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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.

Linking Equity and Scenario Planning

Kirwan Opportunity Map

Example of Opportunity Mapping from Kirwan Institute

A few months ago, PlaceMatters hosted a webinar “Linking Equity and Scenario Planning” for the Sustainable Communities Grantees.  The webinar featured highlights of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning‘s GO TO 2040 process and its equity components, including increasing access to the scenario planning work via interact kiosks placed in strategic parts of the region.   Jason Reece from the Kirwan Institute gave a great presentation on Opportunity Mapping, which provides spatial representation of some of the inequities in access to opportunity. Boston’s Metropolitan Area Planning Council then discussed the work they have done incorporating equity issues into both the process and content of their scenarios work.  Finally, I wrapped things up with a few additional thoughts on how to communicate complex information.

Our presenters had really valuable thoughts about the linkages between equity and scenario planning–both how to equitably engage people in the scenario planning process and what to measure and think about in scenario development itself. Issues of inequitable access to opportunity are complicated, difficult to measure, and difficult to talk about. Our webinar presenters are at the forefront of making equity a critical part of scenario planning discussions and are examples of how to embed the equity conversation in all aspects of our work.

Watch the webinar below, and please contact us with any thoughts and questions, as this is a topic we continue to explore.

Sustainable Communities Initiative: Equity and Scenario Planning Webinar from PlaceMatters’ Videos on Vimeo.

Scenario Planning Tools Workshop Highlights

Last week, PlaceMatters and Envision Utah hosted a Scenario Planning Workshop in Salt Lake City for grantees of the HUD/EPA/DOT Sustainable Communities Initiative. In addition to overviews of how scenario planning fits within broader planning projects, the workshop gave attendees a chance to get hands-on training in the nuts and bolts of using scenario planning tools. All of the tools experts provided excellent resources for the grantees, and two things stood out to me in particular:

First, Bill Lennertz from National Charrette Institute gave a great presentation about the charrette process, which uses iterative design sessions in a compressed time frame to generate both design strategies and community buy-in to the process and the solutions. It got me thinking about ways to incorporate Bill’s charrette approach into how we do scenario planning projects; for instance, are there ways that more in-depth working sessions with stakeholders and design-oriented approaches to scenario creation and exploration could plug into typical scenario frameworks? That’s something we’ll be exploring more in the coming months.

I also really enjoyed going under the hood of Envision Tomorrow +. Alex and Nadine from Fregonese Associates went through the details of several of the spreadsheets that drive the Return on Investment model and some of the other features of ET+, which really cemented my own interest in using it both on its own and in concert with other scenario planning tools that we use in our own shop.

All in all, the workshop was a great opportunity to connect with grantees and find how both how they’ve been using scenario planning tools in the past and the strategies they are putting together for their current projects.

Scenario Planning and Equity

Last week, PlaceMatters convened a peer exchange event in Seattle to look at how to better integrate social equity and scenario planning. The event, part of the HUD/EPA/DOT Sustainable Communities Initiative, brought together regions from around the country who have strong track records of engaging both topics, and the peer exchange format allowed for some great conversations. A couple personal highlights:

  • Boston’s regional planning agency (MAPC) is doing some amazing things that link together data and mapping with the Weave  platform. For instance, the one pictured below links a chart and map so that you can highlight an element of either the map or chart and it highlights the corresponding element on the other side (rather than trying to make sense of my description, I suggest you test it out).

    DataCommon, built on the Weave platform

  • The Puget Sound Regional Council has teamed up with Impact Capital to develop a regional equity network that is making sure equity issues are central to their planning project. I was particularly impressed with the regional equity network concept (more on that here) and the way the small grants program is tapping into existing institutions and networks to build civic capacity and engagement.
  • Finally, Dr. Gerardo Sandoval, a professor at University of Oregon, is looking at how undocumented immigrant communities can be better engaged and included in planning processes, including scenario planning. He had some great examples of things like commute patterns by bike that would likely get missed in a typical scenario planning process. It’s incredibly easy to lose sight of how much diversity there is in the way people use the built environment, so his research is a much-needed check to the scenario planning and civic engagement worlds.

These sorts of conversations, in which professionals are able to share lessons learned and collaboratively talk about solving current challenges, are incredibly valuable but unfortunately rare opportunities. They’re possible because of the innovative Sustainable Communities Initiative, and I hope they’re able to become more regular parts of the planning world.

