • suitability assessment
  • design (with iterative, creative design activities supported by fast feedback on the design through constraints, function, performance checking models)
  • impact and performance analysis of the alternative designs
  • design alternative selection
  • etc.

This sense is similar to Steinitz’s definition above.

In a narrower sense, GeoDesign focuses specifically on the design phase of the above mentioned GeoDesign process, focusing on the creative design activities (such as drawing) and the associated feedback methods and technology that allows rapid design iteration and modification. This sense is similar to Flaxman’s definition.

The GeoDesign view of the portal is a great start on clarifying terms and approaches and it is quite likely there will never be a singular definition, but rather some frameworks and concepts that emerge over time.  As part of that, we are working on building GeoDesignWorld which will be the social component of this work.  The goal of this site is to connect people working on GeoDesign related problems to each other to help solve some of our greatest challenges.  More will be posted on this as the site emerges from the development stages.

Let us know what you think of the resource and how it can be improved by commenting below.  What other related resources would you want to see come out of this work?

Helium Balloon’s Perspective of Life in a Park

At the GeoDesign conference in San Diego we heard mention of folks at MIT using helium balloons with cameras attached to take aerial pictures.  Thinking this was a fabulous idea I decided to find out more and see if this was a technique we could easily incorporate into our projects.

The MIT connection turned out to be the  MIT Center for Future Civic Media and their partnership with others to create Grassroots Mapping, a project and resource site to encourage citizens to use these balloons to generate maps of communities and their surrounding environment.

One application highlighted on the website is Gulf coast communities using the balloons to observe and report on last year’s BP oil spill.  From Grassroots Mapping emerged the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (PLOTS) which represents network of scientists and activists experimenting with accessible technologies for investigating and reporting on local environmental health and justice issues. PLOTS is a great example of an online platform bringing together citizens, scientists, social scientists, and technologists to collaboratively solve problems.

We too see a number of ways we could integrate balloon launches into our work including adding a bird’s eye perspective to our Walkshops or providing a unique medium for place-based art projects.  The 3 minute video at the top of this blog documents our first balloon launch. Grassroots Mapping’s  downloadable instructions on how to build your own helium balloon camera made the job easy.

At the time, we did not have a digital camera with the functionality of taking continuous pictures so I put huge faith into our knots and fishing line and sent up my iPhone in video mode.  Since then we have acquired a GoPro sports camera that is capable of taking video or time-lapse pictures.  The GoPro has the added advantage of having a wide angle lens. Total cost for our first balloon launch was $165, with the rental of the helium tank and the purchase of a 6 ft diameter balloon being the dominant expenses.  The tank had enough helium for two launches.

Here is a poster of some of the images extracted from the video.

This blog was first posted on Planetizen.

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: March 30, 2011

I had a week off because of a few conferences in Washington, D.C. (including the terrific Nonprofit Technology Conference) and then an unplanned week away from the office as a raging wildfire threatened my town (we learned some great lessons about communication, community, and social media – I’ll blog about that separately), but I’m back and have got a great set of links to share . . .

PlaceMatters is presenting a panel at the APA conference in Boston in a couple of weeks called “What to do When Public Participation Goes Terribly Wrong?” Ken, who is a Planetizen blogger as well as the PlaceMatters‘ CEO, posted on the panel and invites folks to send in their own stories of near misses or total disasters. (He also cross-posted on our blog).

Bridges of B offers a lengthy description and generally favorable critique of Akoha, a civics-minded mobile-based direct action game. It offers a game-based platform for creating community-oriented missions, using game mechanics to motivate engagement. One criticism: “Place matters, especially in civics,” and Akoha doesn’t tie to one’s place very well, but Bridges of B seems pretty enthused about Ahoka as an early stab, and about the promise of the approach more generally.

National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation links to a National School Public Relations Association post called “Recipes for Innovation in Public Engagement,” focused on community engaging in the context of public education.

The Irish Cultural Center blogged about a photography project in which the subject of each photograph held a Polaroid image of the previous subject, so each photograph subject is connected to the person photographed just prior and the one photographed just afterwards. (Thanks for the link, Ethan!).

Ragtag posted a terrific (Euro- and Wikipedia-centric) data visualization relying on a cross-referencing of the location and date data in Wikipedia articles on historic events. (This one was Ethan, as well).

Reimagine Rural describes their Front Porch Forums tool, a social media application designed for smaller, rural communities. They contrast the tool with conventional social media languages and tools: it’s designed to encourage face-to-face interaction (rather than designed to maximize the time engaged with the tool). It’s focused more on general community and civic engagement as opposed to community decision-making, but it seems applicable to a wider range of situations. One post describes the Front Porch Forum and the other post has a short video explanation.

Intellitics blogs about the central role small group discussions can play in anchoring a community process.

