REVOLUTIONIZING PLANNING, ENGAGEMENT, DESIGN, & MUNICIPAL ORGs

Friday, February 26, 2016

Emotional Compass for Success

Here is a post that I originally published on LinkedIn a few weeks ago.  It should be helpful for people both professionally and personally, in terms of how they improve and progress toward achieving their goals.  Enjoy.

11 days into 2016 and the initial excitement and trepidation that comes for many with entering a new year has now passed.  Countless resolutions have already been left behind by people who are instead choosing to continue a familiar journey along a well worn path over a new one.  However, there are still many more that are continuing their commitment to positive change.  

Below is a diagram from the Facebook page of Mindful Schools in California.  They are an organization that provides online and in-person courses for adults to learn mindfulness and use it with youth.  They presented this colourful chart as a tool for adults to improve communication about emotions with young children.  It broadens and connects vocabulary with the nuances of emotions and their diversity.  

The reason I am including this here, is that I also see it as a tool for adults to become more aware of their own emotional states.  This awareness is important because it lets us identify the visceral feelings that often dictate our life’s direction, and the eventual outcomes of our goals. 

The magic of invention, creative thinking, and success happens at the edges of things.  When one area of your life or your skills crosses another, or when a tangential interest or goal makes you stretch in a new direction and leads to reinvention or full-circle rediscovery of something familiar.  On these edges is where inspiration makes itself known, and where success begins.  But to have the ability to see it, and take positive action requires awareness.  This awareness, unfortunately is often overrun by doubt, worry, and any number of other negative feelings.  

For success, we need to move toward greater awakening to experiences without judgement or “reactionary” emotional direction; an overall enlightening and empowering mental/emotional state.  To do this we need to be able to identify those emotions that are holding us back, as well as those that are positive in our lives.  This is where the wheel comes in.  

We can use the wheel to help provide clarity.  By being able to find a descriptive word of our emotional state on it, and seeing what its basic root emotion is (at the centre), we can better determine “where” we are, and where our emotional compass is pointing.  This can in turn allow those of us that have not abandoned our dreams and goals to assess ourselves and make necessary changes. 

I suggest that this is a simple, practical and effective tool for improving awareness of (often subconscious) personal emotional states.  We can use it periodically to “check in” with ourselves in times of reflection, and to make sure that our emotional compass is pointing to the destination we seek.  This way, by the time 2017 rolls around we will be well practiced, be more mindful, and prepared for our next set of stretch goals on our journeys to make grand dreams come true.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

What ROI is Your Town Planning and Designing For?

The assumptions many communities have that unquestioningly link growth with community prosperity need to be re-examined, recalibrated, and retooled.  This is because unfortunately, the form of development that this growth takes and that we encourage and regulate, can have significant negative impacts on the tax revenues of communities.  The wealth that they are seeking is not being generated, instead they are unknowing creating a financial burden that far outweighs benefits.  Yet almost all communities are unaware of this relationship and its results. 


The article below is one I recently wrote that explores how this process of enlightenment can begin, what is involved, and most importantly why every community needs to take action. 





Community Health Requires a Good Public Realm

Here is an article I had the pleasure of co-authoring with fellow planner Loretta Ryan on the conections between placemaking, the public realm and community health.



Sunday, December 27, 2015

What's Old is New Again - Progressive Planning Approach

There have been many influences on my work over the years.  I had the benefit of one of my first positions in a planning department working for Larry Beasley in the Major Developments Group of Central Area Planning for the City of Vancouver.  Since those early days I have worked with, been mentored, and developed friendships with many other truly outstanding people in my chosen profession.

Below I am listing some of these individuals as a way of recognizing their contribution to my work:  Krista Voigt, Stanley King, Dan Burden, Mark Holland, Adam Bienenstock, Chuck Marohn, Dr. Harold Nelson, Roger Brooks, Rob Spanier, Andrew Angus, Kim Wingrove, Peter Kenyon, and John O'Cal.   I started this blog post three years ago, and it sat in my draft box since then.  I finally have come to complete it today.

