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CityBuild Denver and Collaborative Hack-a-Happy Hour


PlaceMatters is excited to announce our involvement with the new local initiative called CityBuild Denver.  Started just this year through support from the Downtown Denver Partnership, CityBuild is a group of individuals working to create a strong platform for a diverse group of Denver enthusiasts to come together and collaborate on big ideas that help shape and create the Denver community.  We are a group of creative and thoughtful Denverites that are focused on the incredible opportunity we have in such a dynamic city to help create the place we truly want to live in. This community is just getting off the ground, but we are excited about the tremendous energy and following we have seen thus far.

Along with the rest of the leadership team for CityBuild, we recently celebrated the launch of this initiative with a fun and innovative Hack-a-Happy Hour last week at Denver’s Sculpture Park in LoDo. With a giant canvas and tons of sharpies, we invited folks to come tell us what they love about Denver. The result was amazing – over 60 participants and a beautiful canvas to show for it (if you didn’t get to see it, don’t worry – we’ll be hauling it to most of our future events too). After coloring the canvas, we adjourned to nearby Epernay Lounge for drinks and networking.

Hack-a-Happy Hour Pic1 Hack-a-Happy Hour Pic2 Hack-a-Happy Hour Pic3 Hack-a-Happy Hour Pic4 Hack-a-Happy Hour Pic5 Hack-a-Happy Hour Pic6

CityBuild’s next event will be the First Annual CollaborEat: The Ultimate Community Dining Table, and will take place on October 13, 2013, in Civic Center Park. We will host 200 people for dinner at two giant tables in the park, have key conversations about positive city building, and recreate one of Denver’s oldest parks into a beautiful community dining room. You can RSVP for this FREE event here, and join the Facebook event here. For more information on this event and others, you can find CityBuild on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and if you’re really excited about getting involved (which we hope you are!), you can get on our list here.

CityBuild is an exciting initiative for PlaceMatters to be involved in. As the main PlaceMatters representative on CityBuild’s leadership team, I am very excited to be a part of CityBuild’s leadership team. Not only do I love being able to work on local projects and initiatives in my home and favourite city, Denver, but I also get to experiment hands on with tactical urbanism projects and collaborate with other passionate people who feel the same way. If you do too, then join us!




Participation By Design: Collecting Feedback on Draft Planning Documents with “EngagingPlans”

This post, by guest blogger Chris Haller, is the fourth 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.

A screenshot from the Engaging Plans software tool.

Providing an interactive website that encourages stakeholder input on public policies is a critical aspect of policy development. Historically, these systems have been expensive and time-consuming to set up. In spite of recent advances in the computerization of the public input process, planning officials still have had to rely on pricey custom-designed websites with features that were not always user- or manager-friendly.

One approach, exemplified by a new app designed by Urban Interactive Studio of Denver, is to use a website platform to create a customized website for each urban planning project. The Urban Interactive Studio app enables local planning agencies and planning firms to develop a customized micro-website tailored to specific projects to efficiently facilitate all of the external communication related to any project requiring public input.

The tool, EngagingPlans, is a hosted Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution that starts at a low monthly subscription price. It comes with extensive “out-of-the-box” functionality that can be enhanced with a number of optional modules. EngagingPlans has a smartphone app and can be integrated with social media sites. A user-friendly interface allows for easy content updating and activity monitoring.

EngagingPlans Public Engagement Features

You can think of EngagingPlans as a toolkit to help coordinate nearly any required or recommended element of public and stakeholder communication, including:

  • sending announcements
  • posting information
  • collecting, managing, and responding to public comments
  • managing surveys
  • mapping
  • displaying a project timeline and interactive calendar
  • housing a document library
  • maintaining a newsletter and blog

Renewing Will County, IL

Thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, the Will County Illinois Land Use Department had the opportunity to update the County’s zoning and building ordinances with an eye toward encouraging environmentally sustainable practices including energy conservation. They chose to use the EngagingPlans web platform to engage the community and stakeholders in the process.

The website not only is attractive but is extremely robust with a wealth of project information, education material, event information, a project timeline, a contact sign-up feature, links to the project’s newsletters and blogs, and an annotated copy of the draft language under consideration in a format that allows for section by section public comment.

This annotation feature was used to collect public feedback throughout the comment period, supplementing the input from two open meeting workshops. Staff added comments of participants during the meetings, and they found it extremely useful to be able to download all the comments into a spreadsheet format in order to review, compare and process them.

Project coordinator David Dubois noted that, “EngagingPlans’ document annotation feature was a valuable tool to help us solicit and then address public and internal comments. We didn’t see it as a replacement for traditional public input through letters and public comment. But elected officials want us to go the extra mile to gather stakeholder input and this particular feature of EngagingPlans clearly did that.”

The EngagingPlans public engagement platform has been used by numerous municipalities across the country, most recently in Cincinnati; Burlington, Vermont; and Dunwoody, Georgia. It will soon be rolled out for a project by the City of Denver.

Chris Haller heads up Urban Interactive Studio, a technology consulting firm specializing in web and mobile solutions for urban planning agencies and firms. He is also the founder of EngagingCities where he helps urban planners understand and use the Internet and gives practical advice.

