Category Archives: Government

Do you have a permit for that Pokemon?

Pokemon Screen with PokeStopsAbout five years ago I wrote a blog post about augmented reality and the concerns a city might have over its potential impacts to a community (see Adding Augmented Reality to Your Zoning Ordinance). But I had not noticed the types of issues discussed in that post actually occuring until this week after the release of the incredibly popular Pokemon Go game. If you have not yet heard about the game, it is an app you install on your phone which represents you on a map of your location and allows you to capture Pokemon who randomly spawn while you move through your environment. As with most games, you level up and collect objects as your Pokemon collection grows. There is also virtual infrastructure supporting the game such as PokeStops typically located at points of interest in a community. PokeStops gift you objects when you visit them and spin the stop on your phone. They can also be set up to attract Pokemon. Other fixed objects in the game are Pokemon Gyms where your Pokemon can battle other Pokemon.

So what is the big deal and how does this relate to zoning? The issue people are having is not only the location of the random spawns of Pokemon, but also the placement of the fixed objects, particularly the gyms. The company which owns the game makes the final determination of where these all occur – they don't need to ask permission from a property owner or the city to place their virtual objects. So there have been reports of Pokemon showing up in places that appear to be on private property, and people are trespassing to catch those Pokemon. While this might be an occasional issue with a random person showing up, the more serious problem reported appears to be with the placement of the gyms. Both the gyms and the PokeStops have the potential to attract crowds of 30 or more people at a time.People playing Pokemon

To get an idea of the concerns gyms and the resulting crowds are causing, here's a Tweet from a person who lives in a home in a renovated church on which a gym has been placed.

If you read through @boonerang's Twitter feed, you will see questions raised about impacts to property value and hours of operation. At what point do the impacts become significant enough to warrant the need for government regulation? And if regulation is imposed, will it be through permits? zoning?Right now, it appears the company is the sole decision maker on whether or not that gym remains at this person's house. While they have offered a method by which someone can report an issue with a gym, the removal is totally at their discretion. Should the local government have the ability to require its removal?

The other topic I have not yet seen explored is the potential problems with the type of virtual content. Pokemon Go is a G-rated game with cute little characters and objects. What if someone launches a more adult game with much more adult content? Someone who might tolerate a cute little Pokemon might not feel comfortable with X-rated content appearing on their property, even if it is only virtual. Should adult use zoning ordinances also apply to virtual content to ensure it does not get placed within so many feet of a school or church? And if so, how would the city regulate this and address complaints? A city employee downloading and installing something like Pokemon Go to check on placement of objects might be tolerated, but would downloading and use of something much more adult be allowed even if only used for regulatory purposes?

The world is definitely changing. And now that augmented reality has actually shown up in the form of cute little creatures, it will be interesting to see if or how cities and other government entities address the use of their virtual spaces. The legal questions which might first need to be answered are do property owners have ownership of the virtual space within the geospatial coordinates of their property and does government have the authority to regulate virtual content within the geospatial coordinates of their boundaries?

(The photos in this post show a location where people hang out to catch Pokemon. The one photo is everyone playing and the other is a screenshot showing the gym and PokeStops at this location. The pink petals around the PokeStops indicate people have placed lures there to attract more Pokemon.) 

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Learning New Skills at Civic Design Camp – Chicago 2015

At today's Civic Design Camp not only did I pick up a few choice bits of advice and skills to add to my civic toolbox, but I also was able to meet and network with some great people including Josh Kalov who I first met at CityCamp in Chicago back in 2010.

 

Introduction and First Session

The day started out with an introduction by Cyd Harrell, product director for Code for America, and Christopher Whitaker, brigade coordinator for the midwest region of Code for America. Whitaker is also a consultant for Smart Chicago and helps co-host Open Gov Hack Night in Chicago. After introductions, the discussion was turned over to Raphael Villas who was a Presidential Innovation Fellow and is now with 18F, a group within GSA providing digital services to the Federal government. Villas explained how he made the move from the private to public sector and showcased a few of the projects with which 18F is involved. 