Participation by Design: Hacking for Good (and Profit)

This post, by PlaceMatters blogger Jason Lally, is the twelfth in a month-long series on the impressive diversity of participatory decision-making tools that communities can use for land use plans, transportation plans, sustainability plans, or any other type of community plan. Our guest bloggers are covering the gamut, from low-tech to high-tech, web-based to tactile, art-based to those based on scenario planning tools, and more. We welcome your feedback and would love to hear about the participatory design strategies that you’ve found to be the most useful.

We believe in collaborative process for better, enduring outcomes around community decision-making. But the collaborative process is really an overlay on any decision-making approach that needs many interested parties to negotiate and design a solution. One type of collaborative process that has come out of the programming and software development world is the hackathon.

Fall 2010 hackNY Student Hackathon

HackNY Student Hack-a-thon hosted in Fall of 2010

 Photo Credit: via Compfight

Think of a dance marathon, but instead of being on your feet for 48 hours, you are furiously programming and designing with a team over a similar period. And instead of raising money for a cause, you’re donating time and code to a needy nonprofit, civic group or public agency. Hackathons have also been used as testing grounds for great ideas, with investors looking for strong teams and offering capital or other rewards to help build viable businesses as featured in a recent Wired article by Steven Leckart. Even if not the explicit goal of a hackathon, new businesses can emerge from these events just from the concentrated creative power gathered in a single room.

Hackathons have become very popular among civic-minded folks in areas like transportation, government transparency and clean energy.  In the world of planning related data, transportation has probably gotten the most love. OpenPlans has really helped build a movement around opening up transportation data to build really cool apps like OpenTripPlanner and MTA BusTime (based on the open source project One Bus Away from the Puget Sound region). And Google gave open transportation apps a great big push when they released the General Transit Feed Specification (a standard format for publishing transit information in a way that computers can read and understand).

Hackathons form one piece of a larger network of activities and people that support civic hacking. Behind each hackathon are a bevy of organizations and people cheering on and supporting the effort. They host GitHub repositories, provide space, host data catalogs, volunteer time, manage listservs, build partnerships, and so on. The ecosystem of data, tools, people and organizations provide the necessary input into really successful hackathon events. It turns out that, in the end, these events are just one visible piece of the civic hacking culture. What happens before and after is just as, if not more, important to sustaining apps and solutions to really complex problems.

It was out of this realization that the PlaceMatters Decision Lab was born about 2 years ago. Nothing really changed here at PlaceMatters except adding a level of intention and strategy behind the work we were already doing.  Now, we are working on some specific projects for this year that are very exciting.  One of these projects is  a hackathon around the livability principles outlined by HUD, EPA, and DOT as part of the sustainable communities initiative, which follows on the first of these done in DC in January.

The event will be in Denver and use local, open and available data to address issues of sustainability for organizations, agencies and individuals. For example, what if you were shopping for a house in the Denver metro region and could pull up data on Zillow about your potential transportation costs in addition to your housing costs? Or what if you could know and understand your neighborhood’s transportation cost burden and use that to find, fund and advocate for alternatives? Those may not be the apps that get built, but hopefully you get the gist.

The role of PlaceMatters before, during and after the hackathon will be to sustain and build the energy locally and push apps out into other cities with similar challenges. We are looking for partners both in Denver and across the country. We want to empower people with data and information that helps move communities to better outcomes for future generations. My hope is that through the planning of this event, we can catalyze a group of developers locally and plug into other groups nationally to build the next generation of sustainability apps.

I’m already inspired by many good organizations doing related and similar work. I mentioned OpenPlans already above, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Code for America as well. Their recently rolled out the Brigade will give us and many others the ability to redeploy great new apps in other cities with much less effort than required before (read more here).  If you are interested in this, I encourage you to sign up and to get involved on the developer list serve if you are more technically inclined. This will also let you get in touch with the many region specific groups too many to mention right now that are also doing great work in their hometowns (check some out at the brigade here).

There will be a lot more to say over the coming months about this summer’s Denver hackathon and about civic hacking more broadly. For now, I encourage you to reach out to us on Twitter, by email or in the comments if you want to contribute.

