urban planning

On Location: APA 2011, Boston

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf “Revolutions in science are preceded by revolutions in measurement.” – Benjamin de la Pena

Technology Infrastructure and Planning Session

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve spent the last few days in Boston at the American Planning Association’s annual conference.  I wanted to write one post focused on a session I attended on Monday, entitled Technology Infrastructure and Planning.

With speakers from IBM, CISCO, and the Rockefeller Foundation, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, given that this is a planning conference.  However, as readers of this blog will know, I am very interested in the nexus of urban planning and technology, and to my pleasant surprise, this session did not disappoint.  It was probably the most thought-provoking session I attended all weekend.  Readers may want to refer to a previous blog post on “corporate planning” to learn about the planning-related initiatives of CISCO, IBM, and others. Gordon Feller of CISCO emphasized that as technology progresses and infiltrates city management further and further, we will experience a profound shift in the role of planners specifically and of government in general.  All of the speakers mentioned the concept of ERP – enterprise resource planning.  These are technology systems currently in place and used heavily by large corporations to manage and track their operations.  The speakers posited that soon we will have ERP for cities (both IBM and CISCO are currently working on it).

The implication of this is that planners will need to be extremely data savvy.  In the near term, planners could have access to extremely rich and structured data in real-time – strong evidence to defend or refute particular stakeholders’ beliefs.  In the long term, the possibilities are both amazing and frightening.  There will be a need for stronger public-private partnerships, with private companies providing and constructing the physical infrastructure (fiber optic cables, monitoring devices, etc.) and the public sector managing the data and leveraging it for decision making in ways we have yet to imagine.

That said, several early examples already do exist.  CISCO is actually constructing its own smart city in Korea – Songdo.  This is similar to Masdar City, which we previously covered.  Barcelona has designated a sector of the city as an innovation lab (22@Barcelona), where smart city concepts are tested in real time.  In 2005, Bill Clinton challenged cities to minimize their carbon footprint by making planning an integral aspect of the solution.  CISCO conducted pilots in three worldwide cities as part of its associated Connected Urban Development program: Seoul, Amsterdam, and San Francisco.  Urban Ecomap was one of the products of that program.  Blaise Aguera of Microsoft Bing demonstrates in this TEDx talk how his company is producing augmented reality maps, which have many applications for planning including data collection, community engagement, and visualization.

John Tolva, the speaker from IBM, took a reverse approach and highlighted examples of how technologists could learn from the experiences of planners and the built environment.  He emphasized a few key learnings: throughput is not connectivity; it’s easy to confuse the use of a system with the need for a system; data alone is not sufficient for problem solving, but combined with an involved community it just may be.

Benjamin de la Pena of the Rockefeller Foundation also gave an extremely insightful presentation, closing out with some cautionary notes.  I will name a few.  The reliance on data and technology may undermine our own best interests – it can be systematically exclusionary as was exemplified as far back as Athens, Greece in its democratization process.  Some of our most ambitious feats have also turned out to be great failures on certain dimensions – he cited our highway system as connecting our country but dividing our neighborhoods.  Red lining was also data driven, hardly something to be proud of.  Data literacy and transparency will be of the utmost importance: citizens must be able to trust that city managers have their best interest in mind, providing information that is not purposefully hiding misleading but rather empowering.

As a graduate student in planning, I’ll be paying heightened attention to the progress in technology infrastructure in cities and the public-private relationships that will result.  It has great implications for my, and our, future.

-Terra Curtis

Further resources:

 

On Location: APA 2011, Boston

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf “Revolutions in science are preceded by revolutions in measurement.” – Benjamin de la Pena

Technology Infrastructure and Planning Session

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve spent the last few days in Boston at the American Planning Association’s annual conference.  I wanted to write one post focused on a session I attended on Monday, entitled Technology Infrastructure and Planning.

With speakers from IBM, CISCO, and the Rockefeller Foundation, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, given that this is a planning conference.  However, as readers of this blog will know, I am very interested in the nexus of urban planning and technology, and to my pleasant surprise, this session did not disappoint.  It was probably the most thought-provoking session I attended all weekend.  Readers may want to refer to a previous blog post on “corporate planning” to learn about the planning-related initiatives of CISCO, IBM, and others. Gordon Feller of CISCO emphasized that as technology progresses and infiltrates city management further and further, we will experience a profound shift in the role of planners specifically and of government in general.  All of the speakers mentioned the concept of ERP – enterprise resource planning.  These are technology systems currently in place and used heavily by large corporations to manage and track their operations.  The speakers posited that soon we will have ERP for cities (both IBM and CISCO are currently working on it).