Civic Design Camp 18F Presentation

These projects include:

Communicart – an online service to assist holders of Federal credit cards with purchase approvals and tracking.

MyUSA – a single sign-in service connecting citizens with the U.S. government. The project is still in Alpha, but when finished can assist in linking citizens with any application designed to accept this single sign-on.

USCIS – 18F is working on a streamlined version of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. This new site will better direct users to the type of information they are looking for. If you visit the site, you will see it now immediately asks the user the status of their citizenship and offers possible actions or questions.

Let Girls Learn – this site provides information about the collaborative effort between the First Lady and the Peace Corps to promote learning among adolescent girls.

If you want to follow up and learn more about 18F or want to check out their code, you can visit their Github page at https://github.com/18f or their Dashboard at https://18f.gsa.gov/dashboard/.

 

Visual Design Basics

Next up was Molly McLeod who is with Code for America. She shared with us several good tips for making government documents, forms, and other media more user friendly. I kept thinking throughout her whole presentation how helpful it would be if the engineering industry was given more instruction in this area of study. Many engineers are tasked with preparing documents for use by government agencies, yet most have not had any formal instruction on writing or visual design. The lack of skills in these areas can cause a reader of those documents to either not even bother reading them because it is just too painful to fight through, or the lack of organization and disregard for the end user can leave the reader thinking the author lacks credibility. This lack of credibility can then translate to the government agency for which the document was prepared. So, to improve government documents, designers should always, before writing or preparing anything, answer the questions McLeod posed:

  • Who are your users?
  • What do they need to know?
  • What is the order they need to know it?
  • What are the action steps?

The next step is to make sure you are providing answers to the questions your users might have such as:

  • Am I eligible/is this relevant to me?
  • What info/materials do I need on hand?
  • How long will it take?
  • Key details: deadlines/when/where?

McLeod also offered content tips taken from the Field Guides to Ensuring Voter Intent. And even though the information is focused on communicating information to voters, most of the tips apply to any type of instruction given in a government document. (You can check out the guides yourself by following the link.) Below is a photo of a redesign McLeod did of her county's instructions to voters. If you visit her blog post about this topic, "Let's Respectfully Redesign Government," you can learn more about this redesign and see a side-by-side comparison of her design with the original set of instructions.

Civic Design Camp Visual Design Example

Prototyping Websites using Github Pages

Cathy Deng next showed us how she uses Github Pages to prototype websites. But the added bonus in this session were the other tools she touched on that can also be used to improve or assist in creating sites. While I've worked with website development since the early 1990s and was familiar with Github, these were all tools I have not yet used so it was great to learn about all of them and see a live demo of their features. To start, Deng showed us how to easily set up a website using Github Pages. Basically all you need is a Github account. After that you can follow the directions on the Github Pages site to set up your own website through your account. Here is a link to the very basic site I set up on my own account within only a few minutes following the example: My-Website.

Deng then showed us how we can test out changes to the site's code in Codepen. This tool, which is shown in the screenshot below, allows the user to paste code into the appropriate section – HTML, CSS,  or JS – and immediately preview how it will look in the browser.

Codepen Website Screenshot

The other tool she shared was Bootstrap Components. This site lists many of the items you might want to place on your website such as dropdowns, button groups, headers, progress bars, and many others. If you find the one you want, the code is listed so you can copy and paste it into the code for your site.

The last tool Deng brought into play was Font Awesome. This site, which is also hosted on GitHub, offers numerous vector icons that are scalable and can be added to your site. You can either download them and add them yourself, or you can copy and paste the code that links to the icon on Font Awesome. As the site indicates, "Font Awesome is fully open source and is GPL friendly." You can view Deng's final, simple site she coded during the presentation here http://cathydeng.github.io/my-website/ and access it on Github here https://github.com/cathydeng/my-website if you are interested in forking it over to your own account and experimenting with the code.

