The Practical Radical

From Kodak to the Mobile Phone: Urban Data and the Scientific Life

August 17, 2010
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Mobile Power

This is a repost from the Polis blog with my comments (my comments first, polis blog From Kodak to the Mobile Phone below):

Thank you for this post. I think that the mobile generation with their ever more powerful mobile technologies are changing how we view, analyze and plan our cities. I work with youth in East Africa, and i have found that through the use of mobile phones, which are now prolific throughout the region, we have been able to not only capture images, both still and in video, but use these images to tell the rarely heard story of some of the poorest of the poor. (An example of such a project is

I have as well found that “photovoice” is an excellent way to allow people to “map” their communities. I have used this technique with youth in North America, through the Growing up in Cities project , and more recently through work with UN-HABITAT on their community mapping project (you can check out a story a wrote for them titled Bridging the Digital Divide .


Open Letter to Vancouver City Council

July 15, 2010
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RE: A call for Improved Participation of the Public in City Planning and Governance

July 14, 2010

Dear Mayor and Council,

I am writing this letter to you in regards to the recent incident in council involving residents from the West End. Many of us have to come realize that this incident was not solely an issue of foul language, but an issue of respect and the rights of the electorate to be heard and their opinions taken into consideration. From my experience this is not a new issue, but one that has been present in the City of Vancouver for many years.

I called in to Bill Good’s show on CKNW regarding the issue of public participation in planning processes and Frances Bula stated:

“It isn’t working and it hasn’t been working for a long time. I have covered council for 15 years … and out of that time 99 of 100 decisions council goes ahead and does what was planned at the beginning even though hundreds of people sometimes show up. It is not a good process.”

I agree with this statement. In my 20 years working as a senior manager with a local NGO (the Environmental Youth Alliance), I worked on a range of planning processes from the South East False Creek development (mid 90s), to RTD’s planning and building of the Skytrain line (in this case our work to specifically try and save the (previously) largest green space in East Vancouver, the Grandview Cut). In many cases the processes we were involved in were drawn out, with little access to timely and important information. To be fair, there have been some examples of participatory processes and programs that have worked, yet by-in-large, as Frances says, these processes have been less than satisfactory.

With the advance of participatory technologies, especially spatial technologies, it is no longer acceptable to limit consultations to presentations at council, design charrettes and community events.

I would propose that we should learn from this incident, and that council take quick and decisive action to bring about meaningful public participation in city planning and governance. I would suggest the following actions:

  1. Build upon and expand the “Open Data, Open Standards and Open Source” process. Though it is important to make city data more accessible, it is as well important to  increase the capacity of the community so that they can use this data to better participate in planning processes. This can be done in a cost-effective way through training, education and awareness raising.
  2. Build upon and learn from the work the city has historically done. I know from my own experience that programs such as Sustainable Cities Mapped! A Youth Community Mapping Toolkit for Vancouver is a good example of community engagement in planning. I know there are many more that can inform council.
  3. Continue to explore new examples of how cities are engaging their citizens in planning. There are many excellent examples of cities doing this such as San Francisco’s, and openstreetmaps.
  4. Put in place policies, procedures and resources which will assure that urban planning will become more participatory.

In conclusion, though this incident clearly has had a negative impact on the perception of the openness of city council, it is important that council move quickly to demonstrate that this is not the case. This can be done through the city recommitting to open governance especially in the area of planning, combined with a concrete plan and set of actions which demonstrates how this will happen.

Thank you for your time.

Doug Ragan, MM, PhD (candidate)
College of Architecture and Planning
Community Development Specialist
University of Colorado

phone: 6044184440

Pradical Blog posts on Participatory Planning

High touch/Low Tech – On the Front line with Map Kibera
Nairobi Reflections

Participatory Planning Resources

Brazil Youth Atlas (EYA/SCARP)
Bridging the Digital Divide (World Urban Forum V)
Capable Cities in British Columbia- Key Informant ReportCreative Tools
Civic Engagement of Young People
Immigrant and Youth refugee guide (EYA)
Peers Asset Mapping Guide (EYA/PEERS)
Finding Home (EYA/Worldview Strategies)
Mapped! A Youth Community Mapping Toolkit for Vancouver
UMAP (University of Colorado)
UN-HABITAT Asset Mapping Toolkit (draft)
Youmap (City of Vancouver)

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