So it’s been a little over two weeks since our Beers in Beantown un-conference event and in Internet time, that is much too long. Posted here is the first half of the video (a little over 30 minutes). The second half will go up when I get my computer back from repair in a week or so.
We had a great group of people involved in the discussion and 3 wonderful unpanelists that seeded the conversation. Frank Hebbert from OpenPlans started us off by summing up the three forces contributing to I Mapped My Backyard (IMMBYs). Those three forces are reproduced here from Frank’s blog post on the subject:
- Useful computer analysis of massive datasets — for example, Narrative Science turning their sports coverage robots onto the census data.
- Google Fusion Tables — so much analytical power, (almost) nobody needs desktop GIS, especially not the IMMBY
- Exceptionally high-quality collaborative data, like Open Street Map
Holly St. Clair from Boston’s Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) then describes the use of gaming platforms in planning, which is something we’ve been discussing here at PlaceMatters as well. Holly is excited about combining gaming and social media around particular places to help get people in a problem-solving, idea-expanding mindset. She also believes these games can help us with multi-generational engagement which will become increasingly important as we have an increase in participation from baby-boomers. Holly also speaks to her experience working on Participatory Chinatown and the current work on Community Planit with the Engagement Lab at Emerson College.
Our third un-panelist, Scott Page, principal at Interface Studio, was really excited about planners as creative story tellers. The tension between top down and bottom up planning has accelerated and the traditional structures of planning are being dismantled. This dismantling has created an environment of foundations, social agencies and neighborhood groups creating their own plans. The challenge for planners is now to weave those plans together in a creative process using tools and techniques that the others mentioned including social media, IMMBY, place-based gaming, etc.
The conversation then turned to a number of topics and questions including
- The use of social media in planning and framing in 140 characters or less
- How do we deal with complexity on emerging social media networks?
- How do we deal with anonymity on the Internet?
- How do we make sure data is verifiable and accurate and trusted in a world of crowdsourced data?
- How do we mash up traditional methods of participation and emerging methods so we don’t miss people?
- And many related conversations
A major takeaway for me personally was that emerging tools and technologies are not in of themselves going to alienate people and destroy access to public process (ala digital divide issues). Rather, the way in which we use those tools as creative storytellers is going to set us apart as effective planners. The ultimate creative disruption, in my opionion, is that planning is being disintermediated. Per Scott’s comment, we are becoming more like creative storytellers, weaving together many viewpoints and opinions. We are at a critical point in planning where we need to reinvent the way we work and the way we listen to people. It will always be messy, and it may be even messier, but that is the challenge and excitement of planning going forward.
What do you think? Is Planning irrelevant? Should we be fighting these technology trends or accepting them as fads? What does the new planning professional learn in school going forward? What are the essential skills of planners? Is data that important or is it more about process? Did our group miss something completely?