Civic User Testing Group

The final presentation I saw was given by Sonia Marziano who is with Smart Chicago and more specifically manages CUTGroup, a civic user testing group in the city of Chicago. Marziano explained how her group arranges testing of websites for developers. Their testing group consists of about 800 residents in the city representing all 50 wards and all 77 neighborhoods. Each participant in the group receives a $5 gift card for signing up and $20 each time they participate in a test.

If you visit the CUTGroup page on the Smart Chicago website, which is separate from the CUTGroup website, you'll find a listing of all the sites the group has tested so far along with very detailed reports analyzing the test results. Marziano was asked if she knew of developers using these results to assist in building better websites. While she wasn't specifically aware of anyone doing that, she did indicate there is enough detail in the write-ups that they could be used for this purpose and believed it would be a great use of the reports. For example, below is the final report from their testing of the Chicago Works for You Website (as an aside, if you haven't ever seen this site, it's worth clicking on over to check it out how Chicago reports their public works related service requests and to see the frequency at which those types of requests are received). I included this one because it focuses on public works related services. If you have a similar site, it might be helpful to read through the user group's reactions and thoughts about their experience with the site:

Marziano also shared some general, overall observations from their testing such as they found very few people click on popovers and that people don't like to have to sign up to access information. She said users will do everything possible to avoid having to share their personal information. They also realized from testing that for autotweets sent to a Twitter user based on specific terms used by that person in a Tweet, it is important to include these types of elements in the autotweet:

  • compassion
  • a question
  • an official element

So for example, if someone sends out a Tweet mentioning food poisoning in the city of Chicago, Foodborne Chicago will send an autotweet that is similar to the following:

"@twitteruser Sorry to hear you're ill. The Chicago health department can help.  https://t.co/kTBNsEJriH"

 

Final Presentations

I did miss the final presentations because I had to take off to get home in time for other commitments. However, based on posts by other attendees, it looks like the final presentations covered discussion about the Design Thinking for Libraries Website and gifs.

 

Off-line takeaways

As always in addition to the more formal presentations, I usually pick up some good stuff from others who I meet at an event. Because I was fortunate enough to sit at a table with others who are involved in the transportation industry, I learned a lot about what is going on with Chicago transportation and city business and found out about a few other websites that offer great information. Below are the sites Steve Vance, Abraham Emmanuel, and Josh Kalov shared with me:

Chicago Traffic Tracker – the benefit of this site is the regional map shown in the upper left corner. This small map gives a good overview of the congestion or traffic in an area of Chicago. It can also show how this compares to what is typical for that location and time and it can predict over a 12-hour time period how it will change.

Cook County Property Tax Portal – this site is useful if you have an address or PIN number for a parcel in Cook County. The information offered includes standard property tax information and a listing of the last few property transactions taken from the Recorder's office.

Chicago Cityscape – this site offers information about building permit and business licensing activity in the city of Chicago.

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Infographic of the Month – March 2014 (FEMA Flood Maps!)

This month's infographic comes from FEMA – our friendly folks who work to keep us safe and help us when there's a disaster. One of FEMA's tasks is to develop flood maps which show us where flooding is most likely to occur. There's a lot that goes into determining flood boundaries and making these maps so FEMA prepared an infographic to help us better visualize the process. Because this infographic is produced by the U.S. government, there is no copyright. Therefore, any agency or company can print this out to either create a poster to hang in an office to show people who have questions about the process or to print out and make available to citizens as handouts. 

You can always find out more about this process by visiting the FEMA website: http://www.fema.gov/blog/2014-02-21/what-goes-flood-map-infographic

 

FEMA Infographic - Flood Mapping Process

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Another Voice in the Wind – Thoughts on Qualities of a Virtual Leader

Photo from SL10B

Over the last few days I've been reading the responses to the departure of Rod Humble, the CEO of Linden Lab – the company that owns and operates Second Life. Here are a few sites where you can find some in-depth and thoughtful discussion.

