The Good of Getting on the Ground

Photo: Workshop participants take advantage of Belfast’s public art chairs while doing fieldwork.
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Heart & Soul Community Planning
is rooted in the idea that people share common values when it comes to what makes their cities and towns unique. Although the language people use may be similar across communities, the specifics of what people mean by that language can be quite different from place to place.

So how do you get beyond nebulous conversations about “sense of community” to a shared understanding of the specifics of your town? You get on the ground and figure it out.

That’s what happened in two October workshops hosted by the Orton Family Foundation, Friends of Midcoast Maine (FMM), Project for Public Spaces (PPS) and dreherdesign. About 50 participants used Lincolnville and Belfast, Maine as learning laboratories for how to build stronger communities.

After beginning the workshops by considering what they value about their communities, people took to the streets to measure the qualitative aspects of place, like comfort and image, as well as the quantitative aspects, like building heights and siting.

Project for Public Spaces has been using this approach for years through tools like Place Game. Others also use field time to drill down into the specifics of a particular development proposal (e.g. Planning Board site visits).

So, why not use fieldwork in a broader planning process to help generate ideas and increase understanding of how to build on what a community values? Fieldwork can concretely point out possible regulatory changes like code updates, or more programmatic changes like getting local stores to coordinate business hours. In Lincolnville, fieldwork resulted in creative ideas around how to re-use historic buildings and make its center more walkable.

Orton, FMM, PPS and dreherdesign plan to continue conversations about how to refine tools for an in-the-field approach. Meanwhile, others are doing interesting work like PlaceMatters’ Walkshop, which uses smartphone photos taken on the street to address walkability issues through an interactive touchscreen technology.

Stay tuned for more innovations in the field! Better yet, let us know about other fieldwork examples and tools that you’ve found to be helpful to planning efforts.

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