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Interactive Technology Demonstrations at the NPSG Tech Fair

New technologies and tools are constantly being further developed and explored and have garnered attention as ways to engage more stakeholders in community planning and decision-making efforts. To demonstrate some of the great tools available out there, we hosted the second annual Tech Fair, along with EPA and the Open Planning Tools Group, at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference last month.


These tools are about creatively engaging people with interactive planning experiences. We chose to demonstrate them accordingly, as opposed to having tool providers deliver a short presentation while conference-goers passively sit and watch. We wanted to foster more interactive demonstration and dialogue, giving attendees the opportunity to ask questions, meet and collaborate, experiment with technologies, and apply them directly to their own real-life scenarios. The Tech Fair became an open house to enable tool developers to demonstrate their real value in smart planning to conference attendees.

With thirteen different tool providers demonstrating their innovative tools, the Tech Fair was the place to find cutting edge tools for scenario planning, opportunity mapping, crowdsourced planning, and community engagement. PlaceMatters provided our custom-built touchtables for providers to live-demonstrate many of the tools. We were also able to share some of the tools PlaceMatters has been developing, including CrowdGauge, Brainstorm Anywhere, and WALKscope.

Tools being demonstrated included:

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Public Coffee, Facilitating Meaningful Conversation

The annual New Partners for Smart Growth Conference draws a national audience of professionals in a variety of fields, including government, planning, transportation, public health, architecture, public works, parks and recreation, developers, bankers, and education. When you bring that many smart, passionate people together, how do you really tap into that knowledge and make sure folks walk away inspired?

Introduce Public Coffee, an all volunteer-run local Denver organization and self-proclaimed adaptable “toolbox to be used and shared by everyone to build our community the way we wish to see it,” with a mission to activate public spaces and build connections. Public Coffee’s role is to be facilitators of meaningful conversations. In the context of the New Partners for Smart Growth conference, they sought to give attendees the chance to meet and share their thoughts with others.  During two coffee breaks at the conference Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, Public Coffee repurposed the coffee and tea stations into centers for connection. Enthusiastic volunteers handed out “Tandem Cups”– two small cups tied together with string and a pre-printed prompt between — to pairs of conference-goers, encouraging them to simply enjoy a cup of coffee together and share their thoughts on a wide range of topics such as sustainability, smart growth, equity and gentrification issues, innovative technology, or just thoughts and comments about the conference in general.


The planning process is just as important as the event for the Public Coffee team. They collaborated with PlaceMatters, Local Government Commission (conference organizers), and the hotel staff to define the goals, understand the audience, and identify critical topics for discussion. All prompt questions, which were given with each set of tandem cups, were collaboratively developed. Some examples include:

– How do you define smart growth? Is the original definition from the 20th century still relevant, or does it need to be updated for the 21st century?
– How can smart growth planners balance efficiency and collaboration?
– What do you believe is the greatest innovation currently developing in your community?
– How do you feel about the phrase “being green”? In what ways can this phrase be helpful or limiting for discussions of sustainable, environmentally-responsible growth?
– What is a skill or passion that you have that you would like to apply more directly to what you do professionally?
– Is the ‘traditional’ downtown a thing of the past?  Is that OK?

What is Public Coffee up to when not tying people together at conferences? The group operates a mobile coffee shop in Denver, converted out of a trailer. They are invited to pop-up at neighborhoods, businesses, and community events around town serving coffee for the specific reason of starting meaningful conversations. Public Coffee is adaptable in form, location, and programming so that anyone anywhere can use it to empower the community. Being on wheels has allowed Public Coffee to help activate conversations all across the city. To date, they have facilitated connections at art museums, libraries, galleries, neighborhoods, local businesses, a middle school, a 5K event, and a print shop.

Public Coffee is supported by the generosity of the community. They operate on a Pay-What-You-Can model so that they may be accessible for all. The build-out of their trailer and their start-up costs were supported by a Kickstarter campaign in March 2013. Having a year under their belts, the team is currently writing a reflection book so that everyone may learn from their experience, models, mistakes, and process.

For more about Public Coffee, visit their website here. For more information about the New Partners conference and PlaceMatters’ involvement, please visit here.

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PlaceMatters Pocket Park at NPSG

PlaceMatters Pocket Park

With support from the Sustainable Communities Learning Network and several generous sponsors, PlaceMatters hosted an indoor parklet (among several other cool things) at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference here in Denver just a couple weeks ago.