The Oracle of Pixels on Andromeda, written by William Burns

Rod Humble Leaves Second Life on NALATES' THINGS & STUFF, written by Nalates Urriah

Three in ten: a look back over Rod Humble’s tenure at LL on Living in a Modemworld, written by Inara Pey

An Open Letter to the Lindens on Hypergrid Business, written by Maria Korolov

What struck me in a few of these articles is once again the similarities between local governments and Second Life. In at least the first two of these posts, you could replace "Second Life" with "local agency" and most of the article would still apply. There are also many interesting points and suggestions made in each article related to leadership and management of a community and specifically Second Life's community. The comments in these posts got me thinking about what qualities I believe a good leader of a virtual community should have. So I am adding my own voice to the others now discussing the future of Second Life. The points presented below are merely observations I have made from working about 30 years in and for local government, being a member of the Second Life community since late 2006, and actively reading and listening to opinions, thoughts, and ideas from other Second Life members including those from the articles listed above.

 

1. A community leader needs to be confident enough in their abilities and skills to listen to new or opposing views and ideas

This is one of the suggestions I got out of reading the post written by Will Burns. In it he points out that companies can end up with a leader who does not allow any voices of opposition or criticism. And as you might expect, this can lead to poor decisions, mistakes, and failed ventures. This is exactly what can happen with a city – a poor leader who is put in place through either an election or through appointment who refuses to consider any suggestions or comments that do not agree with their own will eventually prevent their city from innovating and growing at best and at worst will diminish its appeal, stability, and sustainability. In some cities, like in some companies, the population will realize something is amiss and will replace their leadership through an election. Other times, the citizenry is left unaware of the actual cause of the community's decline and the leadership remains in power. While I don't have insight into the type of leadership at Linden Lab that Burns might have, I do agree the best type of leadership for any company or agency is one in which opposing views are not blocked or dismissed with absolutely no consideration.

I've also worked at cities where people like Will Burns regularly challenged us, and he is correct to conclude having someone questioning leadership can help motivate and compel an agency/company to improve as long as the leader is willing to listen. This doesn't mean leadership ends up always doing exactly what is suggested, but more times than not, the challenge forces the agency/company to do a better job at making and thinking through decisions.

Photo from SL10B

2. Advisory committees are helpful

Burns also suggests the establishment of an advisory board. To me this seems similar to the citizen advisory committees or commissions often set up by cities. These often provide needed insight and improvement to operations and policy. But for committees to provide the most value, it is critical that they are created and supported under certain guidance with careful regard for who serves in this capacity. Fortunately it looks like Linden Lab already has the Linden Endowment for the Arts – a working committee model from which they can build. Here are some more specific issues to keep in mind:

Decision makers are not obligated to, nor should they perhaps, always follow the recommendations made by an advisory committee. Yet they need to keep in mind that constantly choosing a path in opposition to a committee's recommendations will devalue the purpose of the committee and can risk alienation of its members. If that is happening, it is many times a sign of disconnect between the leaders and the community and both need to work on finding common ground.

These positions are typically held by volunteers from the community so that the committee members bring a more community-based viewpoint to the table. But consideration needs to be given in choosing these members so they are not those who will only use their position to improve their own interests at the expense of the community.  

Usually more than one committee or board is necessary, and for Second Life with its diverse and unique community needs, this seems even more true to ensure the majority of needs and aspects of the community are addressed. 

Committees and boards are supported in their efforts by the decision makers. If necessary this would include financial support in a manner similar to what is done with the Linden Endowment for the Arts.

Bay City at SL10B

3. The leader needs to be engaged

This is one area in which government typically excels over private business – probably because the leadership in a city is usually placed there by popular vote. And you don't get elected by being a diminuitive wallflower. While many companies can still succeed by ignoring this requirement because of the type of product they sell or service they deliver, a community-based company like Second Life cannot really do so and expect to provide anything more than average service. You can better understand the importance people in Second Life place on the engagement of the leadership at Linden Lab by reading the post by Nalates and Inara. Each discusses communication issues and accomplishments – both top issues upon which a citizenry places great focus and emphasis. Mayors and Village Presidents and other elected officials who understand this end up achieving much for their communities while still maintaining an overall positive reputation within the community. Sure they have some naysayers – after all they realize you aren't going to make everyone happy all the time, but they have somehow managed to figure out the secret sauce in pleasing enough people to make them the popular choice at each election. (This could be related to No. 5 below.)

