City planners and real estate developers recognize the added value of citizens’ participation early in the urban development processes. Indeed, a good participation process will not only prevent opposition to the project but it will also enable obtaining a final development that matches with the residents’ expectations.
Even if public consultation is not mandatory, the process will typically include organizing a public meeting.
But most of residents don’t attend those meetings held at inconvenient times and locations. Indeed, residents have to take the time to participate but also have to adapt to an unfamiliar subject and understand the technical language used there. Additionally, Town Hall meetings are a foreign process for individuals of generation Y.
To address these constraints, the planning and development community is exploring the use of digital technologies to reach audiences that are absent at public meetings.
These online tools developed include coUrbanize, a platform that helps residents better understand the urban projects and enables them to express themselves.
I had the opportunity to meet with Karin Brandt, the co-founder and CEO of coUrbanize to learn more about the service they provide to municipalities and real estate developers.
Karin Brandt, Co-Founder and CEO of coUrbanize
Concretely, for each customer, they adapt the online coUrbanize tool which includes a clear overview of the different stages of the urban development process and more importantly, a « chat-room » (that often includes a map) where residents and community stakeholders can answer specific questions, share their opinions on the project and interact virtually with other participants and the project developer.
Interested citizens who want to know more about the project can also easily find a link to the appropriate documents.
The French tool Carticipe has relatively the same functions as coUrbanize.
CoUrbanize’s interface for the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Plan (KSURP)
« The aim of the platform is not to replace in-person meetings but to supplement it. » specifies Karin
As citizens want to participate and communicate in different ways, it is important to have multiple modalities to engage people and coUrbanize is not designed to be an online only process.
Not surprisingly, a survey conducted on 200 coUrbanize users in August 2015* showed that millennials (generation Y) are highly active on the online platform, whereas the average public meeting attendee is over 45 years old.
In addition, the creation of an online presence increases the number of potential attendees to the meetings and enables project developers to collect feedback from online participants early in the process and thus, structure coming public meetings more efficiently.
The online connection also has the advantage to keep the participants in the loop by creating a continuous link that public meetings can’t offer.
If coUrbanize was first designed for the real estate developers, soon municipalities got very interested. It is indeed a powerful tool to manage the public participation process for small sized municipalities that don’t have much resources and where there may be just one person dedicated to urban planning. « The platform includes an algorithm that helps urban planners sort the ideas and comments shared. » explains Karin
At the moment, coUrbanize runs, among others, a project site to realize the full potential of the Downtown Lynn District as a vibrant work/live neighborhood – Downtown Action Strategy – and one to set the direction for Boston’s growth – Imagine Boston 2030.
*The State of Civic Engagement for Urban Development, August 2015 (Download FREE copy here)