A Placemaking Journal

Measure Local, Share Global, Part 2: From app to main course

Talk about geek love!

When I wrote recently about having cooked up an iPhone app for collecting the physical metrics behind form-based codes, my intentions were pretty modest. First, I was just kind of giddy over how it was coming together and wanted to talk about it. But second, and more importantly, I wanted to get the idea out there and let the swarm take a crack at it, as a true, open-source initiative.

Takin' it to the street in Atlanta, Georgia.
Click for larger view.

The response, both on and off-line, was impressive, as there’s clearly no shortage of pent up demand for more efficient data collection. The question that remains, despite how much I continue to noodle with it, is whether or not others will enlist in their own efforts to move it forward. To that end, here’s the latest:

We did our first field test recently at a charrette in Atlanta, this time with the much-coveted iPad 2. As expected, the size of the screen and keyboard made things considerably more efficient than the iPhone. However, there were, uhhhh, parts of town where the inconspicuous and not-quite-so coveted iPhone was an asset. As with all things urban, context is everything, so it was nice to have the choice.

We did consider doing a chewing gum / staples survey in one location.

We began by using an architecturally-correct, all-black format with gray text, but quickly decided in full sun to opt for the less sexy black-on-white. Bento, the engine behind the app, offers a number of color schemes, so the result can be branded to whatever project you’re working on or conditions you’re working in. And the clipboard format amused me with its hint of nostalgia for all the past surveys we’ve done manually.

Someone made the comment after my initial post of how important it is to pinpoint location, something that, given the inherent GIS integration, works quite well on both iPhone and iPad. They automatically locate your position, and you can even tweak it further by moving the pin.

Take a look at this video which, in all its pedagogical glory, offers a walkthrough.



As a dedicated Macophile, another comment I got proved a bit more challenging: When will there be a version for Android? I hope someone in the PC world will pick up the ball on that request, since this is all about the swarm’s response to a problem at hand. My flippant response is “Just get an iPhone.” Not because I’ve consumed too much of the Kool-Aid but because, currently, you can only import the template to your device by having Bento running on your desktop. And Bento is Mac-only software.

Finally, for the most ardent of gadget and gizmo fans, there was the desire to hold something in their hands and really get a feel for how it works. To this, I’m happy to report that there’s just such an opportunity brewing for the rapidly approaching CNU 19 in Madison, Wisconsin.

On June 1, we’ll be leading “SmartCode Calibration SWAT Team,” an intensive, CNU 202 session. Judith Bell of DPZ, Andrew Zitofsky of Dover Kohl, and I will shepherd participants through a Synoptic Survey and analysis of local Transect zones as a part of the calibration training process. We’ll share the template with anyone to wants to try it out, and it should be very helpful to use as a group and assess where it needs further improvement. Of course, clipboards and paper forms will be available as well.

Want a taste? The last day for reduced-rate registration is May 6.

An interesting track at CNU this year is “Implementing the New Urbanism: Design and Economics.” It has a number of sessions dealing with regulatory obstacles and, of course, form-based codes are a critical part of the solution. They’re particularly important when legalizing suburban retrofit and redevelopment. So, although it’s good nerdy fun to use the app, the real gratification is served up with the thought that it could, in some small way, help ease us through our social, environmental, and financial malaise, so eloquently described by Ben Brown in “Good News: The End Is Near. Really.

That’s the main course before us. Now’s the time to dig in. See you in Madison.

–Susan Henderson

News of innovation and implementation comes often. If you like the idea of form-based codes in general, and the SmartCode in specific, and would like to stay on top of what’s happening, consider liking it in the more modern, technologically connected Facebook way.

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