This probably sounds crazy to most business people, but the critical need for this type of leader when the product involves community services makes me wonder if Linden Lab would do best to choose their next CEO from the pool of those who have served as popular and effective mayors. After all, they understand and have experience with leading and managing a community while effectively handling finances and still delivering projects and meeting needs of citizens. Some might suggest along this line of thought a city manager is better suited. But while a chief administrator of a local government might be able to manage a company, they normally lack the community engagement skills elected officials seem to naturally possess. 

SL10B Photo

4. Leaders need to convey passion and commitment to their community

The other critical skills needed by leaders are the ability to show great passion and belief in their community which is why leaders are best chosen from within. One of the primary reasons for this requirement in a leader is that communities, including Second Life, rely on financial investment and economic stability to succeed. Using a city as an example, if I own a major corporation and am looking for a community in which to build my headquarters or base of operation, which city would I pick?

In Strong City, I meet with the mayor – an outgoing, engaged person who makes me feel welcome throughout my entire visit. As the mayor describes their city and its benefits, I sense a strong passion and love for the place from this person. The mayor shares commitments and efforts made not only by the government, but by the private sector to improve, innovate, and grow the area. There is a care and dedication to the needs, assets, and future of the community and its members. The mayor also describes the involvement and engagement of the members of the community in many different areas. I leave with the idea this is a place that is focused on constant improvement and the needs and involvement of its members.

In Weak City, I meet with the mayor – a quiet person who makes me feel as if there is barely time in their day to accommodate our meeting by avoiding eye contact and glancing at the clock. The mayor's voice lacks concern or regard or passion for the place – instead I receive a canned description of what they can do for me and the requirements I must meet to set up shop there. It is all business with little to no discussion of the sense of place or community. The mayor rarely mentions the population or does so in a dismissive and annoyed manner.

If both places are competing for my investment, I am probably more likely to choose Strong City as the site for my new headquarters. Why would I want to invest in a community where even the leader does not seem to care? A positive leadership approach can also extend to attracting people and visitors to your community – not just businesses.

SL20B Photo

 

5. Leaders need to understand the bell curve concept

I've been meaning to write a whole post about this since over the last year, I've come to discover how much of a key the bell curve is to most things that happen to us. But to sum it up in a short paragraph specifically as it relates to a community, good leaders realize the bell curve can be applied to members of a community – those on the left side represent the negative people in the community. You will never win them to your side so quit trying. Those on the right represent community supporters and fans. There is nothing more you can do to win them to your side – they are already there and will always be the community cheerleaders. The key is with the middle or majority of the population. They can go either way and will based on what they hear and see or sometimes who gets to them first. That is the group upon which you focus your attention and resources. I will add here that when this concept was first presented to me, I thought it at first harsh, but since that time have had it explained to me from several unrelated angles. I now believe understanding the bell curve is a crucial part of managing or running anything, but will save the entire discussion for a full post because it is a fascinating yet potentially scary concept I really want to explore.

Photo from SL10B

Moving Forward

While people have questioned if Philip Rosedale was right for the job, I have always thought he made a good leader for the community because to me he displayed all of the aspects of a good community leader based on the requirements stated above. And while this seemed to be demonstrated somewhat in his reference as "Governor Linden" I wonder if Linden Lab never truly embraced the local government similarities or approach because people in general tend to portray and think of government in a negative light. (In mentioning my respect and admiration for Rosedale, I do not mean to imply I think he should return as CEO – he seems to be pursuing new opportunities, and a good leader understands a healthy cycle of new leadership, as long as it is still of a high quality, ensures the community will benefit from new ideas and energy.)

It is too bad these misconceptions about local government exist in people's minds because if Linden Lab would really look into how much they operate as a local government, they would find numerous resources in the local government sector to help them in their management and understanding of and service to the community. They would also find organizations, associations, and millions of other government employees who do understand exactly what they have on their hands and who would freely share tips and advice on managing it all.