Traditionally, a parklet is a:

“small urban park, often created by replacing a parking spot with sod, planters, trees, benches, café tables and chairs–even artwork or bicycle parking. They are designed to provide urban green space and to bring awareness to the quantity of public community space that is devoted to parking rather than creating vibrant community spaces” (American Society of Landscape Architects,

Parklets are typically installed in a standard 10′ x 20′ parking space in urban areas where current green space is lacking or where the existing sidewalk width is not large enough to accommodate vibrant street life activities and passive recreation. Parklets provide a community space for passersby to sit, relax, interact with other city-dwellers, and enjoy the city atmosphere around them.  The first parklet was installed in San Franscisco in 2011 as part of a movement to bring back a more holistic view of city spaces and streets, and parklets have since garnered support from planners, residents, and even business owners who enjoy the unique, vibrant public space which in turn attracts customers and fosters community interaction. Many cities have embraced the concept and install parklets at least seasonally, including San Francisco, New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago.

For demonstration purposes of the conference, the parklets were placed inside the conference foyer area as opposed to outside. We then took advantage of a spacious corner to upgrade to a Pocket Park that was larger than the standard 10’ x 20’ parklet space. Just as a real urban park, the Pocket Park became a place for folks to have meetings, connect with other conference-goers, or even just to enjoy a quiet lunch or respite amidst pleasant scenery. In addition, the Pocket Park also hosted “The Doctor is In” 20-minute office hours in partnership with Kevin Nelson from EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities, and a touchtable demonstration of our new tool WALKscope. Of course, the Pocket Park would not have been possible if it were not for the generous help and contributions from several local businesses: Streetscapes and Tournesol Siteworks provided the comfortable yet stylish furniture and bright eye-catching planters, while Denver Botanic Gardens provided live trees and plants to make the indoor park even more realistic, and Ally Sales with Alliance Lighting really helped us set the mood with energy-efficient LED lighting through the entry walkway.

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PlaceMatters at New Partners for Smart Growth Conference

We hope that you got a chance to visit us at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference here in Denver the week of February 14th, but in case you didn’t, here’s a recap of some of the cool things we helped put on. You’ll also be hearing more from us soon regarding several of these topics in more detailed blog posts, so be sure subscribe to our blog or follow us on Twitter to stay up to date on all things PlaceMatters!

 PlaceMatters Pocket Park Tech Fair Public Coffee WALKshop with WALKscope

PlaceMatters hosted a Pocket Park parklet throughout the duration of the conference, which served as a place to relax and meet with other conference-goers. Stay tuned to our blog for more information and pictures on our Pocket Park.

Along with EPA and the Open Planning Tools Group, we also created an open house to bring together tool developers and users to demonstrate their value in smart planning to conference attendees. Stay tuned to our blog for more information and pictures on the Tech Fair.

The Open Planning Tools Group announced the winners of announced the winners of the Open Planning Tools Group Innovation Awards: Forest Planner from EcoTrust and Massachusetts Priority Mapping Protocol from MAPC. You can read more about the winners in this blog post on

We were incredibly excited to be able to get our local friends Public Coffee involved in the conference to help facilitate face-to-face interaction between conference attendees. During two coffee breaks at the conference Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, enthusiastic volunteers handed out “Tandem Cups”–two small cups tied together with string and a pre-printed prompt between–to pairs of conference-goers, encouraging them to simply enjoy a cup of coffee together and share their thoughts on a wide range of topics such as sustainability, smart growth, equity and gentrification issues, innovative technology, or just thoughts and comments about the conference in general.

Together with our friends at WalkDenver, we led an “Urban Walkshop” on Sunday morning exploring the Jefferson Park neighborhood in Denver with WALKscope, a newly developed pedestrian data collection tool by PlaceMatters and WalkDenver. Stay tuned to our blog to hear more about the development and implementation of the WALKscope tool.

We moderated two panel discussions at the conference: “Building Leadership for Water-Wise Growth in the West” and “Lessons from the Vacant School House: Turning Empty Buildings into Assets.” More information and outcomes of the great discussions which took place during these sessions will be blogged about soon, so keep an eye out!

Tech Fair at New Partners for Smart Growth Conference

An Interactive Demonstration of Tools for Smart Planning

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2014 — 9:30 AM – 3:30 PM

Take a stroll through the Technology Fair and try out cutting edge tools for scenario planning and public engagement. You can also talk to leading tool developers and users about how to put these tools to work for you. Tools on exhibit will include:

  • Mapping and alternative analysis tools;
  • Tools for understanding and communicating complexity;
  • Online tools and mobile apps to engage typically underrepresented stakeholders.

PlaceMatters, along with EPA and the Open Source Planning Tools Collaborative, created this open house to bring together leading tool developers and users to demonstrate their value in smart planning to New Partners for Smart Growth attendees.


