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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!

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 [http://www.digitalurban.org/2011/07/clockwork-city.html], 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?

A Walkshop to Remember: Reflections on the Inner Belt Brickbottom Walkshop

I came to PlaceMatters this summer from Somerville, Massachusetts, a Boston-area city best known as Cambridge’s slightly grittier, more affordable, and no-nonsense neighbor to the north.  I’m a proud two-time resident of Somerville, and in my time there I’ve gotten to know my adopted hometown—the most densely-populated municipality in New England—block-by-block, one triple-decker and Brazilian corner store at a time.   It’s a remarkably diverse community, a mix of students, new immigrants, young professionals, and older ethnic communities that have been a part of the socio-cultural fabric for generations.

Tube Tunnel connecting the north and south ends of the IBBB study area

Image taken of the tube tunnel connecting the north and south sides of the IBBB study area (taken by walkshop participant Lynn Weissman)

But in all my municipal trekking there has always been an outer limit, an end of the known universe that is Somerville.  And that boundary had always been McGrath Highway.  Nary a ten-minute walk from my Union Square apartment, McGrath is a fearsome behemoth of a road, with rickety concrete and steel overpasses and busy at-grade on-and-off-ramps.  Beyond McGrath lies a vast industrial zone, bisected and circumscribed by railroad tracks and highway overpasses, stretching to Sullivan Square and I-93, and Charlestown beyond.  This forbidding terra incognita—far off the mental maps of a great many area residents, myself included—is Somerville’s Inner Belt Brickbottom district.

But with a boulevardization plan under consideration for McGrath Highway and the planned construction of an MBTA Green Line Extension light rail station at Washington Street, Inner Belt and Brickbottom are well on their way toward integration with the rest of the city.  On June 25th, PlaceMatters—in partnership with Goody Clancy and the City of Somerville’s Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development—facilitated an opportunity for area residents to expand our mental maps, inviting us to explore this undiscovered neighborhood and formulate a vision for its future.   The Inner Belt Brickbottom (IBBB) “Walkshop”—think “walk” + “workshop”—divided us into five teams, envisioning new corridors along McGrath Highway, Washington Street and New Washington Street, and investigating the potential for neighborhood development in the more-remote industrial cores of Inner Belt and Brickbottom.
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Livable streets and driving don’t mix


Here is a video from Street Films that was sent to me from colleagues working on the ICLEI STAR Community Index several months back. It revisits some of the pivotal research done by Donald Appleyard starting back in the 60s and leading to his work on Livable Streets. The video uses wonderful animation to illustrate the findings quantifying the negative effects cars and speed can have on sense of community.

Meant to blog about it back when I first saw it but projects kept me busy. The imagery and message, nonetheless, stuck with me as I traveled to several communities and could see what was being described firsthand. While the results are intuitive, the level of impact is higher than I would have guess. In areas where traffic is light, communities are much more likely to interact with each other, identifying more than 3 times as many friends on the block as folks living on heavy traffic streets.

Writing this blog sent me on a journey to learn more. The first thing I discovered was how coveted copies of Appleyard’s book Livable Streets have become. Used copies are selling for more than $250. In the Wikipedia link I provide above, I also learned Donald was tragically killed by a speeding car in Athens in 1982. I’ve share with you 2 sentences from the article:

Appleyard was that rare combination of innovative path-breaking academic researcher and quiet, insistent activist, professional, intent on getting things done–things that made cities better places for people to live. He was a person of ideas– especially concerned with expanding the scope of urban design to encompass thinking from the social sciences.

Tomorrow we travel to Boston to work with the City of Somerville to conduct a Walkshop in the Inner Belt/Brickbottom region. The area is ripe with opportunities and challenges including an elevated highway that divides the study area and a new transit station on Washington Street included in plans to extend the Greenline through Somerville. Participants will spend the morning walking around the area, taking photos with their phones and digital cameras, and talking about many of the same issues Appleyard brought up in his work. Will have this video on hand to help illustrate things to consider when thinking about walkability in the area.

