social media

Improving walkability with a web-app, a street, and two feet

If you could give your street a grade for walkability, how would it rate? How about the streets for the rest of your neighborhood, where you work, or where you shop? Creating a walk-friendly place where people feel comfortable on the street is a key part of developing vibrant communities, and the folks at Walkonomics are working hard to help people find and share how their streets rate.

Through the collective power of open data, crowdsourcing, and social media, Walkonomics has generated over 600,000 ratings for streets throughout the UK and New York City. The web-app provides a zero to five star walkability rating for city streets based on eight characteristics: road safety, ease of crossing, presence and quality of pavements or sidewalks, hilliness, ease of navigation, fear of crime, cleanliness and appearance, and quality of life. Public street data is evaluated using these eight categories to generate an overall rating of walkability for the street, which is then displayed on an interactive map using color-coded markers. You can search for a street, view its rating and those for surrounding roads, see a detailed breakdown of the rating, check out a first-person perspective using street view, and view other users’ comments about a street's condition, all in one interface.

My favorite feature of the app is how it allows users to add their own ratings for streets, which factor into the overall rating average. The app allows anyone to voice their praises or complaints and offers an interactive space for people to discuss conditions and post suggestions for improvement. There is huge potential for city governments to get involved here by sharing data and receiving feedback from citizens on where changes are needed most. City planners especially could use this information to identify areas where pedestrian improvement projects would have the greatest impact. Interactive apps like Walkonomics are offering exciting new opportunities for helping cities create lively, walk-friendly spaces.

~ Allison Bullock

Best Practices in Social Media

Lyndsey Scofield, an urban planning graduate student in New York City, tipped me off to a recent virtual workshop held by the National Academies of Science’s Transportation Research Board.  This workshop, entitled “Keeping up with Communication Technology: An Online Workshop on the Practical Use of Social Media,” gathered together 22 transportation professionals who shared their professional uses of things like Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter. In my experience, the Transportation Research Board (TRB) would not be the first group to come to mind when thinking about these more nuanced uses of social media tools.  Nonetheless, they put together an engaging array of presentations and resources on the topic as it relates to the transportation industry.  At least three of the presenters had been involved in MIT’s PlanningTech@DUSP conference this past January, a student-led half-day conference on urban planning and technology, so it is encouraging to see the insights of a few newer, younger urban planners trickling up into the collective consciousness of the TRB.

Ironically, I found one of the most interesting resources provided by the workshop to be “The Extreme Presentation,” a guide for developing engaging, persuasive, relevant, and action-inducing presentations.  If there’s one thing I have learned in grad school, it is that you either know how to leverage the value of PowerPoint or you don’t.  Most people don’t, and no matter how engaging the topic may be (e.g. a proposed new light rail through your neighborhood), poor use of a good tool will lead to a disengaged audience and a failed presentation.

The link between PowerPoint presentations and social media comes in their potential to create an impact.  The Extreme Presentation provides 10 steps, organized within 4 themes that produce this impact: politics and metrics, logic, rhetoric, and graphics.  Social media outlets involve each of these themes as well.  Outreach through Twitter, Facebook, blogs, YouTube, LinkedIn, etc, will be more effective if it includes a proper identification of audience, evidence-backed information presented in a way that is both relevant and visually stimulating to readers or listeners.  I know I could learn a lot from this strategy, and I’m happy that an institution as far-reaching as TRB embraces the concept as well.

- ­Terra Curtis

 

Cities, Technology, Business, and You

I’ve just spent twenty minutes watching two fantastic videos covering issues of cities, of technology, of human progress and success, and of the path forward. I follow TedTalks on Facebook.  Today, they posted a 15 minute clip of Lisa Gansky, author of a new book called The Mesh.  The “mesh,” according to Gansky, is “a new way of doing business” – it represents a paradigm shift in business opportunity.  As Gansky notes, the latest communications technologies are encouraging businesses to be more integrated with their consumers.  Consumers are even more integrated with each other.  Examples in transportation include ZipCar, RelayRides, Facebook, and Capital Bikeshare, but the trend is even more widespread into areas such as recycling, farming, community and government, and energy.  She argues that ventures who ignore these trends are undermining business, as well as societal, interests – a powerful shift indeed.

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

In a separate video, John Stewart interviews Harvard economist Edward Glaeser, who has recently published a new book as well, Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier. Glaeser laments that anti-urban policy is still so prevalent in the US (for instance, policies that encourage buying homes in suburbs and driving cars on over-provided highways).  He claims that two-thirds of the stimulus funds went to our least dense places, leaving one-third for our most-dense, most-populated areas.  These policies are undermining our ability to progress; anti-urban policy promotes low-return investments.  It is the cities that make us richer, smarter, greener, healthier, and happier.  Why would we invest anywhere else?

