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PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: April 24, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did we miss?

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: January 5, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did we miss?

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: September 20, 2011

Sustainable Cities Collective describes a very cool Toronto project using Twitter and historical plaques around the city as the basis for a participatory historical mapping project.

Among the potential challenges of architecting a good community engagement and decision-making process: participants who are intent on disrupting and sabotaging the process. inCommon reflects on an article in the California Planning & Development Report highlighting efforts by Tea Party activists to disrupt regional and statewide engagement around climate change and livability.

Engaging Cities has a solid post on participatory budgeting, and inCommon describes an ongoing participatory budgeting effort in New York City. We love the approach, but helping communicate context and trade-offs is critical.

Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space comments on an LA Times column about the “sorry state of public dialogue and civic engagement in the U.S.” His suggestion: “The solution to the corrosive spirit of U.S. politics is not more politics.” Instead, columnist Gregory Rodriguez, suggests we should focus on building empathy. “There’s certainly a crisis in civics today, but it’s the product of a profound disconnect between our political engagement and our moral engagement. Democracy is great, but citizens still need inspiration and empathy to make it flourish. If we really want to promote civics, maybe we should skip the town hall in favor of the concert hall.”

Open Source Planning writes about a new project called Civic Pheromones (formerly Ether). It’s an interesting idea focused on aggregating feeds from civic websites. We can’t help but wonder, though, if the real challenges are around curation and discovery. Just to use one pertinent example, there’s a huge difference between creating an aggregated stream of news and information about civic participation (easy) and creating a curated roundup of especially interesting blog posts (harder).

Engaging Cities describes a collaboration between the Emerson College Engagement Game Lab and the City of Lowell, Massachusetts: an interactive web-based game as a community input tool for a recent community master plan process. Their goals included – as you might expect – engaging a broader spectrum of community members. We’d find it really interesting to hear more about how well it actually worked. Did a wider range of community members participate? Were the online participants the same or different individuals from those that participated in the traditional in-person meetings, and if different did they actually add to the diversity of participants, as well?

National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation writes about a new PBS special on the “What’s Next California Deliberative Poll,” a documentary on the use of a deliberative polling process engaging 400 California residents to think through and make policy recommendations on a range of critical issues. Any approach to civic participation relying on shared learning and thoughtful discussion is worth some attention, and the deliberative polling process fits the bill.

Good Cities describes “Give a Minute,” a virtual suggestion box that’s expanding to New York City (building on their current operation in Chicago). They write: The coolest thing about Give a Minute is that it gives big-time politicos and heads of government agencies a chance to actually respond to the suggestions from city residents. So Mayor Mike can actually ‘endorse’ an idea that he likes and offer feedback that goes directly back to the person who suggested it. We think he’ll actually comment, too, since Bloomberg is totally behind the idea . . . ”

On the PlaceMatters blog, Jason highlights Esri’s call for geodesign case studies and celebrates a HUD grant to our friends at the Center for Neighborhood Technology (and their partner Manhattan Strategy Group) to develop a national housing and transportation affordability index. This project will build on their earlier H+T Affordability Index for 337 metropolitan regions across the U.S. Jason makes the case for making all of those data available through a public API.

What did we miss?

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: August 19, 2011

EngagingCities reviews IBM’s new city modeling tool, Systems Dynamics for Smarter Cities, concluding that it “offers a very robust model for exploring outcomes and planning beyond immediate and obvious results,” but also noting the importance of a complementary engagement strategy.

Rob Goodspeed, also reflecting on the new IBM tool, posted some ruminations on the use and limitations of big models for city decision-making.

Although working from a different prompt, Ethan Zuckerman earlier in the summer described an Adam Greenfield (of UrbanScale) presentation on the same set of issues. It’s worth a read.

Gov 2.0 Watch discusses how the field of UX (user experience) might apply to government agencies and staff. They link to an interesting article in UX Magazine outlining a way of thinking about the Gov 2.0 – UX problem. We share the sentiment. The best-run local governments, in our experience, tend to be very good at managing infrastructure, financial management and long-term financial planning, and providing high-quality community services. Even the best, however, don’t tend to understand design or UX, and the Gov 2.0 community would do well to focus some energy on helping government folks redesign points of interaction with UX in mind.