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: February 15, 2012

The professionals who lead community planning efforts are often less diverse than the communities they are working with.

Professional planners, urban designers, and architects (this is our own Ken Snyder working on a comprehensive plan project in Shreveport) are typically much less ethnically diverse than the communities they work with.

Grist explores the lack of people of color as professionals in the fields of planning, urban design, and architecture, and what that means for community design processes (h/t to Planetizen).

Metaio has a new video showing some impressive improvements in their augmented reality engine, most notably with “3D markerless tracking,” aka real-time orientation of the mobile device. The original videos illustrating the technology were very cool but were shot in a controlled lab environment. That’s not true here.

Artist Candy Chang is at it again with another “Before I Die” interactive art installation, this time in London. We love this.

This is cool: a diversity of Swedish citizens each get to tweet under the @Sweden handle for a week at a time: “Every week, someone in Sweden is @Sweden: sole ruler of the world’s most democratic Twitter account.” Time and others have reported on this.

This is dated but we stumbled across it recently … a performance-based approach to community engagement on land use and urban design issues in Portland by the Sojourn Theater.

Here’s a new tool in Washington state for helping voters sort through issues, discuss and deliberate about them with other voters, and identify points of agreement and potential compromise (h/t to Jon Stahl’s Journal).

TheCityFix describes a photo- and art-based project aiming to engage younger community members in a rethinking of public transit.

We’ve started thinking about ways Pinterest (which is experiencing spectacular user growth and now drives more referral traffic on the web than Google+, YouTube, Reddit, and LinkedIn combined) could be helpful in community engagement efforts. Its ease of use and its deeply viral dynamics may make it a really useful tool for collecting and sharing images. The Museum of the Future and Quicksprout each have some nice summaries of potential uses. Don’t be misled by their focus on museums and marketing, respectively … many of their suggestions apply more broadly.

The New York Times takes a stab at a mildly interactive data visualization of the President’s 2013 budget proposal.

EngagingCities reports on a new study by the Corporation for National and Community Service exploring internet use for civic life across generations.

In a separate post, EngagingCities reflects on “the democratization of mapmaking” and some of the implications for civic participation.

EngagingCities (which ties for the ‘most mentions’ award this week) also describes the growing momentum around the idea and emerging field of geodesign.

Digital Urban has three posts that we spent some time with, as well: one offering a first look at the new CityEngine and an integration with Lumion (which collectively they call “a game changer”), a more detailed look at the CityEngine and Lumion combination, and a third demonstrating live 3D Kinect-based streaming.

California Common Sense launched a new civic engagement website focused on state policy and financial issues, providing background on issues, soliciting opinions, and sharing those opinions with elected officials (h/t to Gov 2.0 Watch).

And on the PlaceMatters blog we posted a rundown of some easy rules for screwing up your public process.

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: August 11, 2011

Engaging Cities writes about the recommendation engine Scoville (and Scoville rejects me for their beta because I don't have enough Facebook check-ins!).

Between presentations at the White House and the Ford Foundation’s 75th anniversary gala (we’ll blog about both of these soon), tons of amazing projects (we’ve got a team in the New River Valley of rural southwestern Virginia at this very moment), and just the general zaniness of summer we’ve got quite a backlog of great blog posts to round up:

Our friend Chris Haller on the EngagingCities blog writes about a new recommendation engine app, Scoville, built on Foursquare’s API. His take: if it works, it might be pretty useful to planners as a community asset mapping tool. Chris also posted a nice checklist for planners hoping to use social media tools in their community engagement efforts.

Digital Urban commented on Urban Sensation’s interesting approach to urban visualization, layering data on top of CCTV footage as part of an immersive sensory emulation project. Hard to explain, and pretty unclear where they’ll end up, but a creative and ambitious idea about creating engaging experiences.

Three other Digital Urban posts to note: an interesting Big Data/urban operating system concept called Urbanflow Helsinki, a creative urban design model inverting the conventional transportation paradigm [], and a Nike-supported data visualization called YesYesNo illustrating the running patterns over the course of a year.

Open Source Planning offers another take on the Nike data visualization, noting that there’s a clear bias in the data collection (i.e., what sort of folks happen to run with the fancy iPod-Nike chip system, and what parts of New York they run in and which boroughs they avoid).

We love smart technology aimed at improving civic engagement and community decision making, and we think Next American City rocks, so we especially liked their roundup of the best city- and community-oriented technology tools.

countably infinite has a thoughtful post about the challenges of pseudonymity in community decision making.

The e-Participation and Online Deliberation blog reflects on the challenge of making technology-enabled engagement tools do more than simply gather more “trickle-up” opinions but, rather, to foster genuine engagement, conversation, and deliberation.

Intellitics comments on the role of public participation in a new Open Government Partnership.

Metropolis reports on New York City’s new app development competition.

Planetizen blogs about the Guggenheim City Laboratory and its six-year nine-city tour.

Design Mind describes the challenges that cities and their CTOs and Chief Digital Officers face in the transition to digital participation (h/t to Planetizen).

