Placemaking is a people-centered approach to urban planning that focuses on transforming public spaces in a way that brings communities together and creates beautiful, accessible, and interactive cities. Leading with the goal to meet the needs of their residents and create more authentic and welcoming spaces, local governments have been turning to community engagement methods, including digital platforms, in their placemaking initiatives. Community participation allows cities to directly connect with residents and gather fresh ideas and information on how public spaces should be used and improved. This allows cities to grow and adapt according to the needs of the people that live in them.
In our increasingly digitized world, turning to a digital tool can help you crowdsource ideas as well as reach more residents and receive more feedback on projects—both during and after a pandemic. Rethinking public spaces can be a daunting task, especially when these changes are unplanned. One key tool that can be used to augment the community engagement process in placemaking is a digital mapping tool. As inherently visual spaces, it’s crucial to leverage visual tools when planning your public spaces to help your residents analyze and pinpoint exact areas of enhancement and improvement.
What is a digital mapping tool?
A digital mapping tool simply put is a digital map display that allows you to dynamically explore and engage with geographic areas. Going beyond a map, an interactive tool allows users to directly drop pins and comments exactly where they want to provide location-specific input. When it comes to community engagement, this mapping tool can be used to gather feedback at the citywide level down to a specific street level and helps facilitate conversations between residents. By combining digital participation with mapping capabilities, governments can analyze all types of feedback on one platform to determine ways to optimize their neighborhoods.
In 2021, over 260 community planning projects used CitizenLab’s online engagement software, with many governments using our mapping tool across multiple projects. Now let’s get into how mapping tools can help you advance your placemaking projects, and explore some examples of fellow cities that have done just that.
Digital mapping tools are highly customizable
There are a multitude of mapping tools out there on the internet. But many of them, while they provide useful and accurate information, are generic and simply provide a basic level of information. When it comes to placemaking, you want your information and tools to be as specific as possible so that you can truly tailor the feedback and subsequent decisions made to your community.
With our digital mapping tool, you can add custom layers and perimeters to inform and steer your residents to specific focus areas with a clean and easily understandable design. This means that you can customize the outline of geographic boundaries and lines (color and width), the fill within the boundary (color and opacity) and the color/icon of the pin. A legend is auto-generated based on these values to guide your residents.
The city of Bodegraven created custom layers to mark where features like trees, parks, and roads are placed in the neighborhood, so residents can get a clear picture of specific features to provide feedback on.
Digital mapping tools allow for iterative and incremental feedback on complex placemaking issues
Placemaking is a never-ending process. Over time, what communities need and want naturally will change. So, it’s important to continuously hear from residents on how their neighborhoods can be improved. Community engagement software with digital mapping tools can make this feedback loop more continuous and timely to address the problems as they arise, by seeing them directly on a map.
With a digital mapping tool, you can also build a repository of feedback and give everyone the ability to interact with each other to iterate on and further develop new ideas around specific locations. As a government official, you can also zoom in on specific location inputs with follow-up comments and questions to get a better understanding and provide continuous updates and information. This flexible and community-driven approach can help ensure that public space designers and managers discover and address issues in neighborhoods as they arise.
See how Lancaster used a mapping tool to make their streets safer and more community-friendly
When the City of Lancaster launched their engagement platform, they knew they wanted to consult their residents on how to make South Duke Street—a popular corridor—safer and more community-friendly. They knew that things like slower speed limits, more lighting, and designated bike lanes could help a central corridor like theirs. But before they broke ground on any plans, they wanted to hear from the very people who experience the streets daily – their residents and business who make the city the lively community that it is. With a detailed map and placemaking project on their engagement platform, they were able to gather specific feedback and are moving towards a more pedestrian, bike, and car-friendly corridor.
Digital mapping as part of the essential community engagement process
During the COVID-19 pandemic, cities had to completely reimagine streets and public spaces to keep their residents safe and healthy while still allowing people to be together. In a time when interacting with your community took on a few additional consequences, the concept of placemaking took on a unique challenge and continues to change the way cities look. Enter our digital community engagement solution.
Both civic participation and placemaking seek to strengthen connections between communities by leveraging the collective intelligence of their very own residents, and a digital mapping tool within a community engagement platform can help governments do this all-in-one place.
CitizenLab’s easy to use community engagement platform provides all city departments with a single view into—and control over—their community engagement programs. It helps cities gain resident buy-in and make accurate and inclusive decisions, by allowing cities to easily aggregate feedback and prioritize community concerns using measurable criteria. Our mapping tool is just one of the many tools in our platform’s toolbox.