public participation

State of Cities' Ideas

MindMixer, who we have covered on this blog before, is a community engagement tool that markets itself as a “virtual town hall service.”  It is meant to extend the reach of governments’ public engagement campaigns by making it easier for citizens to provide input, insights, and feedback.  They’ve deployed their solution in cities as diverse as Burbank, California; Omaha, Nebraska; and Flagstaff, Arizona on topics such as transportation, budget, and master plans. A few months ago, the company pulled together all the ideas submitted by citizens in every city using their solution.  They divided the ideas into 10 categories:

(1)    Mobility

(2)    Services

(3)    Sustainability

(4)    Health

(5)    Infrastructure

(6)    Government 2.0

(7)    Safety

(8)    Housing

(9)    Parks

(10)Urban Design

Within each category, they highlighted the number of citizen ideas that relate to that category.  For example, the Mobility category most commonly included ideas on bicycles, mass transit, pedestrians, parking, and car access (in that order). State_of_Cities_Ideas

By far, Urban Design and Mobility were the two most common categories of ideas that citizens were concerned with.  Housing, Sustainability, and Government 2.0 were in the second tier.  The remaining categories (Safety, Parks, Infrastructure, Health, and Services) all received relatively little attention.

This may be surprising given news media’s frequent exaggerating of safety issues, health, and the U.S.’s crumbling infrastructure.  However, the responses seem to reflect the population that is  most likely using a solution like this – those who have access to a computer, who trust participating in an online forum, who are confident in articulating their ideas.  It seems likely that this population is younger, perhaps more likely to live in the urban center areas of these cities with access to transit and shorter bicycling and walking distances, and who perhaps have more sensibility about urban design issues due to their daily environment.

Given these results, it appears that the challenges of expanding this solution to a more diverse population still exist.  Nonetheless, it’s a great infographic that not only conveys what people are talking about but also that people are willing and able to engage in this type of public participation process.

- Terra Curtis

 

Online Forums and Tools for Citizen Participation: Some Examples

On LinkedIn, I’m part of the Urban Planning Group.  Recently, I took note of a conversation happening within the group.  One of the members had asked others how local governments were using online forums and tools to engage citizens in the planning process.  On this blog, we’ve noted services like YouChooseBayArea in San Francisco and Hub2 in Boston, Betaville, and SeeClickFix, so I was interested to see more examples of tools in practice. A couple of major points I took away from the discussion: these tools should not be the public participation process – they only can enhance a public engagement process by incorporating the views of a more varied population or about a more varied set of topics.  Planners are curious about how best to synthesize and use all the web-generated content once it is collected – this is a classic problem in planning that the traditional Rational Planning model somewhat obscures.  The use of Facebook and Twitter by government planning agencies is increasing, but many warned of the need to establish a social media policy and distinct goals to be achieved through these channels before launching.

Below, I list many examples cited in the group discussion for easy reference.  Some of them are currently being used or have been used in the past in actual public participation processes; others have been released recently

  • SeeClickFix – used by the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition to help them track issues and work with the city to get them soved
  • CityPlanner by Agency9 – used by European cities Gothenburg and Norrkoping (my note: while these sites look incredibly advanced and visually appealing, they run very slowly on my computer, which may hinder their use)
  • EngagingPlans by the Urban Interactive Studio --  used by Galveston, Texas
  • OptIn – a tool of METRO, Portland, Oregon’s metropolitan planning organization
  • GreenCityStreets – this is a new web application designed to engage citizens in thinking about public transportation, walking, biking, and general transportation management through an online game
  • WikiPlanning – used by San Jose, Charlotte, Owasso, and Bessemer City
  • City Commons Club – an online forum for concerned citizens of Berkeley, California (a city well-known for its citizen organization)
  • WebPolis – a project of Eastern Michigan University’s Urban and Regional Planning Program, providing tools for online discussion, surveys, grant/loan searches, and real estate financial analysis
  • Limehouse Software – used by Chester County, Pennsylvania to establish a portal for public comment on text and mapping
  • RateMyStreet – a UK-based site that collects user ratings of the pedestrian experience on specific streets

These are general resources for discovering more tools.

- Terra Curtis

 

Online Forums and Tools for Citizen Participation: Some Examples

On LinkedIn, I’m part of the Urban Planning Group.  Recently, I took note of a conversation happening within the group.  One of the members had asked others how local governments were using online forums and tools to engage citizens in the planning process.  On this blog, we’ve noted services like YouChooseBayArea in San Francisco and Hub2 in Boston, Betaville, and SeeClickFix, so I was interested to see more examples of tools in practice. A couple of major points I took away from the discussion: these tools should not be the public participation process – they only can enhance a public engagement process by incorporating the views of a more varied population or about a more varied set of topics.  Planners are curious about how best to synthesize and use all the web-generated content once it is collected – this is a classic problem in planning that the traditional Rational Planning model somewhat obscures.  The use of Facebook and Twitter by government planning agencies is increasing, but many warned of the need to establish a social media policy and distinct goals to be achieved through these channels before launching.