MIT’s Technology Review has a nice video interview with Metaio showing off the state and potential of their augmented reality applications. We’ve noted before how much potential AR applications have for community planning and engagement. It may be a while before we see these tools hit their stride, but they offer a lot.

inCommon writes about an engagement process with some unusual elements, including a “Deliberative Theater” performance.

inCommon also notes that a participatory budgeting process seems to have helped the City of Chesapeake, Virginia, maintain strong credit ratings.

The National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation announced the launch of their new “Idea Incubator.”

TheCityFix blogs about crowdsourcing, especially in the context of community services like transit.

On the PlaceMatters blog, you’ll find posts about Angry Birds and community decision-making, mapping the community decision process, improving the connections between the community decision-making world and folks who focus on other types of community engagement (e.g., museums, architects, social networking experts), and sharing the lessons from our experience with the Creating Resilient Communities hazard mitigation project in South Carolina.

What did we miss?

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: May 24, 2011

Deliberative Democracy writes about a new report by the IBM Center for the Business of Government about using online tools for community engagement.

inCommon had a great run: posts on NYC’s effort to improve civic engagement in immigrant communities, a link to a Christian Science Monitor article on participatory budgeting, how crowd wisdom is undermined by knowledge of other people’s responses (citing a story in Wired Magazine), and clues that a public engagement process may not be very effective.

You’ll find another post on participatory budgeting in Engaging Cities, this one exploring its spread in the United States. And Engaging Cities also makes the case about the importance of online tools like Twitter for public involvement.

Cooltown blogs about an experiment in crowdsourced planning, which resulted in the inclusion of a piazza in the new Bristol, Connecticut downtown plan.

Gov 2.0 Watch considers how internet personalization impacts civic engagement, drawing on a recent TED talk by Eli Pariser.

A Ken Eklund guest post on Museum 2.0 describes a terrific game-based experiment with mobile phones, designed to help visitors connect with a park in San Diego. The approach could be used in plenty of contexts.

Online forums can be a central element in a community engagement strategy, and Intellitics posts about the key to making online work: deep listening.

Deliberations describes “Citizens Assemblies,” a deliberative process approach that relies on a cross-section of the entire impacted population.

The Australian e-journal On Line Opinion describes the elements of an effective deliberative democracy, including the ability of participants to actually influence the decision-making process, and how representative the group is of the larger community (h/t to Deliberations for the link).

The Orton Family Foundation Blog explores the use of storytelling and art in understanding community values.

Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space comments on the value of the initiative process for securing community buy-in for large infrastructure projects.

On the PlaceMatters blog, Jason asks if games can save the world, and Jocelyn wonders aloud about applying the lessons of TED and TED’s exceptional speakers to the challenges of community decision-making. Jason also reports on a new spatial decision support portal from the University of Redlands.

What did we miss?

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: May 5, 2011

Photo of "Before I die" street art by Candy Chang in New Orleans, from the Engaging Cities website, originally posted on flickr by user

Engaging Cities describes a community input approaching inviting residents to offer ideas for vacant spaces by placing easy-peel vinyl stickers with those ideas on the windows of the empty buildings. It’s essentially a crowd-sourced idea mapping strategy designed to collect citizen ideas on-site.

Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space posts about an unusual engagement technique for deciding on the seat configuration on San Francisco’s BART light rail system: invite people to play around with actual prototypes of the rail cars. Even better, it’s set up as a mobile system, allowing the BART planners to bring the prototypes to Bay area communities.

Museum 2.0 has a guest post by Tina Olsen, from the Portland Art Museum, about a deep story-based museum engagement.

While Tina Olsen writes about fostering effective engagement by making people feel comfortable, another approach is to to create juxtapositions that throw people out of their comfort zone, like the two fun videos Full Circle Associates links to, one with Yo Yo Ma and Lil Buck (cello + jookin) and the other with Julie-O (cello + beatbox). All sorts of goofy, interesting, and sometimes important things can happen when you create the space for unexpected mashups.

Sustainable City Network describes our Albany 2030 project (with collaborator WRT), a comprehensive plan effort utilizing a wide range of community engagement and civic participation strategies.

Planetizen published its list the Top 25 Leading Thinkers in Urban Planning & Technology, which is a great survey of some of the coolest, most interesting folks around. We are super-pleased to see three folks with PlaceMatters affiliations included, among them Ken Snyder (our CEO), Holly St. Clair (of Boston’s Metropolitan Area Planning Council and on our board), and Chris Haller (a former PlaceMatters staffer now running Urban Interactive Studio).

