Making development proposals “realer”

22 January 2012 Ideas

I’ve had an idea kicking around in my head for the past year or so about how to engage people who don’t read the news or come to council meetings. When it comes to new development (or redevelopment) proposals, many citizens don’t know what’s going on until construction starts. And by that time, it’s too late to complain about a monstrous Wal-Mart in your backyard or an ugly condo conversion.

Another defect in the traditional consultation process is that it doesn’t feel very “real”. I mean, proposals come in on maps and diagrams and 45-degree aerial renderings, but when you actually walk over to the proposed site, it’s tough to visualize what the development will look like in that real, 3-D space.

The rise of Google Sketchup has solved some of these problems, but I’ve lot a low-tech idea that just might help.

Say there’s a missing tooth in the urban fabric that a developer wants to fill in with an 8-storey condo building. What better way to visualize the impact it will have on the neighbourhood than going over to the site and being able to actually see what it would look like? What if you could give feedback, right there on the spot, instead of relying on an abstraction in your mind to decide if you like the proposal or not?

So here’s what I propose. Take a viewfinder and clamp it onto a telephone pole (or a stop sign, or whatever’s there, as long as it’s in a fixed position). On the viewfinder’s lens is a rendering of the building. When you look through, you see the real streetscape - not a blocky, pastel-tinted Sketchup version of reality. You see the proposed building, as if it’s already been built.

Perhaps you’d be able to flick through a few different variations, like one of those old Kodak View-Masters that I played with as a kid.

And why not have a comment box there so people can leave their feedback? If anything, it would give people a reason to stop and mingle in the street.

What do you think? Is this idea a step forward in public consultation or am I just wearing sepia-coloured glasses?

Sam Nabi

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