From the influences of these wonderful people and my own experimentation and experiences I have developed my own personal structure for community planning and economic development.  It is an integrated approach that can most easily be presented in the illustration below.  I have had many different drawings of this, but this is the most recent.  I will post more about the various components of this hierarchy in the future:




Tuesday, December 8, 2015

12 Strategies for Re-Energizing Your Community

Recently Municipal World published an excellent book for people working on community building and revitalization, 12 Strategies

This book features a carefully-selected collection of strategies, case studies and best practices.  Each section was written by experts in a variety of fields and brings together diverse perspectives. 

The book will help leaders identify potential opportunities and to inspire new ways of thinking about local challenges.  I'm pleased to have been included in this collection and look forward to bringing these concepts to the communities I work with.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Drone's Eye View - American Planning Association

Here is an article that was recently published in the journal of the American Planning Association.  I was asked to participate to describe my use of drones in my professional planning practice. 




The Walkability Factor

Here is an article that I was asked to participate in from the Toronto Sun.  It speaks to the "walkability factor" in the preferences of condo purchases. 






Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Town Hall Meetings Aren't the Only Option

Here is a video of the recent Idea Bombing event we held in Pentanguishene.


This format brings together food, music, hands-on activities and fun so that citizens are more engaged and open to discussion.


My presentation ranged from Strong Towns perspectives, to Asset Based Community Development, to Healthy Community Design, and Placemaking Based Economic Development.  This Idea Bombing event also included guest speakers Chad Ballantyne of the Creative Space, and Michael McCreesh of Ontario By Bike.  Together we provided participants with effective strategies for becoming the change agents and creativity catalysts that our communities need now to bring them into a future of success.




Time Lapse of Idea Bombing in Penetanguishene from Robert Voigt on Vimeo.

Idea Bombing International - Australia to Ontario

Last year I was able to bring John O'Callaghan of Idea Bombing Sydney, to the Ontario Professional Planners Institute's Symposium as a virtual special guest speaker.  He has done some great work in Australia, and it was a pleasure to feature this with my fellow professional planners.


Being inspired by John and seeing a close relationship with the types of events and citizen engagement techniques I had used in my practice for many years, my wife Krista and I started Idea Bombing Ontario in 2013 - www.facebook.com/IdeaBombingOn  We contacted John to get his blessing on our venture, and have held over 6 events since.


Below is the message John sent for the participants at OPPI.  We can all learn from his work, and hopefully creative and effective citizen engagement will become commonplace repertoire for professional planners soon.


Idea Bombing Ontario - John O'Cal from Robert Voigt on Vimeo.

CBC Spark - When Urban Planners and Guerrilla Urbanists Get Together


I recently had the pleasure of being on CBC's show SPARK.  The discussion covered the growing process of guerilla, or tactical urbanism and how people are using it to improve their communities.

The challenge is for professional planners who need to find their “place” in this changing world of DIY community improvements and activism. There is huge potential for communities that decide to focus on this more progressive and interactive direction for their planning, urban design, and economic development; however, not many planning practitioners have direct experience in taking these ideas from theory and move them through policy development, programming, and implementation.

I have had the opportunity to be involved in a number of tactical urbanism projects, and also in advising communities on how to harness this approach for their benefit.  It is always a pleasure when working with communities that chose to take action to direct their future in partnership with their citizens and with “hands-on” approaches.  As more people participate and see the positive effects of their actions tactical urbanism will have to become part of the repertoires of professional planners if they want to keep up with the citizens they are planning for.

You can listen to the broadcast HERE.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Serious Game of Tactical Urbanism

It is a great honour to be published again in Municipal World.  MW has been in print for 125 years (since 1891).  Here is a copy of my article "The Serious Game of Tactical Urbanism".  It provides a good overview of the subject and some excellent examples from across North America.


 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

How Rural Communities Can Integrate Technology into Planning

An article in the Ontario Planning Journal featuring the integration of technology by the Clearview Township planning department (led by registered professional planner Michael Wynia). 




Thursday, March 12, 2015

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon - Planning Edition

Here is a fun exercise & information resource I created for planning discussions -Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon Planning Edition. 


This powerpoint deck shows a series of 39 videos that all link to actor Kevin Bacon within six steps.  They also highlight key principle and techniques for planners to better engage citizens in the important work they do. 


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Urban Design is a Team Sport

Recently Adam Bienenstock and Dan Burden both took the time to discuss a variety of urban design issues with me.  This included: active transportation, the role of planning, community engagement, and access to nature amongst other things. 

