MDB Insight Blog

Good Reads: Planning, Placemaking and Public Input

Good Reads: Planning, Placemaking and Public Input

In our #WednesdayswithMDBInsight post this week, Senior Consultant Karen Smith shares what she’s been reading recently about placemaking, public spaces and involving residents as community collaborators.

In the earliest days of this pandemic period I was among the many people who took to heart the notion of being able to catch up on reading and podcasts and a range of professional development pursuits. Turns out I didn’t have nearly the time I imagined I might. I did, however, discover a number of good blog posts and articles related to my interests in community building and customer experience (CX) in the public sector. Here is a brief round-up of some that stood out. 

A blog post by Kayla Matthews (Planetizen, January 28, 2020) highlighted the use of urban analytics by city planners and its connection to understanding the desires of local residents. Of interest to planners as well as economic developers and other municipal professionals, it helps to connect the dots between polling, engaging, and consulting with residents to inform the planning process.

“If a city planner historically only gets a few residents' feedback at very specific times—such as during public information nights and city council meetings—participatory design may represent a drastically new way of interacting with people” says Matthews. She also points to the work of Eleanna Panagoulia whose peer-reviewed chapter called "Human-Centered Approaches in Urban Analytics and Placemaking," addresses participatory design extensively. Complementing surveys measuring satisfaction and tax sensitivity, Panagoulia suggests “human participation has re-emerged as an important asset that could provide insight regarding the dynamics of urban space”.

In another recent and related article (McKinsey & Company, December 2019) four McKinsey authors suggest “good design, undertaken in collaboration with residents themselves, can deliver better experience and better outcomes—often at lower cost. That has relevance around the world, showing how governments can harness design to foster inclusion and build trust with residents”. Of interest, McKinsey conducted a customer-experience benchmarking survey in 2018 (20,000+ people in 7 countries) and found a “powerful link between improvement in customer experience and a host of benefits that extend far beyond making citizens happy”. They found that better customer experience has impacts in meaningful ways ranging from mission achievement and budget management to mitigating risk, improving employee morale, and strengthening public trust.

And finally, this post from The Project for Public Spaces examines outdoor public spaces as a vital part of the road to recovery. “The sidewalks, streets, plazas and parking lots in every neighborhood are an asset that is waiting to be put to work,” says author Phil Myrick. “Many cities including San Francisco, Oakland, New York, and Seattle are closing streets to traffic to increase the usable pedestrian space for residents.” He advocates for cities and towns to think broadly about ways for public spaces to effectively and creatively meet people’s everyday needs. 

To learn more about Karen and the other members of our team, go to 

Karen MDBIOur Wednesdays with MDB Insight posts feature the thinkers and doers on our team sharing ideas and talking about what’s important to us as professionals. We have very diverse backgrounds and a range of interests to share with you. We hope you’re enjoying these posts and that you will join the conversation with us and let us know what’s on your mind mid-week.

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