Intellitics describes a new public participation effort known as the Canadian Community for Dialogue and Deliberation project.

Some web site and blog launches: The Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership kicked off their Gov 2.0 Watch blog and another blog called inCommon, focused on participatory governance. Among inCommon’s early posts is an interesting discussion on “vote mobs.” And America Speaks launched their American Square project, “A place for civil, informed dialogue on policy and politics.”

PlaceMatters’ Ken Snyder posted a video showing our recent – and largely successful – urban aerial photography experiment using a helium balloon and an iPhone. Not one to be outdone, Holly St. Clair of Boston’s Metropolitan Area Planning Council (and a PlaceMatters board member) posted in the comments section another (amazing) video about using the same basic approach but sending the iPhone into the upper stratosphere.

We also blogged and posted a video about our “Beers in Beantown” unconference event in Boston focused on creative disruptions in planning

What did we miss?

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: April 4, 2011

A clever public engagement approach: Common Sense California posts a video involving legos and something that vaguely sounds not-quite like hip-hop.

Common Sense California also posts about Yo Yo Ma and the Citizen Music Initiative, a music-based approach to community engagement.

Museum 2.0 describes a terrific crowdsourcing participatory engagement technique they developed at the San Diego Museum of Natural History using visitor feedback to develop labels for the museum specimens. I’m guessing the technique could be adapted for any number of community engagement purposes.

The Collaboration Project reviews online idea generation tools for public managers and published a guide to designing online community brainstorming.

The Spring 2011 issue of Planning and Technology Today is out, and it includes pieces by Anthony Flint of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy (“New Technologies for Visualizing Sustainable Planning”), Karen Quinn Fung (“Urban Planners and Open Data: Making the Connection), and PlaceMatters’ own Ken Snyder (“The Power of the Kindergarten Art Supplies in Planning”). Thanks to the Goodspeed Update for the heads up.

Deliberations reports that Recife, Brazil is the recipient of the Reinhard Mohn Prize for democratic innovation for its participatory budgeting process.

Another flavor of participatory budgeting, the Backseat Budgeter, is the subject of this Denver Post article.

We’ve noted IBM’s new City Forward effort a few times already, but Engaging Cities offers a bit more background.

Engaging Cities also posted a video on the Kennedy Plaza planning process in Providence, Rhode Island. Part of the effort involved actually programming community activities and events in the plaza as a way of testing ideas and introducing community members to the redesign possibilities.

PlaceMatters Weekly Blog Roundup: March 8, 2011

Bill Gates at TED uses collapsing state budgets as a launching point to make the case for improving civic engagement, while National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation simultaneously asks if better conversations can help solve those very same budget crises. NCDD goes a step further, in fact, and challenges dialogue and deliberation professionals to “come together to STRATEGICALLY deliver free or heavily discounted services to 5-10 towns, cities or states for well-done, well-studied, well-documented, and well-publicized work on their budget crises.”

Intellitics explores crowdsourced policy making using wiki-based tools. They point out the challenge of shifting from a conventional fact-driven wiki process, like Wikipedia, to one that is as much about values as it is about factual information.

Cooltown Studios takes this idea a step further, exploring an effort in Bristol, Connecticut to crowdsource the entire downtown revitalization effort.

Cooltown Studios also offers a FAQ on “crowdsourced placemaking.”

Yet another take on crowdsourced decision-making: Createquity argues that we should reinvent arts philanthropy with the use of “guided crowdsourcing,” an approach which could offer the power of conventional crowdsourcing but also the benefits of guided creativity and engagement. Their post spells out a detailed proposal for how this might work.

The idea of guided crowdsourcing is similar to the idea of facilitated engagement covered in this week’s Museum 2.0 post on their recent experiments in “participatory audience engagement” (and an idea Museum 2.0 explored last week as well).

Our own Jocelyn Hittle (who runs PlaceMatters’ Vermont office) reflects on Vermont Town Meeting Day.

PlaceMatters also published a new report on using complex science in community decision-making processes.

Common Sense California reports on Palo Alto mayor Sid Espinosa’s “Open City Hall” efforts to foster more civic engagement in his community.

Chris Brogan writes about the future of location-based applications, thinking aloud about how cool it would be if location-based apps offered functionalities like temporary groups. Although we haven’t seen location-based apps used a lot yet in community decision-making, we suspect they will ultimately be really useful, and Brogan’s idea is one example.

Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space posts about a provocative public art display in New Orleans: a huge chalk board with the prompt, “Before I die I want to” with a line for anyone to answer. We probably wouldn’t want to use this precise engagement invitation in a community planning process, but the idea is pretty cool and it’s easy to imagine a bunch of creative variations.

Digital Urban writes about an engagement experiment at the Grant Museum of Zoology using iPads, QR codes, and Twitter hash tags. It’s a museum context, but we get excited about any sort of tool, technology, or technique that may make for stronger, more effective community decision-making processes.

Development Seed describes TileMill, their new open source map design tool. Govfresh also blogged about it, explaining that the new tool “dramatically increases the accessibility of custom map generation for enterprise users, including the government.”

What did we miss?

PlaceMatters Weekly Blog Roundup: February 22, 2011

Nina Simon, the Museum 2.0 blogger and author of Participatory Museum, posted a video of her “From Place to Presence” talk at the Nodem 2010 conference. Although she is focused on museum design, her comments might as well have been about designing for effective participation in any community venue. Her three key observations: a) scaffolding and constraints are critical to effective participation and engagement, b) the design of the prompts matters a great as well, and c) responsiveness to participants is even more important than the design of the process or the prompts.

National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation offer a nice roundup of participatory budgeting tools and resources.

Next American City interviews PennPraxis director Harris Steinberg about the role of community participation in Philadelphia’s riverfront development plan. He touches on the importance of understanding the politics in order to move the ball forward on the planning process and produce a plan that was likely to be implemented.

Full Circle Associates describes a cool post-it note-based coalition-mapping process to better understand their existing social networks and how those networks can either be weakened or strengthened. We’ve used and seen this type of approach in other community decision-making contexts, but the explicit network-weaving lens is a helpful twist.

Our friends at Strongtowns write about crowdsourcing sidewalk design.

GigaOm reports on Zynga’s massive (closing in on $10 billion) valuation. What is Zynga and why do we care? They’ve managed to attract a reported 45 million users to their various social games, including the breakout Farmville. Social gaming and gamification are here to stay, at least for now, and the trend seems to offer a lot of promise to the civic participation and community decision-making universe. By embedding game dynamics in an interactive process, process architects can improve the likelihood of engaging community members and keeping them engaged. Do a good job of designing the game dynamics, and you might also find ways to generate high-quality input from those very same community members. As if the press the point, TechCrunch just reported that Foursquare – the icon of geolocation-based social gaming – is on the verge of hitting the seven-million users mark. Yes, that’s seven million registered users. They saw 3,400 percent last year in check-ins. Some clever community engagement folks will figure out how to use Foursquare directly in their work (including Foursquare’s new-ish photo uploading feature), while others will create engagement strategies that riff on the basic Foursquare setup. One way or another, games – geolocation and otherwise – offer a lot of potential.

This Thursday at 2 pm mountain time I’ll be joining Jon Verville of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center on the Community Matters Open Government call. Jon and I will talk about two different versions of the same basic challenge: how human nature, inertia, and caution all figure into the challenges of persuading governments to become more open.

New Geography challenges Andres Duany’s recent argument that public participation impedes great projects.

I posted yesterday on the PlaceMatters blog about the future of community participation. And check out the PlaceMatters web site’s new look.

The end of planning LIVE

UPDATE (4/19/10): The blog is cleaned up now. If you spot anything that is a misstatement, please feel free to comment below and we’ll fix it. Also, if you feel there is a big omission from the log, let us know. Video documentation will be up soon. Also, read Jacob’s summation of the event here.

Join us at 4PM Central for a liveblog of PlaceMatters’ underground session at the APA National Conference in New Orleans.  Please excuse grammar and spelling errors during the event.

5ish minutes until the Salon in the Saloon where we consider the broad question “Is Planning Dead?.”  Join us here in Wolfe’s at the Marriot across the street from the convention center for some dynamic conversation.

[4 PM]

The lineup:

Stella Chao, Director, Seattle Dept. of Neighborhoods
Mary Means, Director of Community Initiatives at Goody Clancy
Ken Snyder, CEO/President PlaceMatters
Rob Goodspeed, PhD student at MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning
Michael Lauer, Principal at Planning Works

Moderators: Jacob Smith and Jocelyn Hittle from PlaceMatters Continue reading