As shown in the videos below, these two internationally respected experts spoke to the importance of working in collaboration when dealing with urban design challenges.



Adam Bienenstock on Colaborative Design from Robert Voigt on Vimeo.



Dan Burden on Collaboration for OPPI from Robert Voigt on Vimeo.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Walking the Talk: CNU Mobile Study Tour

I an happy to say that I will be leading a Mobile Study Tour at CNU22 with my friend and mentor Dan Burden (world renown active transportation expert - who just received a well deserved honour from the White House this week: http://blog.aarp.org/2014/05/12/great-places-blog-walking-to-the-white-house/) . 


Looking forward to a great day, and wonderful discussions with those that join us.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

DIY Urbanism

Here is a great article on DIY Urbanism written by Eldon Theodore and Kevin Alexander.  Both are members of the Community Design Working Group for the Ontario Professional Planners Institute. 


I am happy that they included a project I did with Krista Voigt (my creative partner, inspiration, and wife) in Fenelon Falls late in 2013.




Monday, March 17, 2014

To Figure Out Where You're Going, You Need Design Thinking and Creativity

Importance of Active Transportation
Throughout North America the importance of healthy community design and active transportation is increasingly recognized by the planning, health care, and allied professions as being particularly relevant in light of environmental; chronic disease; personal safety, and personal mobility issues.  Add to this the needs of an aging population, and the negative economic impacts associated with neighbourhoods that are not active transportation “friendly”, and the effects on communities’ overall quality of life continue to mount.

For example, in terms of personal safety our recent history of auto-centric community design has had such great negative impact that the Office of the Chief Coroner of the province of Ontario has unfortunately determined that it needed to influence how we design our towns and transportation systems.  In 2012 the Coroner published the Pedestrian Death Review and Cycling Death Review, in which the first recommendations of both were for a more active transportation friendly “complete streets” policy to guide the (re)development of communities throughout Ontario.  This approach considers all modes when designing transportation infrastructure, and in terms of mobility needs, helps create more safe and equitable neighbourhoods and towns. 

Momentum for quality urban design standards, complete streets policies, and active transportation plans is growing with more being adopted across US and Canadian cities/states every month.  Policy statements and community growth plans that address the need for creating communities that are supportive of active transportation may not be cutting edge anymore, but neither are they common place yet.  However, it takes much more that policies, guidelines, and plans to achieve meaningful results. 

Missteps 
One of the problems that is slowing down the effectiveness of this shift in perspective toward active transportation, is that for the most part the solutions are not appropriate to the problems.  Having reviewed close to 200 hundred active transportation plans and policy documents and their implementation I have found that for the majority of communities these plans are too big to manage, too complex to understand, too costly to implement, and too boring to capture the interest of citizens.  Unfortunately, the result is that most of these plans quickly fall “out of fashion” once the easy projects that closely match current funding and staff resource levels have been completed.

While the details and engineering of how we build facilities are significantly improving, the underlying assumptions of most of these plans are still based on a previous generation of thought.  This is one where the planning, designing, and building of our communities is focused on large scale infrastructure solutions and technical fixes.  In general terms, there are four characteristics of this that can be seen:   

A) Lacking systems approach:
Disregarding key components of active transportation supportive environments such as: urban design; user needs; and, culture.  The result is a loss of: contextual built form; compatible land uses; effective education and citizen engagement programs; and, human-centred design.
B) Focused on growth:
Principally based on active transportation being supported through large infrastructure works.  These plans define many construction projects for the creation of on and off-street networks that tend to be difficult to fund, particularly for smaller towns and cities.  These projects are also seldom easy to initiate or complete in phases; leaving them half done, or altogether passed-over.
C) Lost sense of time:
Most plans include a series of projects that would take far longer that their identified implementation timeline.  When overburdened with these unrealistic visions these plans become unmanageable, confusing, and stale. 
D)  Poor communication:
Active transportation plans are generally not written to be easily understood by citizens, and elected officials.  They tend to be extremely technical in their presentation and content, resulting in plans that are, not only confusing, but also uninspiring to the community.  Effectively making them easily ignored, unimplemented, and forgotten.  This does little to support the culture of active transportation that is such a necessary component for communities.

