open source

New York City crowd-sources bike share station location

London bike share New York City has always been seen as a trend-setter. This time they’re jumping on the backs of two big trends: bike sharing and crowd sourcing. New York City Department of Transportation has collaborated with OpenPlans, a non-profit focus on open government and transportation, to develop software that collects public input for bike sharing stations.

The software, to be called CivicWorks, is behind NYCDOT’s bike share suggestion engine. It is an open source tool that eventually will allow any group to open their own suggestion engine for the placement of anything on a map – street trees, parks, bike parking, new development. It takes a standard, “analog” public participation interaction exercise (involving Legos and printed maps) and brings it into the 21st Century.

At first glance, the crowd-collected data on NYC’s map seems to be rather useless. How much information can you gather about preferences if there is no variation in them? The whole city seems to be covered in dots. But as Neil Freeman of NYCDOT explained, there actually is a fair amount of variation in the data.

Each dot represents a location where one person requested a station, but also embedded in the dot are several votes from other community members. This variation enabled the DOT to produce “heat maps” of station location preferences, highlighting the need to focus first in Manhattan’s southern core, but also a desire to expand into further reaches of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx.

The data have also been used to perform “proximity tests,” where planners compare the hottest locations with practical measures like the width of the sidewalk or ownership of the land where it would be placed.

The information collected through this online platform will be augmented with feedback collected at many in-person public meetings across the City throughout the year in order to determine the placement of the City’s first bike share stations.

-          Terra Curtis

Open Source Planning

BetavilleIn some people’s view, the role of the urban planner is primarily to facilitate community participation and to implement policies that lead to the achievement of community-provided visions.  If you agree with this idea, then you’ll like a new tool developed at the Brooklyn Experimental Media Center.

Betaville is a SimCity-like tool that allows citizens to create designs of New York City, adding, altering, or moving buildings and landscapes.  But it’s not just a receiver of ideas; it is meant to engage a wide community where users can design and others can comment or upload their own variations. Betaville was designed with the intent of inviting the same high levels of participation found in open source software.  The community vision of a street corner or of an entire city will morph over time as more people contribute, as does a Wikipedia page.  And in theory, the input of these “subject matter experts” (from consultants to university students to residents of a particular area) will inform the plans made by the municipality.

It is, of course, subject to the same challenges faced by any public involvement process: how do you make sure everyone is involved?  How is everyone’s voice heard?  Betaville is certainly a step in the right direction – leveraging modern communications technologies and visualization tools to further engage the citizen.  But a solution for inviting more (or at least more representative) voices is still needed.

-Terra Curtis