Thomas Forth presents RateMyPlace, the second of the prototypes to emerge from discussions held during our first Innovation Lab in Leeds
I have a great interest in how we use space. I built and maintain a tool used by thousands of people called the parkulator. It shows how much space in Northern cities is used for car parking. It then suggests other potential uses for this space.
We have a similar tool for greenspace and public space but we’re struggling to get it right. The main problem is that while everyone agrees what a car park is, people have very strong and differing views on what greenspace and public space is – what it means.
Discussion on the day
Our group’s discussion focused on that question. What is space? What value does that space have? Can a particular space be hated while still serving a purpose that people value – like a car part or a motorway? Can a space be loved but rarely used – like a library or a church? Can a space be loved and well-used, but for people to not want more of it than already exists – like, in my experience, Leeds Town Hall or Leeds Markets?
We talked about how there were parallels between physical spaces and digital spaces. Facebook is like a shopping centre. Twitter is like the advertising board in a supermarket. These are ideas I’d like to explore more in the future; they didn’t, however, make it into our prototype.
The prototype: RateMyPlace
A prototype of my product is live at http://tomforth.co.uk/ratemyplace so you can play with it a little bit. Most of the functionality is missing, however. It shows a picture of a place and asks the user – on web, mobile, or at an embedded kiosk somewhere like a library – whether or not they are familiar with it. If they don’t know the place, they are shown another place to assess and are asked the same question.
If the user does come across a place that they know, they are asked to rate it according to three scales:
• Do they love it or hate it? (or something in between)
• Do they visit often or never? (or something in between)
• Do they think we need more or less of this kind of place? (or something in between)
They are additionally asked to describe their feelings for a place in their own words, either by recording an audio comment or by writing one.
Deciding what to do with space is arguably the UK’s biggest challenge. Pollution is too high, we need to build more homes, our roads are already fully. This is a Leeds example of how hard it is to carry out future planning consultations even with considerable resources. This is an example of how unreasonable current approaches to citizen-led consultation can be.
I think we can do a lot better than this. We can put citizens at the centre of planning by making it much easier for them to contribute to discussions around these projects. We can make their input more useful if we also explain the impact that their decisions have on other people. Finally, it’s important for consensus building that communities are able to see what their diverse individual members really think, revealing people’s wide-ranging needs and desires for the shape and direction of future spaces.
RateMyPlace could help with a lot of these issues. It doesn’t directly answer the question, ‘How much space you need?’ but it allows a far greater number of people to work together towards finding a solution to it. And maybe, in the end, that could be even more important.