  • OpenPlans featuring Plan In A Box / Shareabouts
  • Calthorpe Associates featuring UrbanFootprint
  • LocalData featuring LocalData
  • Plan-it Geo featuring Urban Forest Cloud Web Apps
  • PlaceWays featuring CommunityViz
  • MetroQuest featuring MetroQuest
  • ESRI featuring Community Analyst Online
  • Fregonese Associates, Inc. featuring Envision Tomorrow
  • Urban Interactive Studio featuring BrightPages
  • U.S. HUD featuring the Location Affordability Portal
  • U.S. EPA featuring the Smart Location Database
  • Denver Regional COG featuring the Denver Regional Equity Atlas
  • featuring GreaterPlaces

PlaceMatters Touchtable

Cross-Posted on

Visit PlaceMatters at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference

PlaceMatters is excited to sponsor the 13th annual New Partners for Smart Growth Conference taking place here in Denver February 13-16, 2014.  Along with EPA and the Open Source Planning Tools Collaborative, PlaceMatters will be hosting a Tech Fair on Friday, February 14, from 9AM to 3PM, showcasing cutting edge tools for scenario planning and public engagement. We are moderating two panel discussions on “Building Leadership for Water-Wise Growth in the West” (Thursday at 4PM), and “Lessons from the Vacant School House: Turning Empty Buildings into Assets” (Friday at 1:30PM).  Together with our friends at WalkDenver, we are leading an “Urban Walkshop” on Sunday at 8:30AM, that will explore the Jefferson Park neighborhood and demonstrate the new pedestrian data collection tool we are developing to support WalkDenver’s work in neighborhoods throughout Denver.  We hope to see you at the conference!

Joe Schilling of VA Tech Looks Closely at Sustainability Plans

I sat down quickly with Joe Schilling, Interim Director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech and the Institute’s new Sustainable Communities Initiative director, at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference a few weeks ago.  PlaceMatters worked with Joe to support the Eco-City Alexandria process via an Eco-City Summit a few years ago, and it’s always great to reconnect with him.  I snagged Joe as we were headed into the final lunch and plenary (hence the background noise!) and asked him to update us on what he has been doing.

Joe and his students have been looking at city and county sustainability plans across the U.S., evaluating their content.  They’ve been finding that sustainability is a priority for many new communities, not just the ones that have been tackling sustainability for years (e.g., Portland).  He also pointed out that many of the sustainability plans are not connected to land use and other existing plans and codes, so the next task for planners and sustainability directors may be to make these plans more integrated.  Lastly, Joe pointed out that implementation can be a challenge, although less so in communities with sustainability offices or dedicated sustainability staff.

By sharing this information, Joe hopes that communities undergoing sustainability plans (and those about to undertake the HUD Sustainable Communities grant projects) will be able to learn from what others have done in the past.

PlaceMatters Weekly Blog Roundup: February 7, 2011

Next American City reflects on the hazards of being over-reliant on technological tools for civic engagement. As we reflect on a lot here at PlaceMatters, the digital divide still exists and has real impacts on civic capacity.

National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation blogs about useful notion of the “conversational commons,” those elements of a community that enable “the enjoyable and productive conversations of a community.”

I posted a fun interview with Bonnie Shaw about building communities on- and off-line, the relationship between the two, and what all this might mean for civic capacity and community health.

My PlaceMatters colleagues Jocelyn Hittle and Jason Lally both posted on our blog with reflections on the New Partners for Smart Growth conference.

Gigaom reports on a forecast calling for 180 million tablets by 2014. Whatever nascent role tablets are playing now in public engagement and decision-making, it’s about to get much bigger.

Deliberations launched their new PrioritySpend tool last week, a Joomla extension that enables voting using weighted values . . . the admin establishes the amount each participants gets to spend and the spending parameters (e.g., if you can spend all your money on one option).

Thoughts on New Partners for Smart Growth Conference

The New Partners for Smart Growth conference is winding down.  It’s been great to be with a multi-disciplinary group of practitioners, hearing about how public health, conservation, disability access, historic preservation, and other disciplines can all come together into one concept for creating more livable, sustainable communities. Many of the sessions are focusing on rural applications of the smart growth principles, which will be helpful for us as we embark on the New River Valley (Virginia) Sustainable Communities Grant project, since so much of the area is rural.