Below, I list many examples cited in the group discussion for easy reference.  Some of them are currently being used or have been used in the past in actual public participation processes; others have been released recently

  • SeeClickFix – used by the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition to help them track issues and work with the city to get them soved
  • CityPlanner by Agency9 – used by European cities Gothenburg and Norrkoping (my note: while these sites look incredibly advanced and visually appealing, they run very slowly on my computer, which may hinder their use)
  • EngagingPlans by the Urban Interactive Studio --  used by Galveston, Texas
  • OptIn – a tool of METRO, Portland, Oregon’s metropolitan planning organization
  • GreenCityStreets – this is a new web application designed to engage citizens in thinking about public transportation, walking, biking, and general transportation management through an online game
  • WikiPlanning – used by San Jose, Charlotte, Owasso, and Bessemer City
  • City Commons Club – an online forum for concerned citizens of Berkeley, California (a city well-known for its citizen organization)
  • WebPolis – a project of Eastern Michigan University’s Urban and Regional Planning Program, providing tools for online discussion, surveys, grant/loan searches, and real estate financial analysis
  • Limehouse Software – used by Chester County, Pennsylvania to establish a portal for public comment on text and mapping
  • RateMyStreet – a UK-based site that collects user ratings of the pedestrian experience on specific streets

These are general resources for discovering more tools.

- Terra Curtis

 

Two Examples of Computer-Aided Visioning

Earlier this month at the PlanningTech Conference at MIT and the American Planning Association’s annual conference in Boston, I heard lots of buzz and several sessions dealing with the topic of technology-enhanced community participation processes. Recently, I heard about two examples actually happening in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Boston.  In San Francisco, You Choose Bay Area is a website meant to engage citizens in envisioning their future.  It was put together by a large group of Bay Area stakeholders – regional governmental groups, non-profits, and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

The website leads citizens through five panels: challenge, priorities, choices, outcomes, and get involved.  These panels first educate on the issues facing the Bay Area, then ask the user to state their own priorities on things like conserving water, decreasing local traffic, and clean air.  After these priorities are set, the user has to make choices about where to build and how the area will grow.  The outcomes panel further educates by highlighting how the citizen’s choices affect their own priorities, making clear the tradeoffs that are necessary in city and regional planning.  The last panel gives the user the opportunity to spatially tag their choices by leaving their zip code; they can also sign up to an email list to stay informed as the regional planning process progresses.

In Boston, Second Life was used to help facilitate community visioning in its Allston neighborhood.  Hub2 was launched in 2008 in helped members of the public, the Boston Redevelopment Authority, Harvard’s Allson Redevelopment Group envision the proposed Allston Library Park.  Meeting participants were able to visit Boston Island to move things around, leave comments on particular aspects of the 3D model, and imagine alternatives.

A white paper was written about this particular process; among other things, it highlighted the need for planners themselves to be more intimately involved when the public participation process gets high tech.  In Allston, no architects or planners were actually present.  This also poses challenges for the Bay Area website and other initiatives that attempt to open up the public process to those who cannot or do not want to attend public meetings in person.  How meaningful can “engagement” with a 3D model of one’s own city really be?

-Terra Curtis

 

Two Examples of Computer-Aided Visioning

Earlier this month at the PlanningTech Conference at MIT and the American Planning Association’s annual conference in Boston, I heard lots of buzz and several sessions dealing with the topic of technology-enhanced community participation processes. Recently, I heard about two examples actually happening in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Boston.  In San Francisco, You Choose Bay Area is a website meant to engage citizens in envisioning their future.  It was put together by a large group of Bay Area stakeholders – regional governmental groups, non-profits, and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

The website leads citizens through five panels: challenge, priorities, choices, outcomes, and get involved.  These panels first educate on the issues facing the Bay Area, then ask the user to state their own priorities on things like conserving water, decreasing local traffic, and clean air.  After these priorities are set, the user has to make choices about where to build and how the area will grow.  The outcomes panel further educates by highlighting how the citizen’s choices affect their own priorities, making clear the tradeoffs that are necessary in city and regional planning.  The last panel gives the user the opportunity to spatially tag their choices by leaving their zip code; they can also sign up to an email list to stay informed as the regional planning process progresses.

In Boston, Second Life was used to help facilitate community visioning in its Allston neighborhood.  Hub2 was launched in 2008 in helped members of the public, the Boston Redevelopment Authority, Harvard’s Allson Redevelopment Group envision the proposed Allston Library Park.  Meeting participants were able to visit Boston Island to move things around, leave comments on particular aspects of the 3D model, and imagine alternatives.

A white paper was written about this particular process; among other things, it highlighted the need for planners themselves to be more intimately involved when the public participation process gets high tech.  In Allston, no architects or planners were actually present.  This also poses challenges for the Bay Area website and other initiatives that attempt to open up the public process to those who cannot or do not want to attend public meetings in person.  How meaningful can “engagement” with a 3D model of one’s own city really be?

-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