A Step Forward
Recognizing this conflict between the needs of communities to be more supportive of overall community health and active transportation, and the approaches being take to initiate this change, there is a clear argument for adapting planning perspectives and practice to be more effective. 

In 2010 I had the pleasure of creating an Urban Design Manual (UDM) for the Town of Collingwood, Ontario which was inspired by Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language.  It developed into a ground-breaking document now being used as a template for many other communities and as a teaching reference in university planning programs.  It includes a number of regional, provincial and national firsts, for example: first design manual to be adopted as law (not guidelines) in Ontario; first in North America to include natural playground design standards for neighbourhoods; and, first social media engagement strategy in the region.  The UDM’s requirements support healthy community design and active transportation and its implementation has resulted in efficiencies for application processing, more contextual and human-centred developments, and better functioning sites.  Upon reviewing the UDM, international active transportation expert Dan Burden (Walkable and Livable Communities Institute) referred to it as “one of the best in North America” and uses it to in his work with communities throughout the US and Canada.  Blue Zones has also adapted this manual for their programs, and it is featured in a number of planning design courses in universities and colleges.   

In 2012, I decided I would build on the successes of the UDM to specifically address the active transportation challenges described above.  The result was an Active Transportation Plan (ATP) that advanced contemporary stakeholder engagement, focused on healthy community design principles, defined placemaking strategies, integrated cultural shifting programs, and supported asset based community development. 

Although early in it’s implementation, this Active Transportation Plan has also become a resource for other communities seeking to adapt it to their context.  The use of animated videos to describe its content; the integration of a series of “100 Day Implementation” projects; the use of a citizen “Do Tank”; the facilitation of urban acupuncture pilot projects; the performance based structure; and reader friendly content are some of the reasons why this is the case.

The plan sets the parameters for cooperative multi-disciplinary transportation planning/design work between Planners, Engineers, Landscape Architects, and citizens.  The results from this framework are:
a) Changed Culture:  Making active transportation easier for daily activities; and supporting the local neighbourhoods and economy.
b) Changed Environment:  Addressing all aspects of active transportation, including: people-oriented design; better biking facilities; better signage; and, complete streets approaches; that will all make the built environment more supportive of active transportation.
c) Empowered People:  Making it easier for citizens & neighbourhood groups to get involved in real projects and facilitate test projects in partnership with the municipality.
d) Changed Scope: Facilitating real measurable improvements within a five year timeframe to the various aspects of active transportation; having a range of implementation projects that will “make things happen” in the community.
e) Changed Expectations:  Improving understanding of active transportation and municipal implementation projects by citizens, elected officials, and professionals, and; include ongoing community input throughout the Plan’s life.

Where Do You Think You’re Going?
Seeing the effectiveness of this non-typical approach to planning, and the number of people interested, I have designed workshops to engage, inform, and inspire communities and professionals so that they can adapt the UDM and ATP to their context.  Through storytelling, hands-on group work, videos, and animations, participants are immersed in techniques, examples, and challenges that teach a variety of skills.  These “tools” are useful at all stages of developing and implementing these urban design and active transportation initiatives.  The most critical skill learned during the workshops is that of “design thinking”. 

Design is a process of examination through which ideas are identified, tested, and refined before being realized.  It is the process undertaken both when developing an active transportation plan; as well as, when implementing its recommendations in the built environment.  Participants of the workshops develop a design focused awareness, understanding, and basic skills.  The intent is that Planners, Engineers, and citizens will develop creative approaches to effectively manage and direct positive change in their communities. 

For all our towns and cities the difficulties of the future will require us to choose new ways of thinking about our problems and the solutions we develop to address them.  This includes initiatives for healthy community design and active transportation.  Creative design thinking is the key.  This isn’t easy, and will often mean that we have to change the culture of the organizations we work in.  However, my experiences with the UDM and ATP illustrate that this is possible; and the workshops I have developed that ask Where Do You Think You’re Going? can at least point people in the right direction and inspire them to take their own first steps.  I look forward to working with other groups of change agents at my next workshops in Toronto, Peterborough, Buffalo, and Niagara Falls this summer.  For those that cannot attend, I offer these words from Ze Frank, to help you make the choice for creativity and design thinking over the status-quo: “Choices aren’t things that happen to you, they happen, when you happen onto things, and choose them. So happen!