Of course one of the best things about New Partners for Smart Growth is the chance to reconnect with colleagues and meet new practitioners.  I’ve had a chance to chat with Joe Schilling at Virginia Tech (PlaceMatters has worked with Joe in the past, supporting his work on the Eco-City Alexandria Summit) about the research and review of sustainability plans that he has been conducting (video of his description of this exciting work coming soon).  Sarah Reginelli, one of our wonderful partners and Principal Planner at the City of Albany joined Ken’s panel on environmental justice and community engagement and gave a great overview of the work she and others at the City have done to ensure inclusive and representative participation in the Albany 2030 process.

We also re-joined forces with Ben Carlson from Goody Clancy, to lead a session called “Pounding the Pavement: Walk-shops for Multi-media Engagement”.  Ben provided insight into walkability principles, and also described how our walk-shops in Wichita informed the Downtown Master Plan that Goody Clancy developed.  The walk-shop training session went well, and a vision-impaired participant really helped us to understand a set of challenges in the pedestrian environment we don’t often think about.

I also visited the panel hosted by our friends at the Orton Family Foundation describing the work they are doing in and was excited to hear about their work in Victor, Idaho to help the community envision a more sustainable future.  They made excellent use of CommunityViz in their analyses and in their public engagement, showing the change in performance against indicators by making changes to the analysis in real time using keypad polling.  A woman in the last row whispered to her neighbor, “That’s so cool. But it sounds expensive.” Luckily for Placeways, I was there to assure her that CommunityViz is actually very reasonably priced. :)

Overall, the conference has highlighted for me that PlaceMatters has a vital role to play in helping practitioners in various disciplines connect with citizens and stakeholders to gather meaningful and informed input.  The room was packed during Ken’s panel addressing how to engage typically underrepresented groups (video clips to come). People are very interested in how to address this problem. We continue to learn about the options for outreach and feedback– time and again we hear (and talk about) the need to meet people where they are, make decisions relevant for those you are engaging, and not give up on those who don’t usually show up for public meetings.

It’s an inspiring group here, I hope to write more about some of the specific discussions we’ve had and panels we’ve seen..stay tuned. Also, I hope to take the energy of this group back to my office and into the many projects we are embarking upon in coming weeks!

Checking in from New Partners for Smart Growth

In the interest of time (I have to get going to dinner soon), I wanted to check in from New Partners for Smart Growth in Charlotte, NC and give a really high-level overview of what I’ve gleaned from this conference so far.  In the near future, I’ll post a more in depth report on our two sessions at the conference.

I’ve really had a great time at this conference and have reconnected with and met people doing really important work.  One of my favorite groups, OpenPlans, sent Frank Hebbert to the conference.  His presentation on open source tools to engage in planning (CoPlan and FixCity) was an excellent preview of hopefully what’s to come from a growing movement of web app developers.  Frank and I have been working informally together on building an open source planning tools ecosystem along with many others including the Sonoran Institute, Lincoln Institute, EPA, SACOG, Decision Commons, SCAG, NREL, the Orton Family Foundation, DRCOG, Fregonese Associates [organizational links forthcoming, I’m hungry], and many others.

There’s not enough time to fully acknowledge all the energy of each individual involved in the open source planning tools network, but I am excited to see some momentum.  Details are still being worked out on what we do as a larger group if anything, but the general acknowledgement is that we’ll be moving in the direction of supporting and integrating tools, techniques and data to support planning practice and decisions.

I also reconnected with Matthew Baker over at Esri, who is continuing to work on testing and developing GeoDesign applications.  Very glad to see his creativity and curiosity put to use and his willingness to engage in a larger community.  Esri has been very intentional about making this concept something that a much larger group of practitioners, educators, researchers, and developers can work on for the benefit of people from all over the world.  In coming weeks, GeoDesignWorld will be available to help coordinate emerging ideas and actions around GeoDesign related work.

I had a lot of fun participating in our Walkshop training session and it seems like our participants got a lot out of it and had fun.  I think that is one thing we really try to accomplish in our work…making planning fun.  I also just attended a great panel with Ken Snyder as the moderator on environmental justice and community engagement.  The panel covered a good breadth of approaches and contexts that I think was very useful to show that meaningful engagement can be done in many ways on many budgets in many places.

Finally, I connected with Darin Dinsmore who is the President & CEO of Crowdbrite, which aims to help crowdsource design and planning in a meaningful, web-based way.  I’m looking forward to connecting with him and figuring out ways we can integrate Brainstorm Anywhere with his tool, which is in private beta right now.  Speaking of private beta, I now have a really good list of interested folks who want to beta test Brainstorm Anywhere (if you want to send me an email).  I’ll be getting in touch with all of you in a couple of months (sooner if I can) to get you in the system and testing and logging bugs.

Overall, I feel real momentum building around a number of things and I think this will be a very exciting and transformational year for PlaceMatters.  Now, time to eat.