Helium Balloon’s Perspective of Life in a Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

This blog was first posted on Planetizen.

The Future of Community Participation

Photo by Flickr user stevegarfield.

Chris Brogan this morning posted his seven ideas on the future of media: media will be multi-touch (by which he means multi-media), mobile, serial, two-way, rich data mined, subscription-based, and faster but with longer burn (we’ll get hit when a story breaks but they’ll have more time to explain the story as it unfolds).

A lot of those trends carry over to our work in civic participation and community decision-making. My stab at seven six characteristics of community participation in the future:

  1. Community participation will be multi-touch, both in the narrow sense that touch-based interfaces will grow in utility and sophistication (and that multiple people will increasingly be able to simultaneously use the same devices) and in the broader, multi-media sense that Brogan means.
  2. Community participation will be increasingly mobile, and in fact we already make great use of mobile devices for Walkshops and other interactive, real-time community decision-making tools.
  3. Community participation will be two-way.  This is the essence of the “Planning 2.0” upheaval . . . community decision-making is already becoming much more interactive, and community members are increasingly able to shape outcomes rather than simply providing feedback. In fact, most of the tools we develop and use are designed for just that purpose: help community members better understand the complex choices they face and then provide meaningful input to the decision-makers.  The result can be a higher level of engagement, more meaningful input, and better decisions.
  4. For community planning, I think Brogan’s ideas about media becoming two-way, subscription-based, and long-burn are all tied to an important community participation and decision-making trend: iterativity (iterativeness?).   I don’t think that the idea of “planning” will ever be completely replaced by a free form make-it-up-as-you-along model (an idea we explored last year at our “The End of Planning?” Salon at the Saloon at the APA in New Orleans), but clearly these types of tools and techniques enable more iterative and ongoing planning processes, and I expect we’ll see a slide in that direction.
  5. Community participation will rely more heavily on complex data. This isn’t quite the same as Brogan’s “rich data mined” idea, but I think it’s similar. Data visualization tools like CommunityViz are helping community members understand more clearly the visual, character, and other impacts of various development options, for example, essentially making really complex data more understandable and usable. Hazard mitigation planning tools like the Coastal Resilience Mapping Tool in Long Island are helping community members understand the complex effects of rising sea levels and potential responses.
  6. Community participation and decision-making will incorporate geolocation tools.  Geolocation – which is enabled by the growing market penetration of smart phones – has permeated the commercial app universe for good reason: the devices already incorporate the hardware, and your app knowing where you are opens up a universe of uncharted utility and entertainment.  Community participation and civic engagement folks are already finding ways to adapt these technologies (something my colleague Jason Lally discussed after his return for the GeoDesign Summit last month).  And the combo of smart phone penetration, geolocation capabilities, and increasingly sophisticated data visualization tools will play out in other ways, such as a growing use of augmented reality tools to help inform about current conditions and to help foster imagination about and understanding of future options.

What do you agree and disagree with?  What are we missing?

Breaking the Ice With Twitter

Blogger and social networking pro Beth Kanter writes about different ways of using twitter to break the ice at meetings and events.  She described having folks take photos of each other and posting them on twitter as a icebreaker at a BlogWorld panel last week in Las Vegas.  While it might be simpler if everyone in the room is twitter-savvy, it could also work if only half of the participants are . . . make sure those that know how to post photos to twitter pair up with those that don’t (and all the better if you can ensure that folks pair with people they don’t know).  It could be a great opportunity to break some intergenerational ice as well if you have digital natives pair up with everyone else.  We’ve also had some great success with our PlaceMatters Walkshop technique, which could be easily altered to work as an icebreaker even for folks that don’t have twitter accounts . . . folks shoot images of each other with any camera and email them to a photo-sharing site projected on a screen in the room.