On Blogging and Planning

Michael Dudley's picture

Blogs are emerging as important information sources in the contemporary discourse on cities and city planning.

Among the best-known include Randall Crane's Urban Planning Research which covers a wide range of topics and includes articles by guest posters; Peter Gordon's Blog on urban economics and real estate; and Randal O'Toole's Antiplanner, which is harshly critical of most public planning, advocating instead free-market approaches.

As these blogs demonstrate, blogging can afford the planner an excellent venue for exploring and discussing current issues facing cities, especially controversial "hot-button" topics that are making news in the mass media. For example, the fallout from the Kelo decision has been the topic hundreds of blog postings.

Blogs allow the planner to contribute to such debate in a very timely way, as opposed to waiting for the sometimes lengthy publication cycles of standard magazines and journals. This is of course not to say that blogs are better than print sources or should replace them, but simply that they can augment our deliberations elsewhere.

Because of the social nature of the web, postings are always subject to commentary and refutation, so they are great for initiating dialogue. And as other people can link to your postings in their own blogs and use them to fuel further deliberations, the planning blog can be a method for disseminating information to the general public that might otherwise appear only in those specialist publications.

It's important however to consider the blog not only for its external audiences, but for one's own internal thought processes. Given the rapid pace of change in cities and the natural environment -- and the responses in the profession and the larger culture to both -- the blog can help the planner to keep track of, understand and more importantly mentally integrate these changes. By synthesizing perspectives from multiple sources and combining them with one's own thoughts and observations the planner can become much more intimately aware of trends and challenges than would be possible from simply reading articles passively.

The blog post can therefore be much more than just one's own writing – it becomes a window to other information sources and opinions. I sometimes refer students seeking assistance with their research to my own postings if they're relevant to their topics, simply for the quality of the links I've documented.

I have also found that blog entries can stimulate my work in other professional writing: I've often adapted postings or passages from them into other more formal research and projects. They can also become a bridge to mainstream publishing venues: postings can easily be re-worked for submissions to the local newspaper or other publications. Bear in mind though that such external publishing may not result in increased traffic to your own blog, as readers are accessing your work elsewhere.

There are institutional applications too. Some municipal planning departments are using blogs to keep citizens informed about local planning news, events and services, as well linking to local municipal information sources and databases. For some examples, check out the Montgomery County (Maryland) planning department blog, The Home Stretch and the Town of Dennis (Massachussetts) Planning Department Weblog.

Such planning blogs can become a forum for users not employed by the city to post their own content, such as guest editorials on planning issues. In this way – and with appropriate monitoring to ensure civil discourse – the planning department blog can contribute significantly to local planning debates.

As a form of communication with colleagues and the public; an attractive environment for citizen engagement; a way to track trends and issues; and as a resource for the planning educator – the blog can become an important and exciting part of the planner's professional toolkit.

Michael Dudley is the Indigenous and Urban Services Librarian at the University of Winnipeg.



Raise Our Gaze

Our actions as Planners influence the use and development of the PUBLIC realm; creating place from space and hopefully in turn highly livable communities. We do this within PUBLIC processes. Here PUBLIC refers to both the openness with which our actions are undertaken and the community of stakeholders involved.

One of our continuing professional challenges has been incorporating effective PUBLIC participation within our various legislative parameters. Unfortunately from community to community and decade to decade we have failed too often. Even the most successful methods such as charettes, open space, or visual scavenger hunts, often only provide punctuation within larger processes that lack effectiveness. Why are we falling short of the mark? Let’s start with: limiting access to information; increased systemic elitism; unnecessary complexity and confusion; ineffective process design; inappropriate meeting locations and layout; and poor communication strategies. These all reduce the potential success of a planning project, and in turn the livability of our communities. This is a profession wide problem. I have seen this first hand in both Canada and the US, in municipal governments both large and small; in Regional State and Provincial governments; and in private and non-profit organizations.

To improve our professional practices I am suggesting using currently available web tools, and specifically blogs as project frameworks. Blogs have far greater inherent usefulness than just another publication medium, or forum for editorializing; within a well designed process they can change how we plan, and the profession.

In Oak Harbor, WA, I and my Planning colleague Cac, developed a series of municipal blogs as project specific community engagement platforms, using web 2.0 tools to 1) enhance our Planning practice, 2) increase community involvement, 3) incorporate accountability measures, and 4) improve internal project tracking for staff, Council and Planning Commission. Monitoring our progress has shown substantial benefits over traditional public participation practices in these and other areas.

So, what do you need to do this? TIME, technical skills, TIME, experience with project management and community engagement, and TIME. However, the benefits far outweigh the costs on multiple levels, and it’s incredibly FUN!

Our profession is inherently future oriented however we are collectively lagging behind the PUBLIC and other professions in our use of this kind of technology. How far do YOU want to fall behind? It is unacceptable to continue asking “should WE use blogs or social networking tools for our Planning projects?” The time to end this professional navel gazing is now. Let’s raise our gaze.

This post combines thoughts raised on Civic Blogger, a blog focused on planning and citizen engagement that I coauthor (www.civicblogger.blogspot .com).

rob voigt
Urban Planner, Facilitator, Artist, Blogger.

Using social media to reach constituents

I agree completely with Rob Voigt. My agency, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, has been working on using new technology to reach a broader and more engaged audience. Especially as we create our GO TO 2040 long-range comprehensive plan for transportation and land use in the Chicago region, we need to consider that the people who will be around in the year 2040, have grown up in a digital world. Social media has changed the way that the public interacts with information.

I will check out Civic Blogger and get some ideas for our blog!


Lindsay Banks
Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning

Design is the Key - Know Your Audience


I have had the pleasure of exploring the GO TO 2040 site. It’s really quite good. The language is concise, the message clear, and the layout is coordinated. I especially like the explanations around urban design - well done. The citizens of the area have a really good resource available to them with this site. Unfortunately this is to often not the case.

As a result of reviewing your site I have blogged about the importance of site design on Civic Blogger at http://civicblogger.blogspot.com/2008/10/design-is-key-know-your-audienc...

I will be discussing these and other topics at the National Main Street conference in Chicago next March.

I look forward to seeing you on Civic Blogger.

rob voigt
Urban Planner, Facilitator, Artist, Blogger.

Blogging about Planning is in Many Ways a Time Saver

I have also found that blog entries can stimulate my work in other professional writing: I’ve often adapted postings or passages from them into other more formal research and projects.

Agreed. I blog about big picture planning issues at www.cityplanner.ca, and I find that my online writing is a great feed for other articles.

I also find that blogging makes it easier to develop PowerPoint presentations on planning issues. Most of the information I need is already typed out, and I can easily access any digital photos I have posted without looking through volumes of directories.

Beyond that, the blog serves as a record, a diary of sorts, and allows me to track my progress. It can serve as a reminder of how far I have come and how hard I have worked, on days when I need a pick-me-up.

Post it, and you won't forget it.

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