Digital Urban continues their ruminations on the use of QRCodes in the context of museum exhibits. We find the technology and the applications pretty interesting from a broader public engagement perspective as well.

Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space grapples with the challenges of web-based engagement around redistricting.

Orton Family Foundation blogs about a story-gathering, asset mapping, and visioning effort undertaken by high school students for their Biddeford, Maine downtown.

Augmented Reality posted about two interesting innovations. The first, including a video, described an application involving driving a radio-controlled car around a track, with cameras for a real-time cockpit view and “augmented reality scenarios overlaying animations onto the live-video image which were triggered either with a light barrier or optically.” Very cool. The second shows the use of an augmented reality app to create a racetrack for a video game by mapping Red Bull cans laid out on the floor. Both illustrate ways in which augmented reality technologies can be used, and for us it’s always with an eye toward planning and community decision-making.

Common Sense California writes posts on the Marine Corps’ version of a town hall meeting at Camp Hansen.

Engaging Cities writes about the QR Code trend and offers some best practices tips for folks who may want to experiment. QR codes clearly offer process designers a tool for sparking certain types of engagement, and will be increasingly useful as camera phones continue their market saturation.

Engaging Cities also reflects a little on the use of film and community storytelling in urban planning.

My PlaceMatters colleagues have been busy with other posts as well, including Jocelyn’s on IBM’s City Forward online tool (about which Fast Company wrote recently as well), Jason’s interview with ESRI’s Matt Baker about geodesign and sketch-based feedback in ArcGIS, Ken’s thoughts on integrating DIY touchtables with GIS, and my post about the iPad 2 Best Buy vs. Mac Store face-off.

What did we miss?

Matthew Baker of ESRI talks GeoDesign

While at New Partners for Smart Growth, I had Matthew Baker of ESRI show me a couple of neat tricks for sketch based feedback in ArcGIS.  Using a series of free add-ins and some customizations [link forthcoming], he is able to get some nice feedback directly inside ArcGIS.  He does this using a Wacom DTU -2231 Tablet made for GIS applications.

If you like sketch based planning applications, also check out our interview with Doug Walker of Placeways, the creators of CommunityViz.

PlaceMatters Weekly Blog Roundup: January 19, 2010

Next American City outlines their notion of ‘Planning 2.0.’ The ESRI-sponsored post makes the case for the importance of GIS mapping technologies in Planning 2.0 approaches (naturally), but it also does a nice job of laying out a definition based on informing, engaging, and empowering stakeholders. The “2.0” metaphor is pretty tired (and has been for a while), and I’d too think there is a richer way to describe these shifts. On the other hand, planning as a profession isn’t exactly on the cutting edge of emerging technologies, so maybe the 2.0 language works well enough. More important than the moniker, though, is the recognition that the fundamental change, the “decisive paradigm shift,” is of planners planning for people to planners plan with people.

A Planner’s Guide explores hacking the Wii and Kinect for public meetings and public kiosks. This is an idea that we are particularly enthused about, and we’ve been using low-cost DIY touchtables and related technology in public meetings for a couple of years now. No doubt the universe of Wii hacks will keeping growing, and the Xbox Kinect may offer yet another pile of helpful options for community decision processes. The Kinect is still pretty finicky as a technology, and it may take another iteration or two before it’s stable and mature enough to be really useful to planners and community participation types, but the fun innovations are already popping up. And Digital Urban today blogged about a 3D room-scanning and model construction hack for the Kinect. Way cool.

The Goodspeed Update asks about using GIS tools to foster innovation.

Community Matters evokes the Village People in making the case for the value of broad local partnerships in community decision-making.

The National Charrette Institute blog offers its thoughts on when a charrette is the right type of process for the job. NCI happens to be here in Denver right now working on a five-day charrette process, a project on which some of the PlaceMatters team is also involved.

PlaceMatters’ correspondent (and PlaceMatters Lab Director) Jason Lally catches up with Jack Dangermond at the Geodesign Summit in Redlands last week. Jason also offers his reflections on the summit, and we posted our own interview with Jason on place-based gaming and urban planning.

Common Sense California writes about “Civic Engagement – Musical Style.” They also report on research suggesting that people who participated in sports while they were young are more likely than non-sports participants to participate in civic engagement activities.

Sustaining Places reports on the two recipients of this year’s American Planning Association 2011 National Planning Excellence Awards for Innovation in Sustaining Places. Yes, that’s a mouthful. The “North Shore Plan: Pa’ala’a to Kapaeloa” effort in Honolulu was one recipient, and the “North Texas 2050: For a Future that is Better than ‘Business as Usual'” was the other. The North Texas 2050 plan was specifically called out for its collaborative process.

The PlaceMatters blog also posted on our new language translation tool for public meetings.