All Points Blog describes a new augmented reality implementation and a new conceptual implementation. We aren’t all that excited about driving while viewing the road through our mobile device, but these types of developments will no doubt move the ball forward on applications that are relevant for community planning and civic engagement.

inCommon writes about a participatory park planning project in Santa Monica and CoolTown Studios describes another, similar planning effort for a downtown area in the Village of Hempstead on Long Island.

PlaceMatterssummer intern Matt Weinstein blogged about our walkshop in Somerville, Massachusetts, and Jason offers some context on Esri’s acquisition of Procedural (the makers of CityEngine) and spells out some of the implications.

What did we miss?

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: April 19, 2011

A high-end, high-def, multiuser, multi-touch table. Photo by flickr user ideum.

FutureGov has a really nice overview of Planning 2.0 concepts and tools (thanks to Engaging Cities for the link).

Engaging Cities posted the slide deck from their “What’s Next for Planning Technology” panel at the APA conference, and it’s worth a look if you didn’t make the session. Their ten: text messaging, social media, mobile interaction, 311 reporting, virtual worlds and gaming, community mapping, crowdsourcing planning, interactive data, augmented reality, and touch tables. Most of these are subjects and technologies close to our heart at PlaceMatters: powerful tools that can, if integrated thoughtfully, add a great deal of power to a community engagement process.

countably infinite reflects on the APA conference and gives our Beers in Beantown event a nice shout-out.

Open Source Planning also offers a nice word about our Beers in Beantown event and mentions IMMBYs (“I Mapped My Backyard”) and their implications for planning.

Cairns Blog posts a thoughtful reflection on the open government movement.

Planetizen reports on the upcoming Urban Design Marathon (quoting from a Good Magazine article): “A hundred designers, 10 urban challenges, very little money, and no sleep. That’s the recipe for 72 Hour Urban Action, a three-day marathon for designers to improve their city.” This approach doesn’t include any public engagement elements, but it fits the charrette model of quickly and intensively powering through what is often a very long, drawn-out process. The really interesting twist would be figuring out how to fold in real community participation.

You know QR codes are starting to hit the mainstream when the Denver Post writes about them. Although their use is still early-stage (but growing in buzz and popularity), they can clearly have value in public processes. Mashable offers some tips for making your QR codes a little more interesting.

A guest post on Museum 2.0 covers civility and conviviality in museum design, the idea of which seems to translate well to designing public engagement. A good design will enable people to “share their common humanity and to offer opportunities not only for learning and social engagement, but also for reflection and solitude in the presence of others,” and, in the case of community engagement, help lead to genuinely participatory decision-making.

SocialFish posts a great slide deck on the seven core concepts of effective gamification. Whether gamification per se makes sense in a community engagement process will depend a lot on the process and the circumstances, but elements of good gamification are probably useful in process design regardless. Their seven core concepts: 1) know who’s playing; 2) Build fun, pleasure, and satisfaction into your core activity loop; 3) Change the user experience over time; 4) Build a system that’s easy to learn but hard to master; 5) Use game mechanics to light the way towards mastery; 6) As players progress, increase the challenge and complexity; 7) Embrace intrinsic motivators.

The Augmented Reality Blog writes about the future of the technology. It seems pretty likely that augmented reality tools, as they mature, will become an important component of community engagement efforts.

On the PlaceMatters blog, Ken reviewed a pile of new online idea creation tools (and the winners are: Spigit and UserVoice), Jocelyn talked about avoiding public participation pitfalls, and I ruminated on the magic of good decision-making.

ReadWriteWeb reports on Microsoft’s new software development kit for the Kinect, scheduled for release this spring. While you can do a lot with clever hacks of the existing device, the SDK opens things up a lot, enabling third party developers to create a wide range of applications that take advantage of the Kinect’s cutting-edge motion sensing technology. We should expect to see plenty of innovations with direct application to community decision-making.

What did we miss?

Data Smorgasbord: IBM’s City Forward

I’ve recently blogged a couple of times about scientists measuring attributes of cities and some of the interesting correlations and predictions that can come out of those measurements.  Jacob Smith recently alerted me to IBM’s launch of City Forward, an online tool that contains large amounts of information about 55 cities–including traffic patterns, health metrics, consumer spending, and a lot more.  Now users can do the science and see if they can tease out other correlations and connections within the data.  Check out their You Tube introductory video (including some cool tilt-shift videography) above.


Rewarding Innovation

We often say we value innovative solutions to urban design and community planning problems.  If we mean it, we need to make sure we walk the talk.  Saying we love innovation but penalizing city staff, elected officials, and other decision makers when their earnest attempts don’t work as well as they had hoped makes people more risk-averse, not more risk-tolerant.  We have to provide clear sideboards and goals, and then reward risks within those sideboards that are clearly aimed at those goals.  We need to reward folks for taking leaps, or at least avoid penalizing them for it, even when their leaps don’t work.

And while we are busy being seduced by the shiny and new and different – which can be a lot of fun and really valuable – let’s make sure not to forget about the tried-and-true solutions to the challenge at hand.  Sometimes solutions we know will work make a lot of sense.