Frank Hebbert and Julia West
Successful planning projects make the community an equal partner. But it’s not easy – maximizing public participation in the planning process remains one of the biggest challenges for planners. During the initial phases of a new project, how can we learn what matters most to the community? As a project moves forward, how can we prioritize issues, based on public feedback?
Combined with traditional outreach methods, online crowdsourcing maps provide planners with new tools to tackle these challenges. By enabling the people who know the city best to voice their opinion and knowledge on a map, crowdsourcing allows the community to engage in a planning process in a meaningful way. For example, the New York City Department of Transportation asked for public input on the locations of bike share stations, using an open source tool from OpenPlans. Using nyc.gov/bikeshare, New Yorkers made thousands of suggestions citywide.
Authentic participation through online tools is one of the problems we’re tackling at OpenPlans. We’ve taken the functionality of the NYC bike share map and turned it into an easy to customize tool for public input, called Shareabouts. You can find out more about the project at shareabouts.org.
Intended for use by planning agencies or community groups, Shareabouts complements and extends the reach of an existing or future planning process. The platform is a Ruby on Rails application that runs on a spatial database, making it easy to carry out geographic operations on the map, such as limiting input to particular districts, or getting input on areas rather than individual points. All text can be customized, making translations easy. Social network integration is baked in – you can add comments to locations when submitting, or have your say on other locations. And the website runs nicely as a mobile web site, so people can make suggestions on the go.
OpenPlans will be using Shareabouts to help with another bike share roll out soon. You can also check out Portland’s map, which uses Shareabouts, at pdxbikeshare.com. It’s an open source project, so we welcome your reports of problems and suggestions for future features.
The authors can be reached at email@example.com.