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All Eyes

Designing for safety often relies on “eyes on the street“. After recent moves from Vancouver to Whitehorse to Toronto, I have been considering how living in a much bigger city affects my safety.

Rioters and vandals in Vancouver's Stanley Cup riots earlier this month have since found themselves tagged and identified using social media. Thanks to Dustan Sept on Flickr for this evocative Creative Commons photo.

The assumption that urban anonymity leads to more crime is likely true. It makes sense that safety in smaller places is due to tighter networks and the increased likelihood of being caught or ostracized due to actions.

Fortunately, the digital shrinking of the world is mimicking the surveillance of a small town. Paired … Continue Reading

The Tech City

Thanks to Leo Reynolds on Flickr for this great Creative Commons photo of hitchhikers in Scotland!

I have recently been witness to the colliding worlds of web and mobile app programming and city planning. Communication technology and transportation have long been studied in unison. A good example is the slow decline of the US Postal Service (with its complex logistics and delivery systems) as more and more people choose electronic communication. The exchange of ideas, people and goods rely on such complex systems.

Since the 1980’s, transportation experts have awaited the day when telework would make a sizable impact on commuting behavior. However, working from home has been very slow to take off, fueled by issues such as employee productivity. Regardless, teleconferencing, remote access, and mobile … Continue Reading

Betaville: Multiplayer Engagement Planning in Beta

We’ve blogged on PlanningPool in the past about the lure and the foibles of city-building games like Sim City, and about the promise of interactive 3D urban models for communication and engagement.

Battery Park Street, New York, as seen in Betaville

But what if 3D urban models like Virtual Berlin could be plugged into a city-building game engine like Sim City’s? And what if everybody could play?

That’s the idea behind Betaville, a new collaborative planning technology developed by the Polytechnic Institute of New York University.

Betaville is based on an open-source, multi-player gaming engine that runs 3D models of real-life communities. Changes can then be proposed to these “base models” by all participants and modeled in alternative versions of the world.

The intent is nothing less than … Continue Reading

Flying Recumbent Monorail Bicycles: Project 10 to the 100’s Public Transport Winner Announced

One of the winners announced yesterday for Google’s Project 10 100 contest provides a great example of the “stuck in the future” boondoggles that Jarrett Walker despairs of getting in the way of functional transit innovation.

As ably pointed out by Wired magazine, the Schweeb technology combines the worst and weirdest aspects of of recumbent bicycles, monorails and personal rapid transit, in an unholy, uncomfortable-looking, cost-intensive and doubtlessly stinky union. After winning $1,000,000 in funding from Google, the company website promises to “soon announce the location where we will build the first transit Shweeb for public use!”  Yikes. Check out the video of the world’s first SHWEEB in Rotorua, New Zealand (above) to … Continue Reading

Couchsurfing is a planner’s best friend.

The Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna, NY, a place I never would have seen if not for a fantastic tour from a fantastic Couchsurfing host.

I admit it – I thought it was strange and dangerous at first. But then one of my less-intimidating female friends tried it,  and not only did she survive; she had a fantastic time. I no longer had an excuse – I had to plunge forward and try Couchsurfing. Once I did, my eyes were opened to a completely new way of travelling. I realized that there are over a million people around the world willing to open their homes to me and show me around their city. Not only does it make travelling cheaper and more interesting, but … Continue Reading

Top 10 Google Maps Tricks

To start off Tech Week, we’re going to talk about something that is near and dear to the hearts of many urban planners – Google Maps! Here’s a Top 10 list of great features in Google Maps:

  1. Directions – You already know that you can get directions from A to B on Google Maps, but did you know that you can get those directions for transit or for bikes? Just click on “directions” on the top left hand corner – the train looking thing represents transit directions and the bike icon represents cycling directions. They aren’t perfect, but they are pretty good!
  2. Street View – Street view is a great way to nab some precedent images or other images that show what the street looks like today. You can capture a screen shot of the street view and then import … Continue Reading

Using Social Media to Make Transit Fun!

Around North America and Europe, a whole lot of energy is being invested in using social media to improve communication between transit agencies and the people who rely on their services. An impressive and ever-growing array of agency-created and privately-produced iPhone and iPod Touch apps disseminate information about transit schedules, service updates and even real-time bus and train locations.

The US-based website CityGoRound helps people to find local transit, biking, walking and driving applications. Advancing its overall goal of making sustainable transportation more convenient, CityGoRound also actively encourages transit agencies to make their data public.

Just as users can access information about transit services, transit providers also can take advantage of social media to gather data from their users. For instance, as discussed in this PlanningPool post, … Continue Reading

NYC open data competition

NYC BigAppLast month, we updated you about Vancouver’s Open City Initiative and the Beta Open Data Catalogue that had just come online. In a similar fashion, New York City is opening up its public databases, ranging from traffic data to restaurant health inspections and property sales. The project, called NYC BigApps, is a competition that is giving away $20,000 in cash prizes to people who can figure out how to use the data in really interesting and accessible ways. This project sounds great, because not only is the data being made publicly accessible, but the competition is an incentive for people to use the data, making the city more transparent and accountable.

Smart Grids and Solar Energy

Losing Power by jeepskate (flickr)

Losing Power by jeepskate (flickr)

A few days ago, Discovery.com Tech released an interesting video about “smart grids.” Smart grids are electricity networks that can better match electrical demand with electricity supply.

The price of electricity changes in each hour, day, month, and year, because there may be a shortage of electricity supplied (high price) or not enough demand for electricity (low price). For example, electricity is usually expensive in the evening when people are cooking, doing laundry, watching TV, and turning lights on. Electricity is also expensive during work hours, as offices and manufacturing facilities require energy. Electricity can be expensive in the summer, because people turn on air conditioning. The same is true for heating in the winter. As you can … Continue Reading

Kudos and tidbits

A large part of what we’re attempting to do here at the Planning Pool is to implement user-friendly technologies to give people a greater voice in their community.  We’ll be adding/improving a couple of features over the coming months to achieve this goal.  With this in mind, kudos to Eric Gordon and Gene Koo, who have together been awarded a MacArthur grant for their Hub2 project to explore the urban planning applications of the video game Second Life.

Though some old-timers will scoff at the thought that Second Life might one day be a widely utilized planning tool, it (or something similar) will become only more viable in the future.  There are surely large chunks of essential information (like accurate budgeting) that cannot yet be fully captured in video games, but people like … Continue Reading

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