The (Place) Doctor Will See You Now

How a small town in Oregon used a data-driven, analytical approach towards putting policies in place to increase their economic and environmental resiliency.

Ready, Set, Vision! Umm…Wait, Now What?

Ok, so the City of Tigard identifies its problem, establishes an awesome vision, and then…? Well, Tigard first went the typical route. Planning studies. Expert Consultants. Community Outreach. All worthwhile endeavors. And then they met us (actually, Kenny Asher, the city’s Community Development Director, came across my ULI post on the economic rationale for walkability) and the rest was (a long) history (as things tend to go with #urbantech #govtech…it’s OK cities, we still love you!).

Our urban data geek hearts danced with joy when we heard they wanted to use data and analytics to help realize their vision. We couldn’t wait - not only to help them craft an evidence-based, data-driven strategic framework by which to systematically achieve their long-range planning goals, but also to arm them with the justification they would need along the way, to help them convince residents, developers, commercial property owners and anyone else with a stake in the redevelopment area of why they were pursuing this ambitious goal – yes, it was about enhancing the public good, but also about making the public purse more efficient and resilient in the face of changing demographics and preferences (sound familiar, I thought so!).

Our work with Tigard focused on the Tigard Triangle, a triangle-shaped area located in the northwestern part of the city that primarily contained large-scale commercial uses and was one of the least pedestrian-friendly areas in the City. We also worked with students at Portland State University as part of a service learning agreement. We worked with Tigard for nearly four months, applying the entire State of Place suite of analyses for them, while we were developing the first version of our software (and remember, our 2nd version is soon-to-be-released! Stay tuned!). They help shaped the kind of analyses we conducted with the State of Place data as well as the look, feel, and structure of our (non-dusty) reports. Their feedback was integral to the development of a user-friendly, actually-addresses-a-real-problem software. We are forever in their debt!

So please dig into this great user-story - I promise you’ll see a bit of yourself in the protagonist! (And if you need a Cliff notes version for now, please check out this customer benefits/features table below).

State of Place Platform - City of Tigard Objectives

•Conduct objective, robust assessment of existing walkability of the Tigard Triangle. •Prioritize and recommend urban design improvements most likely to boost walkability and economic development. •Quantify the impact of various development and planning proposals with respect to walkability. •Forecast the economic premiums, value capture, and ROI of several proposed scenarios.

Give me My Data!

One of the things we hear a LOT from cities and developers is the lack of quality data. But not just any data. Data that tells them what they don’t know (although you may think you know). Data that captures why people love their city - or don’t. Data that guides them. Data that helps them tell a story. We hear you! And we’re on it! Here’s the “skinny” on our not-so-skinny data.

Data collection map for Tigard Triangle

While our 6000+ block database is ever-growing, we usually collect our customers’ data first-hand, when they initially become part of the State of Place “family.” Data is collected by “certified” raters who have undergone a robust training protocol (like seriously, see below!) using a super nifty app. Sometimes our customers get in on the data-collection action, although we usually do this in-house (let us know if you want to know more about how to get certified!). Data can be collected on-site or using Google Streetview. Data is collected at the block level, defined as the area between two intersections. Data can be collected for an entire project area (at any level of geography) or for a sample of blocks.

We collect data on over 290 built environment features – like street trees, sidewalks, benches, curb cuts, etc. – related to walkability at the street level. Here’s a handy guide with all of the features we collect, grouped into various urban design categories.

As part of the service-learning project we set up with the City of Tigard, four PSU students completed the State of Place certification process, including a 2-hour in-class training video, a 1-hour virtual training/quiz session, and a 1-hour debriefing session to ensure the integrity, accuracy, and reliability of the data. PSU students collected data for all blocks within the Tigard Triangle - over 70 of them! Way to go, Curtis, Linn, Ray, & Wala!

Next: Ok, so how bad is it?