CityPlan: Towards the design of digital tools to encourage and facilitate civic participation in city planning was completed in partial fulfillment of the degree of Master of Graphic Design at North Carolina State University. The final document, also accessible online, provides comprehensive documentation of the different work produced for CityPlan. Slides from a presentation of the project can also be viewed.

Each investigation, presented below, is an abbreviated scenario from the final document that highlights CityPlan’s core interactions. Each scenario highlights a different point in time during two citizen’s (Glenn and Susan) experiences engaging in planning issues in the City of Raleigh; as time progress, each citizen becomes more active and familiar with CityPlan.

Physical environments of cities continually change, responding to varying needs of citizens, businesses, government and organizations. These adaptations happen for many reasons, ranging from aesthetic improvement to functional infrastructural development. As the Raleigh Metropolitan Area continues to grow at a staggering rate, citizens engaged in a democratic society will be asked to participate in dialogues about proposals for development in their everyday environments. Current types of civic participation in planning often take the form of public workshops, presentations, public hearings, and online commenting forums. I believe design can provide new ways to present perspectives and provocations at this stage of city planning while respecting existing procedures and policies.

This project seeks to conceptualize a set of digital tools that propose alternative ways for citizens to participate in city planning. In this new participatory environment, citizens will have spaces to interact with city information, view augmented planning proposals at physical sites, discuss issues and opinions with other citizens and city representatives, and ultimately take action to contribute to the future of their city. Location-based technologies provide opportunities to create links among physical sites, planning information, and discussion. Storytelling enables different components of the designed system to be framed within possible scenarios during citizens’ everyday lives. Levels of individual engagement often change over time, and are affected by other media channels and social interactions. Because planning operates at many different levels, tools are tailored for particular stages and scales in the planning process.

Investigation 1: Initial Engagement
On a Saturday morning, Glenn walks with his wife, Angela, and his three-year-old son, Cliff, downtown to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. After Glenn and Angela guide Cliff around the museum, they grab lunch at the museum’s café on the top floor. Glenn isn’t very hungry and chooses to get coffee instead; Cliff eats quickly and is eager to see the dinosaur skeletons again. Angela takes Cliff back downstairs, while Glenn finishes his coffee. He takes a copy of the News & Observer from the counter and scans over it, looking for interesting articles.

In the local section, Glenn sees that the City of Raleigh has released the Peace Street Corridor Visioning Study, a document anticipating ways to improve an area that is not far from Glenn’s house. The city is also seeking citizen comments on the study. After reading the brief article, Glenn sees a small row of markers and the City of Raleigh’s seal. He sees that he can view the anticipated changes with his smartphone at the actual site of the study, and can be reminded by setting a time-based or location-based reminder. He scans the marker to set up a site visit reminder, and is prompted with a welcome screen on his phone.

Glenn reads the welcome text and continues to the next screen, prompting him to select either a time-based or location-based reminder. He chooses a location-based reminder; immediately after, he is prompted to choose the distance from the site where he would prefer to be reminded. Choosing .25 miles from the site, Glenn continues and confirms the information is correct. A confirmation screen with a photo of the location and welcoming text appears before he exits the application.

Investigation Two: Augmenting Planning Sites
On Monday, two days after Glenn sets up a site visit, he receives a reminder for the Peace Street Corridor Visioning Study on his smartphone during his walk to work. He doesn’t have much time, so he decides to wait on visiting the corridor. He will be prompted again when he is near the site. Two days later, Glenn is on his way to work in the morning and receives another prompt. This time Glenn has just enough time to visit the site.

After accepting the prompt, he is asked to choose between two options: participating in the Visioning Study, which displays recommendations from the study he read about, or a Discussion mode, which allows citizens to view all proposals, discussions, and other issues that are related to the site. Glenn chooses to participate in the Visioning Study, and is prompted on the procedures for viewing key recommendations. As the screen transitions into an augmented view, Glenn sees overlaid renderings of development recommendations on the site. A map view also lets him see each recommendation in proximity to his current location. Glenn selects a rendering of the sidewalk he is standing on; information appears on the screen about the need for a Pedestrian and Bike Facility. Glenn reads short descriptions that detail the recommendation, and sees that he can provide feedback to the city.

After providing an initial reaction, he walks towards another destination and sees a rendering of a transit station across the street. Glenn selects the recommendation for a Downtown Transit Station and views the information. After viewing each recommendation and giving feedback for the two previously mentioned, he views a checklist that shows completed and remaining recommendations.

Investigation 3: Facilitating Deliberation
After reading an article announcing a presentation by Raleigh City Council about the newly-released Wake County Transit Plan, Susan decides to attend the presentation in downtown Raleigh during her lunch break. Glenn also chooses to attend the presentation after hearing about it from a neighbor. As Council members introduce the plan, they mention CityPlan’s function as a tool for discussion about planning issues. Citizens and city officials in the audience are already discussing their initial reactions on CityPlan’s discussion tool in the first thread about the Wake County Transit Plan. A planner from the City of Raleigh asks for early opinions on the plan and attaches a map with proposed transportation routes and improvements.

Earlier in the week, Susan had set up a notification for updates from CityPlan on her desktop computer regarding the recently announced transit plan; she receives a notification on her phone at the presentation, and looks at the first discussion started on the plan. As the presentation opens up for questions, the audience grows restless. Susan, sitting next to Glenn, introduces herself and shows him the CityPlan discussion activity on her smartphone. A planner has posted a map in the discussion thread that identifies the changes proposed in the plan; Susan and Glenn view the map on Susan’s device, showing each other how the plan could affect their respective neighborhoods. Glenn shows her the Peace Street Corridor, pointing to the area where he recently did a site visit. Susan zooms out, reorienting the map near her neighborhood. She was not aware of these proposed changes in her area before. After they talk, Susan interacts with CityPlan by herself, responding to a point in a discussion. To state her opinion, she selects her neighborhood in the map view and adds a brief annotation, explaining how the plan could affect her. After her response is completed, she looks over recent activity in the discussion thread.

Investigation 4: Visualizing Planning Information
Susan becomes aware of the ability to visualize planning information in CityPlan from the City Council presentation detailed in the previous scenario. After opening the mapping tool, Susan sees that there is a search function. She remembers that Glenn mentioned his site visit at the Peace Street Corridor; she searches for the area. After CityPlan displays the Peace Street Corridor on the map, Susan chooses to turn on layers of planning information. At this point, she is most interested in how transportation in Raleigh may change over time, so she begins by selecting layers for Priority Pedestrian Streets and Bike Lanes. She views these layers on the map, adjusting the timeline to see what changes could occur at certain points in the future. She zooms in on the corridor; at a level of greater detail, more icons representing particular plans appear. Susan selects the Pedestrian and Bike facility icon, and an overlay with planning information appears.

Susan wonders what other changes may occur in transportation; she selects the Greenway and Light Rail layers. As she views the layers, she begins to see that changes occurring throughout the city are interconnected. With more traffic and a need for public transportation, facilities for pedestrians will need to be proposed. After viewing plans in the area she zooms out, looking at the Peace Street Corridor in relationship to more of the city; she also adjusts the timeline to see possible Light Rail developments. Eager to see how nearby areas in her community may change in the future, she zooms in near her neighborhood.