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Crowdsourcing the Planning Profession

A crowd, possibly sourcing.

I'm currently doing a bit of research into the expanding role of web technology into the food policy world, and came across this site and just had to share.  Crowdsourceplacemaking lab is a web tool designed to get users excited about creating new places in their communities.  People create groups devoted to the community they live in, and start asking for ideas from the community on what it needs to be a truly great place.  If a group attracts enough users the site sets them up with an investor to help make their idea a reality.  Ideas range from building a coworking site to bringing green jobs in to a neighborhood in Chicago.  So far there aren't too many users and its hard to tell if any of these ideas have successfully been paired with investors, but it seems like an interesting way to bring more people in to the decision-making process.

On the for-profit side of things, crowdsourced placemaking is one of the strategies employed by a real estate company by the name of Renaissance Downtowns.  They focus on creating an "Urban Suburbia" through the comprehensive planning of downtown redevelopment.  Current projects include Bristol Rising for Bristol, CT.  Bristol Rising has 586 members, and for a city of only 61,000 that's a decent turnout for a comprehensive planning initiative.  It's not substantially better than what your standard community outreach approach might bring in though, so the jury is still out on whether or not throwing in the term "crowdsourcing" will actually result in a higher level of participation.

Crowdsourceplacemaking has the ability to bypass professional planning routes by engaging the community without the planner to act as mediator. It is a way to have the community plan for itself, but could potentially be short-sighted if larger development patterns aren't taken in to account: what happens if every single neighborhood decides that what they really need is upscale boutiques?  I suppose the developer has final say in this situation because they have the real estate knowledge to separate the good ideas from the bad.  In any case, crowdsourcing the planning process is an interesting direction that could potentially limit the role of planners in future placemaking.  This is the second post in a row in which I call my degree in to question.  Dang.