The implication of this is that planners will need to be extremely data savvy.  In the near term, planners could have access to extremely rich and structured data in real-time – strong evidence to defend or refute particular stakeholders’ beliefs.  In the long term, the possibilities are both amazing and frightening.  There will be a need for stronger public-private partnerships, with private companies providing and constructing the physical infrastructure (fiber optic cables, monitoring devices, etc.) and the public sector managing the data and leveraging it for decision making in ways we have yet to imagine.

That said, several early examples already do exist.  CISCO is actually constructing its own smart city in Korea – Songdo.  This is similar to Masdar City, which we previously covered.  Barcelona has designated a sector of the city as an innovation lab (22@Barcelona), where smart city concepts are tested in real time.  In 2005, Bill Clinton challenged cities to minimize their carbon footprint by making planning an integral aspect of the solution.  CISCO conducted pilots in three worldwide cities as part of its associated Connected Urban Development program: Seoul, Amsterdam, and San Francisco.  Urban Ecomap was one of the products of that program.  Blaise Aguera of Microsoft Bing demonstrates in this TEDx talk how his company is producing augmented reality maps, which have many applications for planning including data collection, community engagement, and visualization.

John Tolva, the speaker from IBM, took a reverse approach and highlighted examples of how technologists could learn from the experiences of planners and the built environment.  He emphasized a few key learnings: throughput is not connectivity; it’s easy to confuse the use of a system with the need for a system; data alone is not sufficient for problem solving, but combined with an involved community it just may be.

Benjamin de la Pena of the Rockefeller Foundation also gave an extremely insightful presentation, closing out with some cautionary notes.  I will name a few.  The reliance on data and technology may undermine our own best interests – it can be systematically exclusionary as was exemplified as far back as Athens, Greece in its democratization process.  Some of our most ambitious feats have also turned out to be great failures on certain dimensions – he cited our highway system as connecting our country but dividing our neighborhoods.  Red lining was also data driven, hardly something to be proud of.  Data literacy and transparency will be of the utmost importance: citizens must be able to trust that city managers have their best interest in mind, providing information that is not purposefully hiding misleading but rather empowering.

As a graduate student in planning, I’ll be paying heightened attention to the progress in technology infrastructure in cities and the public-private relationships that will result.  It has great implications for my, and our, future.

-Terra Curtis

Further resources:

 

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

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

Oakland Zoning on Youtube

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzJky8yENVU&fs=1&hl=en_US] We have written about the use of online media as a tool for city planning previously, including a specific example about the town of Cary, North Carolina.  Today I want to highlight the efforts of the Oakland, California planning department, which is using Youtube as a means of education and public engagement.

The last time Oakland’s zoning code was updated was in 1965, and no matter where you live, the 1965 world was a very different one from the one you’re living in today.  With that in mind, it makes sense for Oakland to embrace one of those stark differences – online communications and Youtube – to broadcast its updates.  You will find four videos on Oakland’s Youtube Channel.  Each of these is meant to prime the audience (the citizens of Oakland) for a thoughtful discussion on proposed zoning changes. In addition to the Youtube Channel, there are over a dozen other videos posted relating to the zoning update.  Many of these capture public sentiment and the opinions of elected officials.

The City of Oakland’s use of Youtube is great from an access and transparency perspective.  However, it doesn’t appear that they’re succeeding from an engagement perspective.  (The City of Oakland has around 400,000 residents; the first primer video posted has a mere 400 views – just 0.1% of its population).  While its efforts are noble, they’re going to have to be more innovative if they are to truly engage segments of the population that aren’t already.  Perhaps they could look to showcased company Socialight, or Second Life and Acton, Massachusetts, or to Cary, North Carolina.

Interactive Planning in Cary, North Carolina

The town of Cary, North Carolina (population 94,536) has launched a new web tool called “VIP”, for Virtual Interactive Planner.  The town’s development process had become overbearingly complex, and town government was forced to field questions from citizens and developers alike.  According to Dan Matthys, Communications and Information Planner in Cary, “it wasn’t clear to our citizens when they had a chance to speak and when they didn’t have a chance, how long the process was or what the different steps are to that process.” So, the mayor of Cary asked the Planning Department to come up with a solution.  The VIP tool takes you through a “development adventure” where potential developers (or involved citizens) can enter a property address and view local zoning and land use approvals and select a project type (commercial, industrial, public/institutional, or residential).  The tool then takes you to a flash-based interactive image of the property and informs you of the steps you’ll need to take to get your development project approved.

Overall, the tool seemed a bit heavy-weight for my taste; however, it seems to have succeeded in making clear the development process.  “It’s … increased the efficiency in our department because it has reduced the number of phone calls we’re getting that could be answered by something on the computer.”  Other cities trying to implement their model should note that 97% of Cary residents have computers and internet access and overall the population is very educated with three major universities nearby.