This South Street urban planning project will combine open data with community voices

Three researchers team up to Change the city!a new urban planning project that will combine open data and ideas from community members with the aim of creating a more inclusive urban planning experience.

Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman of THINK.urban, Marisa Decker of Connect the dots and Stephen Larick of Stae were rewarded one of seven scholarships of Knight Foundation work on their project. Change the city! join the urban planning simulator SIM-PHL as one of three data-driven concepts in Philadelphia to receive grant funding.

Change the city! seeks to include small business owners and residents in the vision planning process for the South Street Motherhouse Neighborhood, a non-profit organization that facilitates “physical improvements, marketing and promotional initiatives designed to enhance the image and visibility of the business community” in South Philly’s historic district. The initiative will solicit recommendations for change from the public and result in an open data set of district needs and project ideas. Some of these ideas will also be tested as “tactical interventions” regarding pedestrianization, COVID-19 safety and anti-racist solidarity, according to a press release.

The Change the City! open data portal will live on the State platform and include a home and overview page, map and set of visualizations, and a page for filterable access to raw data via API or direct download, Larrick said. Technically. The project will officially launch this fall.

Johnston-Zimmerman is an applied urban anthropologist whose work focuses on human behavior in public space and the relationship between behavior and design. (She was also honored in 2019 with BBC’s 100 Women list, ranking her alongside climate change activist Greta Thunberg.) Ensure local residents have access to Edit the City! team was a top priority for her and her two colleagues.

“We wanted to make engagement incredibly easy no matter where you’re from,” she said, “whether you’re used to using digital tools or walking down the street. We were about to appear in a vacant storefront that we had a lease for and let people come in and see what people were saying and let them have their say. Unfortunately, the pandemic was only a wrench in this plan, but the Knight Foundation appreciated our approach and results and we were able to adapt.

While the IRL component is on hold for now, the team is thinking about new ways to engage audiences outdoors and in socially distant ways.

South Street artwork advocating for COVID-19 safety. (Photo by Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman)

Denker majored in urban studies at the University of Pennsylvania before completing a Fulbright scholarship in Dublin. With Connect The Dots, she currently works to help build better cities and neighborhoods through inclusive stakeholder engagement.

“Through this project, we will build on our experience while co-creating innovative ways to inclusively engage voices and shift power to those who live, work and play on South Street,” she said. . “By having this collaborative process, it could also bridge some divisions.”

As Stae’s City Success Manager, Larrick has nearly a decade of experience as an urban planner and open government advocate, and has worked closely with open data throughout his career. He explained that creating a balance between residents’ local knowledge and official data is a central premise of the Edit the City! and the work he hopes to do. He compared Edit the City! has a Google document where people could collaborate and see changes in real time.

“The title Edit the City! comes from the idea that, like how a Google document tracks changes, you have a dataset in edit mode and someone accidentally changes it,” he said. “Sometimes in planning these things are accepted and sometimes they are not. So how do we build that trust? That’s one of the things that data can help, but only if people see themselves in that data. My role is to make sure the software component works by taking feedback and turning it into accessible data. »

Message from a South Street business supporting COVID-19 safety. (Photo by Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman)

As a current resident of the Headhouse District, Johnston-Zimmerman hopes that qualitative information about residents’ life experiences can integrate with more technical open data. She quotes The Fabric Row story as Jewish Trade Section blending in with modernity from the African-American designer Monica Monique’s Oxymoron fashion house as an example of the rich culture of South Street.

“What I liked about this neighborhood moving here is the diversity of businesses,” she said. “I love the mix of new and old. It’s this interesting thought process going forward.

The Change the City! The team intends to expand its work beyond its initial grant and the South Street Headhouse district. Larrick said the platform will release an API so its results can be reconnected to a data portal or used with the city’s global data map. Residents will be able to use the data as a resource and it will be securely stored in a larger system.


Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member of Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. -30-