I thought the two tied together nicely, pointing out not only economic but also social justifications for living, working, and sharing in closer proximity than we may ever have here in the US.  Now that these benefits have been established, perhaps individual behavior change will follow the lead of start-ups and government funding decisions in order to create more efficient, clean, productive, and livable places.

-Terra Curtis

Cities, Technology, Business, and You

I’ve just spent twenty minutes watching two fantastic videos covering issues of cities, of technology, of human progress and success, and of the path forward. I follow TedTalks on Facebook.  Today, they posted a 15 minute clip of Lisa Gansky, author of a new book called The Mesh.  The “mesh,” according to Gansky, is “a new way of doing business” – it represents a paradigm shift in business opportunity.  As Gansky notes, the latest communications technologies are encouraging businesses to be more integrated with their consumers.  Consumers are even more integrated with each other.  Examples in transportation include ZipCar, RelayRides, Facebook, and Capital Bikeshare, but the trend is even more widespread into areas such as recycling, farming, community and government, and energy.  She argues that ventures who ignore these trends are undermining business, as well as societal, interests – a powerful shift indeed.

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

In a separate video, John Stewart interviews Harvard economist Edward Glaeser, who has recently published a new book as well, Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier. Glaeser laments that anti-urban policy is still so prevalent in the US (for instance, policies that encourage buying homes in suburbs and driving cars on over-provided highways).  He claims that two-thirds of the stimulus funds went to our least dense places, leaving one-third for our most-dense, most-populated areas.  These policies are undermining our ability to progress; anti-urban policy promotes low-return investments.  It is the cities that make us richer, smarter, greener, healthier, and happier.  Why would we invest anywhere else?

I thought the two tied together nicely, pointing out not only economic but also social justifications for living, working, and sharing in closer proximity than we may ever have here in the US.  Now that these benefits have been established, perhaps individual behavior change will follow the lead of start-ups and government funding decisions in order to create more efficient, clean, productive, and livable places.

-Terra Curtis

Social Media and Politics

In a recent interview, Don Waldie, now-retired public information officer for the city of Lakewood, California, reveals some thoughts about the role of social media in politics.  On the one hand, Waldie laments that “cities haven’t fully learned how to use digital media” to their full potential.  And on the other, that “I’m not convinced that social media creates the relationships that generate true citizenship. At this stage, social media invites little of the depth that leads to the give-and-take of true politics.”

So, what is the challenge we need to solve?  More use of social, digital, and new media in politics?  Or should we rely on it less, as it creates a false sense of connection between constituents and representatives?

In all likelihood, social media and our reliance on it for news, opinion, and social connection is not going away.  We’re going to have to learn to leverage it in the right ways, if we hope to achieve the ideal direct democracy that some have claimed services like Facebook and Twitter offer.

Companies like Momentus Media and Wildfire have already built up a strong presence in the gap between social media networks and politicians (like Jerry Brown in California).  Can these services be expanded for Gov 2.0 processes like participatory planning or more systematic dialog between constituents and city officials?  It’s going to take innovation on both sides of the isle – public and private – whereby public officials start to understand more about social media’s power, and private companies learn to leverage that power in much more focused ways.

-Terra Curtis

SoBi

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Edulm0xKIzs&fs=1&hl=en_US]
SoBi is the first public bike share system to rely entirely on wireless technology for tracking, locating and unlocking bikes,” reports Mashable. SoBi stands for “Social Bicycles,” a start-up that plans its first pilot run in New York City this fall.  SoBi has a fleet of bikes equipped with a GPS and cellular device, powered by a dynamo engaged with the rear wheel of the bikes.  GPS technology will allow potential users with online access (either through their computers, mobile phones, or one of several kiosks throughout the city) to locate an available bicycle.  SoBi also tracks the routes bicycles take, allowing administrators to create or redistribute hubs and users to track distance traveled, calories burned, and emissions saved.  It’s also got an element of FourSquare, allowing bikers to see their nearby biking friends.

SoBi also makes the claim that their system will be much cheaper to deploy than other bike sharing systems currently in place.  Part of this efficiency is due to financial incentives they offer the user to return the bike to a lower-density hub (minimizing the need for crews to go out and physically redistribute bikes themselves).  This, in turn, also makes the solution potentially cheaper for users as well.  If you return your bike to one of these locations, you could be rewarded with refunds toward membership fees or gift certificates from sponsors.  A win-win!

-Terra Curtis