Jason Lally heads up the PlaceMatters Decision Lab, PlaceMatters’ inside-out R&D lab, building a community of tinkerers, hackers, designers, coders, and practitioners dedicated to building the next generation of tools and techniques for better decision making around planning and sustainability.

HUD Announces New Sustainable Communities Grants

Governor Hickenlooper and other Colorado VIPs celebrate the Denver Metro region’s $4.5 million HUD grant.

HUD just announced its latest round of Sustainable Communities grants, and PlaceMatters is thrilled to be part of two projects teams. One is a $1.8 million grant in Erie County, Pennsylvania and the other is right here in our hometown, a $4.5 million grant for the Denver Metro region. On both of these projects, PlaceMatters will focus on the public participation element, helping to design processes that bring all the interested constituencies to the table and make sure they are all able to contribute to the process and outcomes in a meaningful way. The issues are complicated and critically important, including economic vitality, environmental sustainability, and equity.

PlaceMatters CEO Ken Snyder attended today’s press conference for the Denver Metro project and snapped these photos (which include a bunch local luminaries, including DRCOG board chair (and Littleton City Councilor) Jim Taylor, Governor John Hickenlooper, Congresswoman Diana DeGette, HUD Regional Director (and former Denver City Councilor) Rick Garcia, Congressman Ed Perlmutter, and Senator Michael Bennet.

DIY touchtable technology integrated with GIS

Participant add future housing to scenario

This Fall, PlaceMatters broke new ground in the application of our DIY touchtable integrated with CommunityViz and Brainstorm Anywhere. On Cape Cod, we used 4 tables simultaneously to enable a “where do we grow” exercise with 4 teams. With the touchtables, participants were able to add jobs and housing and changes in transit services directly to the CommunityViz GIS maps.

Because participants had direct access to the GIS interface, they were able to view important data layers including land use zoning, sensitive habitat, protected well head zones, and areas vulnerable to sea level rise while discussing options. This translated into more informed decision making while considering where to steer future growth. At any time during the exercise, participants could run the CommunityViz model to view the impacts of placed jobs, housing, and enhanced transit services on key indicators including converted open space, development occurring in sensitive areas, changes in per capita vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions.

Visit to see footage of the Cape Cod workshop.

Included in the video are scenes from a workshop PlaceMatters and the National Charrette Institute helped organize and facilitate with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Transportation, and US Department of Agriculture. At this event, PlaceMatters set up 6 stations using our Brainstorm Anywhere tool and keypad polling to help identify and prioritize strategies for interagency collaboration in the implementation of the HUD’s new Sustainable Communities Grant Program.

PlaceMatters Weekly Blog Roundup: February 14, 2011

Involve entertains the idea of designing participation into civic decision-making systems. “Instead of seeking to bend peoples’ lives to fit participation, we should instead be thinking about how we can bend participation to fit peoples’ lives,” they ask.

Engaging Cities shows off some video of a new tool that transitions from 2D plan view to a 3D topographic view on the same image.

Planetizen posts a defense of public input, which I think boils down to “you’ll make better decisions and be more likely to produce a durable plan” if you do. We agree, of course, but believe the nature of the process makes a huge difference as well. Engaging folks across constituencies, giving them the information they need to understand the trade-offs between options, and ensuring that the process makes their input meaningful to the decision-makers matters a great deal also.

National Charrette Institute describes an alternative to the conventional charrette approach: the virtual charrette.

Collective Thoughts posted on “10 Ways Geolocation is Changing the World,” including checking in and neighborhood networking (h/t to Common Sense California).

The Case Foundation writes about IBM’s 2010 Service Jam wrap-up, an attempt at a large-scale web-based conversation.

Orton Family Foundation summarizes a new Knight Foundation report on what emotionally attaches people to their community. The conclusion: social offerings, openness, and aesthetics. This fits Orton’s general approach to placemaking and community vision work. It’s also suggestive about designing strong community decision processes. These types of values and community amenities may not emerge from a traditional community planning approach; you may have to design your process to draw out these values, and at a minimum you probably need to be attuned to these values to hear them even if they are framed in other ways or buried in other values.

Smart Growth America assembled some helpful materials drawing lessons from HUD’s Sustainable Communities grant program as well as their own observations about overcoming obstacles in regional planning. I’m hoping that one line of inquiry from here will focus on actual community engagement efforts . . . what seems to be working and what doesn’t.