Photo from SL10B


A side note and update on my own meager efforts to offer local government resources

For years I've been writing posts on this site about the parallels I've noticed between Second Life and local governments. So much so that I begin to think people are probably tired of reading about it. Those who aren't in Second Life or haven't visited a virtual world probably can't relate to the comparisons nor imagine how something like a virtual world can possibly function as a true community. As for those who are members of Second Life, I don't think many are local government employees and if they are like most people, at least those in the U.S., they don't pay a lot of attention to exactly how local government works. So the end result has been that I'm not sure I've done very well in convincing people of this overwhelming similarity. But I continue posting articles about this topic because the similarity is so glaringly obvious to anyone who has worked in local government right down to the problems and issues that arise because the company has not adopted good local government management practices.

 

A while back, my frustration built to a point at which I moved forward on the one action I felt I as a member of the community could take which was to initiate and help prepare a comprehensive plan for the community. While this started out well, I was forced to slow down the effort last year about this time when I accepted a job offer from a different government agency. If it had been a move to a similar type position, I don't think I would have had to suspend much of what I had been working on, but my new job involved performing in an entirely different function within a whole new framework. It was and continues to be a tremendous opportunity for me so I've been focusing most of my time and attention on getting up to speed and working hard to maximize the value of my work. Over the last year, I was able to complete a few of the other commitments I had already made prior to taking that job, but they were short and didn't involve as much time and effort as a comprehensive plan for a virtual community. Now, after spending almost a year getting familiar with my new job, I finally feel more comfortable getting back involved in developing the community plan. And with the recent loss of the CEO for the company that runs Second Life, I have even more reason to dedicate the time and effort to complete this project. If you want to follow its progress, you can visit the Virtual Vision 2020 website. A draft of the introduction section of the plan is under review and will be posted there in the near future for community review and comment.

(All photos in this post are from last year's Second Life Birthday Celebration – a community run event)

 
Photo from SL10B
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Happy New Year 2014

Happy New Year 2014

Happy New Year to all of our readers. We hope you had a great 2013 and await an even better 2014.

 

First we want to thank all of you for stopping by throughout the year to check out the site. We are also very appreciative for those who offer their thoughts and ideas and for people who have emailed us information to share with our readers.

A quick look back at 2013

Next we want to share with you a quick look back on 2013. For us here at the Public Works Group, 2013 was a year of some fairly drastic changes in our professional lives. In April, I changed jobs moving from one level of government to another while my partner had to say good bye to many long time co-workers who chose to retire at the end of the year. These changes have kept us fairly busy in our offline lives leaving less time than we had hoped to devote to the Public Works Group. However, the good news is that they have also driven us to learn new information and increase our professional skills which can help us provide even better information here for all of you.

As for meeting our goals last year, both of us attended, assisted, and presented at several industry events including those held by APWA, ISAWWA, and IPSI along with a few others. I continue to write for Public Works Magazine (you can check them out here in case you aren't subscribed – and by the way if you're not, make sure you sign up here to get the magazine because it's free and filled with great information and it's what all the cool kids are reading!). As for learning resources, along with the information we post on the blog, we set up a Stormwater Beta Class through 3DGameLab. And finally we created our first mobile app for Android which offers information about the 1991 ADA Requirements.

Plans for 2014

We are writing a book!  So what can we look forward to in 2014? The biggest news is that we have been kicking around the idea of a major project for some time now which involves writing a book. And it looks like we will focus on getting that at least started if not done this year. At this time, the plan is to self-publish. However, because we want to get the information out to all of you as soon as possible, we are planning to work with a major industry publication to release excerpts from the book as they become available. Once we have the first one ready, we'll let everyone know through a blog post. Then when we finally complete the entire book, we'll let everyone know where we will offer it for sale. (If you are a municipal engineer and would be interested in being a reviewer, let us know! We would also like to feature in each chapter a few short bits of wisdom and advice from other engineers, particularly those who work in local agencies, so let us know if you are interested in being interviewed.)

