May 29 2012

Experiments in Web Based Crowdsourcing and Open-Source for Urban Planning

crowdsourcing fundamentalsWhat is crowdsourcing? For those uninitiated, the term essentially means problems or queries are broadcast publicly and everyone is invited to respond with solutions or ideas. Crowdsourcing itself is not a new concept. Municipalities and cities often looked to “focus groups” or town hall meetings to garner public opinion about city projects. However with the advent of web-based crowdsourcing, the game has changed, so to speak. The reach and availability of the Internet has opened up collaborative idea-making to exponentially more individuals.

Growing numbers of architects and city planners are experimenting with crowdsourcing as a tool for development initiatives, here are just a few:

  • At Virginia Tech researchers used web based mapping to records resident’s bicycle use and create initiatives for future bike lanes;
  • The cities of New Orleans and Pittsburgh both use crowdsourcing online to gain insights in city planning and guide future development;
  • In Washington DC real estate developers even are using crowdsourcing to poll residents on what store to put in retail spaces.

Online crowdsourcing is evolving in its breadth and sophistication as it gains popularity among planners.

Being able to gather large amounts of data from real people provides enormous benefits to organizations and individuals looking to prioritize funds.
The web blog cooltown studios specializes in crowdsourcing as a means of creating public spaces. The site provides pages of relevant information and specific examples of planning initiatives that benefited from open-source input. Managing information that comes in poses some challenges as planners sift through data and make their conclusions. If there has not been enough online response the data may be skewed because only a small number of people have submitted information. Occasionally the opposite problem occurs where the response is so voluminous it overwhelms anyone’s ability to digest all the gathered facts.

Screen writer Ed Soloman wrote, ”A person is smart,  people are dumb.” The idea of web-based crowdsourcing in planning raises interesting questions. Does crowdsourced information really represent the general population it’s meant to serve? And is the value of the work created by crowdsourcing superior to work created by a dedicated group of core researchers? What are your thoughts?

Credits: Image and data linked to sources.

Jordan Meerdink

Jordan Meerdink, a former GSP blogger, is a graduate of the The Ohio State University. He holds a B.S. in Architecture with a minor in studio art. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Jordan inherited an early interest in mechanics and construction from his grandfather, a developer who was one of the early practitioners of prefabricated housing, and his father who is a retired store owner and highly capable D.I.Yer. Currently living in New York City, he continues to produce art and furniture with a focus on smart, ecologically responsible design. Jordan has a special concern for design that serves people outside the traditional clientele of architects, with an interest in architecture that deviates from the beaten path, ranging from Baroque churches to dismantled bomb shelters.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 29th, 2012 at 3:08 pm and is filed under Architecture, Blogging Team, Community/Economic Development, Environment, Environmental Design, Infrastructure, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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