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Digital hangers can now indicate the “like” rating of items.
Restroom breaks can be multi-tasked with twitter feeds dispensed on toilet paper.
And you can now be fully apprised of the carbon footprint of your food selections; a restaurant in Sweden displays the CO2 emissions associated with menu options.
All of this innovation begs the question: How is technology revamping the way we interact with and shape our local places?
I, for one, would be more likely to spend my dollars in a town that Facebooked the carbon footprints of its local businesses. And to go a step further, what if that town tapped its “like” ratings to drive tourism or capital improvement projects? That kind of transparent crowd-sourcing has the potential to make lasting change for the collective good.
Last month’s edition of the American Planning Association’s Colorado Chapter featured examples of innovative digital government that are changing how we listen and learn from the greater public. Towns are using well known social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to work more directly with their communities. And newer platforms like Mind Mixer and Community PlanIt increase participation and help residents define and prioritize planning decisions.
And now, instead of following a tour guide, you can tour yourself. Monmouth, Wales has been QR coded, and residents and business owners have made the life and history of their town available in more than 26 languages. Vancouver’s Chinatown has a collection of locational stories that can be accessed by cell phone. And Biddeford, Maine uses Google Earth to share local “HeartSpots” (you’ll need to download Google Earth). My favorites, from the Fun Theory, include projects that change behaviors for the better, like piano stairs and the bottle bank arcade.
Golden, Colorado tapped into i-Neighbors (for free), and residents now have the opportunity to connect with each other in a much more meaningful way. Check out the Beverly Heights neighborhood, where residents, City Council members and City staff are engaged in conversations, as well as the city employee network that was just launched to connect employees as a group.
A colleague also just told me today how cash mobs—which require no special skills other than enthusiasm for your local economy—are becoming popular as a way to infuse independent businesses with a jolt of much-needed revenue. Loyal patrons are catching on all over the country and the results are promising.
When I did City Planning, I felt like I never had the resources to try new ideas, let alone the time to discover them. What I know now is that all of these tools are readily accessible and easy to use. But technology isn’t the only way to doing things better. Sometimes it just takes a moment to re-think the way you’ve always done something and make it better. Use what works for you and the resources you have. For example, Steve Glueck, the Planning Director in Golden now uses ad hoc focus group meetings with residents to brainstorm solutions to local issues.
Ideas are everywhere! Here are some other great places to bookmark and go back to when you have time: Planning Tool Exchange, Heart & Soul Implementation Guides, and the Tools chapter of Orton’s research paper, Planning for Community Heart & Soul.
What ideas do you have to help harness and act on the good vibes of your community? Remember, even the Dancing Guy, and his First Follower, got people to try their approach.