We will be attending and promoting WATERCON2014! Yes, you read that right – fortunately this year, I will again have the opportunity to attend and promote WATERCON 2014 – the most awesome annual, water-related event held in Illinois. Every year the place is always packed with attendees and exhibitors – everyone who is anyone in water is there. So if water is your thing, this is definitely the place you want to be in March. Make sure if you are going or if you are exhibiting, let me know, particularly if you'd like us to share information about you or your product on the WATERCON social media sites.

We are developing in Unity3D! One of our other major focus areas will be on exploring and developing a few resources in Unity3D. As I've shared in several past posts, we've been working a lot more with Unity3D, and finally it looks like we have our skills down to the point where we can offer at least some simple beta projects. In the first half of the year, our goal is to create three of these. One will be a simulation of a design project, one will be an exhibit space for an organization, and one will be training on a specific engineering-related topic. I'm not sure at this time if we will be able to share all of them publicly, but we'll post what we can.

We are writing at least one more Android App! We want to follow up with another Android Mobile App that focuses on PROWAG requirements. We do realize PROWAG has not yet been adopted, but many agencies are already following those requirements so we figured an app might be helpful for inspectors in the field.

While we could have just repeated the same general goals we set in 2013, this year we wanted to share more specific details about exactly what we were trying to accomplish. We do acknowledge with not knowing everything that awaits us in 2014 and with working other full-time jobs, successfully completing all of this will definitely be a challenge. But that's what New Year resolutions are for – pushing yourself to grow and better yourself and help others while working towards something that isn't always the easiest thing to achieve.

 

Disclosure notes: I do receive payment from Public Works Magazine for articles of mine that are published on their site and in the magazine. I also am offered free registration to WATERCON in exchange for attending and promoting the conference.

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Walking Helps Build Community

Photo of a group walk from  Mary R. Vogt on morguefile.com

Over the summer I saw several notices about "walks with the mayor" in two different communities. While these efforts seem to focus on improving the health of people living in those areas by encouraging walking, I can see how these walks also have the potential to help build a strong community. (Photo credit: Mary R. Vogt on morguefile.com)

Walking the streets of your city or village can help you better see those little things that can be improved – things you would never notice in a car. It might be a section of uneven sidewalk that could be simply fixed with some "mud-jacking" of the slabs. It might be a section of walk where bushes have overgrown the path or sidewalk and need to be trimmed. Perhaps walkers might discover areas where a few well-placed trash receptacles could deter littering. On the other hand, walking also helps people discover those little things that make the town interesting and a great place to live. Someone might have planted a beautiful flower garden along the public sidewalk. Walkers might also discover the city has installed a water fountain in a handy location – the type that also has a place for dogs to get their own drink. There could be a stretch of street where the city has planted a nice selection of trees that provide shade.  

If someone with a disability is on the walk, accessibility can also become very apparent. Many people are not aware of impediments to mobility that might be present in a community until they are walking with someone who cannot enjoy the same access because of barriers such as curbs. People might discover the access they took for granted to specific destinations such as parks, public places, or areas offering public services is limited due to barriers for people with disabilities.

The other benefit of a "Mayor's walk" is that it gives everyone time to talk and get to know each other better. People can find out they share common friends, interests, or concerns. Many times community topics not necessarily related to pedestrian or transportation facilities can be talked about. Maybe someone always wanted to start a book club at the local library but never knew if anyone would be interested and through a discussion on the walk realized several others have been wanting the same thing.

These are just a few of the positive outcomes that can be discovered by taking some time to organize and host a walk in a community. It would be great to hear from anyone out there who has either held a walk like this or attended one in their community. How difficult was it to arrange, what was the attendance and interest level, and what benefits did people discover from participating? And for those of you from colder climates who are thinking these walks can only be done during the warmer months, you can check out the City of Elgin's Facebook post indicating their plan to host them in an indoor facility: 

 

 

 

 

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