A Placemaking Journal

Crowdsourcing = Data = Better Places

You know what the payment is for crowdsourcing? By asking other people to step up and think through solutions to some collective problem, I must commit to making a difference myself.

Every time I’ve asked you to share information with me, you have. Then I feel the need to compile it, analyze it, and organize it into a useful tool. I often get behind in answering all of your individual emails – thanks for all you send – but the power of your collective comments comes through loud and clear.

So, once again, you’ve inspired a compilation. I was blogging about aging in place, looking into some of the newer neighborhoods designed around livability, to see which of them are offering especially graceful aging options.

When the comments poured in, a new crowdsourced tool was born, thanks to you. The collaborative Google map, called Aging in Connected Places, which intends to track especially great places to age, in both old and new walkable urbanism. Follow the instructions at the top left of the map to contribute.

This isn’t the first time your info-rich responses have inspired a new placemaking tool. A decade ago this month, when we formed PlaceMakers, people started asking us where major zoning reform is going on around the world? Where can we find other like-minded individuals who are interested in making livable places that can respond to new market demands?

So with your crowdsourced input, I started the Codes Study. A few years later, Dr. Emily Talen joined me as we continue to look at laws that allow the construction of walkable, bikeable, runable places.

Of course, the SmartCode itself is perhaps the most pivotal crowdsourced placemaking tool in the last 30 years, led by the Center for Applied Transect Studies, and far more important than the others I mention here.

As a way to facilitate the Codes Study, we created collaborative Google Maps that show: SmartCodes Adopted | SmartCodes in Progress | Other Form-Based Codes.

Those are all government-led efforts to change land use laws to nurture walkable places. But then someone asked, what about the private side? What are *your* parameters for classifying a project as delivering livability?

A livable new neighborhood is one that embodies the Charter for the New Urbanism, delivers a high WalkScore, provides an affordable lifestyle via a low H+T Index, and would comply with LEED-ND.  If on the public side, there is a locally calibrated SmartCode adopted, then the subsequent projects will score well in these measures for infill and redevelopment, although will require careful positioning for greenfield (no leap frog development, for instance).

But, the Codes Study generally does not track developer-driven form-based codes, so we created collaborative maps that detail Traditional Neighborhood Developments (TNDs) of comparable character, for infill, redevelopment, and greenfield. I pulled from The Town Paper as the initial collection, and crowdsourced additions. The most populated of these maps include: Eastern US | Western US | Florida | Canada.

Many projects can look similar from plan view, which shows walkable, mixed-use, compact development patterns. Some have boundaries outlined, so you can turn on satellite view, zoom in, and analyze for the subtle differences and lessons to be learned. While they’ll never substitute for a site tour, perhaps it can help you plan your road trips to an inspiring new neighborhood in your region.

I made these maps to intentionally not be a rating system, so that people would feel free to add their work. When “walking down the streets” in Street View on the three maps above, these TNDs have various levels of authenticity, immersiveness, and livability. Which brings us back to the our recent form-based code discussions. Something as simple as a 1-foot difference in lane width can make a place feel immersive, or not.

The closest tool that articulates metrics like street width is the Complete Thoroughfare Assemblies Module (1.2 mb) that works with any Transect-based form-based code, authored by DPZ, Rick Chellman, Rick Hall, and Peter Swift.

Similarly, the SmartCode is a starting point for urban metrics, with significant changes to the numbers required to reflect local character. That local character varies so widely that you’ll have trouble creating parameters for classifying something as a walkable project based solely on national metrics. Regional subtleties figure largely into resilient urbanism – and ruralism.

On top of that discussion, you could layer on environmental impacts of TNDs. They may provide great examples of urban form, but have dismal H+T Index performance. In many ways, it’s an iterative process of reversing years of context-insensitivity.

So what has this crowdsourcing delivered in return for our collective efforts? For the ten years of Codes Study? And thirty years of form-based code development that led up to the crowdsourced SmartCode, that’s also celebrating its 10th birthday this month?

We’ve seen form-based codes come of age, from being a 1-page document for Seaside to complex replacement codes for Miami, Buffalo, and Denver. We’ve seen them go from enabling predominately greenfield early on to now serving primarily infill and redevelopment market demands. We’ve seen suburban retrofit become not just a policy aspiration, but rather an everyday design solution to fill unmet demographic preferences. We’ve seen billions of dollars in economic development and 40 million people in transition to more walkable lifestyles.

What do we hope to see in future form-based codes? District energy and other micro gen solutions being solved across the rural-to-urban Transect as an everyday response to resilience. Local food networks enabled and nurtured by land use, instead of relegated to the fringe of cities and towns, or in entirely different regions altogether. Visionary storm water solutions as advanced and nationally organized as Complete Streets transportation solutions have become. Cargo Oriented Development joining Transit Oriented Development to minimize energy use and carbon emissions while allowing vertical integration up the supply chain. Performance measures that can trigger a whole new method for financing decisions geared to assets paying for themselves through multiple lifecycles.

And, of course, places where we can age a little more gracefully.

Collectively these tools have had several hundred thousand views, so I’m assuming that means you find them useful. Additions always welcome – which in crowdsource speak means your turn!

Hazel Borys

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