What Are You Excited About for 2011?

Photo by flickr user tsuacctnt (Creative Commons license).

I asked folks in the office here at PlaceMatters what treasures they think 2011 might hold in store for community engagement, civic participation, and decision support. Here’s what they said:

Ken Snyder:

I’m excited about the new iPad rumored to include cameras like the iPhone4.  This will make it possible to view spatial data with augmented reality apps.  Imagine pointing your iPad at a city streetscape.  On the iPad screen data pops up about the place and planned projects. Walkscores for the area, bus frequency and realtime data on the location of the next bus on its way.

I’m excited about integrating interactive touchtables into charrettes and public meetings, helping participants make more inspired, informed, and collaborative decisions.

I’m excited about emerging online dashboards that will enable communities to monitor sustainable indicators in their community and experiment with alternative futures.

I’m excited about the our Decision Lab, creating a platform for tool developers, programers, and practitioners to collaborate in the development of new tools and techniques to improve planning.

Jason Lally:

Mobile applications are reaching a point of maturity and acceptance where using them in planning and civic engagement this year will become easier and more exciting.  While there are and still will be generational gaps in technology usage, the utility of using mobile platforms to engage a portion of our audience has increased.  Foursquare now allows photos and comments attached to checkins, QR codes enable us to attach digital information to physical objects (check out 5 unique uses of QR codes), and the new SCVNGR can give your entire city (or small business) a place-based mobile gaming platform.  These platforms provide low cost methods for creating reality based games (RBGs) that can be linked to real planning objectives.

Incidentally, Reality Based Game is not something that seems to be crowded intellectually, especially not applied to planning or civic engagement.  The concept of mobile gaming like this is not entirely new but when applied to planning it’s barely born.  I think there may be an opportunity to “own” this concept (not in the IP sense of ownership, but in the intellectual sense).  I will devote a much longer blog to SCVNGR as a platform and this concept of RBGs in general.

A city could reward citizens for finding QR codes attached to real places that provide background information about a plan and the history of the city.  Quiz people on what they learned and provide a nominal prize.  Or link your QR codes to mobile sites that allow citizens to comment and engage with the planning process around particular places and issues.  Even those that don’t participate directly can learn vicariously through media coverage and interactive websites that track participant progress.  Foursquare can be used to engage people similarly to find special tips posted by the planning department.  Attach unique codes to these tips and encourage citizens to enter these in on a mobile website, then reward those that enter the the most by a certain time.  Or use SCVNGR, which is already designed as a mobile reality-based gaming platform.  Simply, SCVNGR offers rewards to users that complete place-based challenges.  Within one application, reward citizens for following a certain path and completing challenges like finding QR codes, entering specific text or entering general comments.

While none of these reality based games will guarantee a better plan, they will hopefully become mechanisms to playfully engage many people in a planning process asynchronously.  In this next year, I would like to engage at least one city in an RBG that is thoughtfully designed and executed to increase the level of participation and if we’re lucky, maybe they’ll even learn something in the process.

Jocelyn Hittle:

2011 will see the ramp-up of sustainability work across the US as the 45 regions and communities that received HUD Sustainable Communities Grants will be implementing their proposals.   PlaceMatters is a partner on the New River Valley Region project, which received $1 million for sustainability planning, and I am excited to get started.  Not only do these grants mean that planning work will be focusing on issues we’ve long championed, like understanding the implications of land use patterns on things like greenhouse gas emissions, but also that there will be an increasingly large amount of information on best practices for involving citizens and improving decision-making around sustainability in general.

PlaceMatters has been working to improve sustainability decision-making since its inception in 2002. We have worked on creating ways for communities to easily track progress toward sustainability goals, and these grants, with their focus on implementation, will doubtlessly demonstrate a variety of methods for measuring success–including some methods we’ve used, and some new options for us to consider.  In addition, the grants focus on public participation and capacity building, which PlaceMatters considers indispensable for successful planning processes.

While we track the latest developments in all these areas, and continually push ourselves to be creative and advance the state of the art, the influx of new thinking and resources will doubtlessly spur some creative solutions we haven’t yet tried. The opportunities for us all to learn from the work that will be undertaken this year, and in the years to come, around sustainable planning is very exciting!