Innovative Planning: Consensus-building in Bridgeport
For the second installment of our posts illustrating Sasaki's innovative approach to planning in conjunction with the APA 2012 National Planning Conference and Sasaki's receipt of the association's National Planning Excellence Award for a Planning Firm, we'd like to explore the application of some of Sasaki's tools to a parks master plan in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The process underscores the fine balance Sasaki strikes between technology and personal interaction in consensus-building.
The city's waterfront location on the Long Island Sound and its many neighborhood parks are critical assets for Bridgeport's revitalization. Thanks to the support of a mayor and city staff who embrace the importance of open space to urban sustainability, Sasaki was engaged to complete a parks master plan for the city to build on the recently completed BGreen 2020 sustainability plan.
A unifying tenet of the plan is that parks are for people. Ultimately, the plan is only successful if it increases citizens' access and enjoyment of the parks. Bridgeport's parks are diverse in scale and amenity, and its list of users is equally broad. By combining innovative technology tools with tried-and-true, face-to-face outreach, the Sasaki team developed a full tool-kit of innovative strategies to reach all user types, and ensured the plan responded to each of their needs.
In a recent interview on Co.Design, RISD president John Maeda characterizes the tension between technology and personal interaction in consensus-building as thus: Technology is like spray glue—it covers everything quickly, evenly, and successfully. Face-to-face interaction is like Elmer's glue—it creates a reliable joint, but is wet, messy, and un-scalable. Maeda's verdict is that we need both spray glue and old-fashioned Elmer's—and Sasaki's approach in Bridgeport does just that.
Sasaki's in-house digital strategists developed an interactive, digital mapping survey. This map was launched on the city's website and distributed by neighborhood leaders, and enabled the team to gather important input from hundreds of citizens. This broad outreach was complemented by more intimate activities such as games with summer youth campers at Seaside Beach. Technology and personal interaction combined when the team conducted video interviews in the parks with park users. The video technology brought their voices and faces to life for a broader audience, enriching the traditional stakeholder interview process.
"As we continue to evolve and improve our digital tools, we need to keep thinking about how to closely integrate personal interaction with technology," says Sasaki designer Brie Hensold. "The most powerful insights come from a combination of innovation and old-fashioned conversation."