In light of the difficulty residents of East Austin encounter accessing healthy places, we propose to devise a data-driven implementation plan via the State of Place software platform to 1) create "rotating, mobile, healthy places," which will bring healthy services and activities to those who need it most, and 2) ensure that the built environment around these locations can be accessed by vulnerable populations, affordably, safely, comfortably, and enjoyably.
We believe that "rotating, mobile, healthy places" are the best immediate-term solution to enable access to healthy living to vulnerable populations in the East Austin study area. In the past several years, there has been an increase in "tactical urbanism" projects, in which under-utilized or unsafe places have been temporarily and/or affordably transformed into places that promote public life, prosperity, and increase road safety using "lighter, quicker, cheaper" methods, including paint, affordable materials (such as wooden pallets), and people-led efforts. Sometimes, tactical urbanism projects have focused on "activations" of spaces, by organizing community-led events, including farmers' markets, for example. We see an opportunity to use such methods to identify existing community assets or underutilized spaces that can be "activated" or transformed on a rotating, ongoing, and regular basis that brings vital healthy living options in closer proximity to vulnerable populations. We refer to these activations as "rotating, mobile, healthy places" (throughout this application). These places can and should be defined by the communities that need them most, but can include access to health services, public space, healthy food, social events, etc.
Additionally, we believe these "activations" should be paired with built environment interventions that improve the walkability, bikeability, and people-led mobility to these "rotating, mobile, healthy places." That is, activating spaces to serve as "rotating. mobile healthy places" can only address part of the problem. As noted in the Challenge brief, vulnerable populations still face multiple barriers to walkability, bikeability and overall mobility due to poor street design, such as the lack of consistent sidewalks, poor sidewalk conditions, lack of curb cuts, lack of seating places, etc. Accordingly, simply improving the "proximity" to health service is not enough. We must also improve the "built environment" around these new activations to ensure all community members can actually physically access them. As such, this proposal also addresses the built environment assets and needs around activation sites and delivers a set of data-driven recommendations and intervention plans to ensure "rotating, mobile, healthy places" can be accessed by vulnerable users.
This combination of "activations" and targeted built environment improvements around these activations: 1) enables "healthy living" options to "travel" to the places with higher concentrations of vulnerable populations, given existing transportation options to these locations are limited, not feasible, and in some cases, non-existent; 2) focuses redevelopment efforts on targeted locations that can be accessed by the highest percentages of vulnerable populations; and 3) prioritizes urban design changes that are most necessary to facilitate affordable, safe, comfortable, and enjoyable access to healthy living sites (i.e., "rotating, mobile, healthy places").
State of Place proposes to use its AI-driven, built environment database, benchmark, and analytics software solution to: 1) create an objective baseline of urban design performance of built environment features in the East Austin area that currently create barriers to healthy living for vulnerable populations; 2) set data-driven (geographical), community-led priority areas within the East Austin study area likely to benefit the most from improvements to the built environment and mobility (including a shortlist of potential "rotating, mobile, healthy places;" 3) gather data regarding community preferences and levels of satisfaction with respect to baseline urban design conditions of priority areas; 4) combine objective and subjective data regarding urban design assets, needs, and wants to identify built environment changes most likely to promote healthy living and increased mobility of the community; and 5) use community-led stakeholder engagement process to identify short, medium, and long-term locations, taking into account the data gathered via State of Place, that will serve as "rotating, mobile, healthy places" and create design and planning scenarios for interventions needed to ensure affordable, safe, comfortable, and enjoyable access to these flexible healthy places. We also aim to ideally, pilot one such "rotating, mobile, healthy place" as part of a community kickoff party, if deemed feasible and desirable by project stakeholders.
To explain how we propose to use State of Place to accomplish the above objectives, we must first provide some context on State of Place:
What is State of Place and how does it help citymakers?
State of Place is an AI-driven, built environment database, benchmark, and analytics software. To date, we’ve helped citymakers - municipalities, developers, communities - use data to:
- Identify the best ways to make places more walkable, livable, equitable, and sustainable, while unlocking maximum value across the triple bottom line
- Make the data-driven case for these places by quantifying their benefits, including their return on investment, to get faster approvals, funding, and buy-in for projects
- Objectively market and communicate the value of projects that promote more walkable, livable, sustainable places.
How State of Place Works:
State of Place helps citymakers achieve the above stated aims by: A) We extract data on over 290 urban design features, like sidewalks, trees, and benches, from digital imagery. B) Our proprietary algorithms then aggregate that data into a score from 0-100, known as the State of Place Index, which measures quality of place (including walkability, bikeability, and mobility). C) The State of Place index is broken down into sub-indices that measure 10 aspects of urban design that have been empirically tied to people’s decisions to walk, known as the State of Place Profile. D) Our software visualizes the State of Place Index and Profile, graphically, using charts, and spatially, using heat maps, which makes it easy for users to quickly understand an area’s built environment assets and needs (e.g. why it scored the way it did); prioritize blocks, groups of blocks, neighborhoods, or districts based on their existing conditions and performance (e.g., those that need the most improvement); and inform planning, community-engagement, and development strategies and policies. E) Then, since our forecasting models show that some urban design changes matter more than others depending on what goals you are trying to achieve (e.g., the presence of sidewalks may matter more for increasing pedestrian volumes whereas the presence of benches may matter more for boosting retail revenues), citymakers and communities can receive recommendations regarding which urban design dimensions to prioritize based on their inputted goals, as well as the feasibility of making certain changes over others. In other words, customers can literally click on the goals they most care about - like walkability - and then adjust which changes are realistic for them to actually make (e.g., maybe they can change the aesthetics of the neighborhood but it's too hard to change the street network), and the software will give them a ranked list of which urban design dimensions to prioritize, starting with the most to least important. F) The software also gets deeper in terms of recommendations. Users can actually get a list of the specific built environment changes they should implement that will mostly likely help them achieve their goals, while maximizing social, environmental, and economic value. G) Our Sim-City-like scenario tool then allows users to test unlimited proposals and project ideas and compare how each of those proposed ideas and changes would impact the State of Place Index and Profile; this helps users identify projects that will lead to the biggest increase in quality of place and mobility. H) And finally, our forecasting tool quantifies how the proposed projects that users created via our scenario tool would increase economic value; it also calculates the return on investment of those proposed projects. Ultimately, State of Place serves both as an effective communication tool to justify the value of better urban design, walkability, and mobility, and as a decision-making tool that optimizes outcomes across the triple bottom line and maximizes the bang for the buck.
1) Collect State of Place data for East Austin study area
We will extract data for over 290 urban design features, like trees, benches, parks, plazas, sidewalks, curb cuts, building facades, building colors, building heights, land uses, the number of vehicle lanes, etc. from digital imagery, such as Google Street View, for all blocks within the East Austin study area. This will form the basis of the existing conditions analysis needed to give project stakeholders and the community an objective understanding of the area's built environment assets and needs (what's working and what's not).
It's important to note that many of the urban design factors we measure get at physical features that impact vulnerable communities - including those with physical disabilities, the elderly, children, and women, disproportionately. For example, curb cuts are particularly important to the elderly and parents with strollers; lighting is particularly important to women, etc. These features are all included as part of the data we collect and hence the State of Place Index incorporates a measure of inclusivity and universal design that ensures "solutions for all."
2) Upload data into software, enabling access to City of Austin, Ford, community stakeholders, and the community
As noted above, our algorithms will aggregate the data gathered from digital imagery into a simple to understand score from 0-100 and a breakdown of that score into ten areas of urban design performance (or dimensions). This information is presented graphically and spatially and helps users better understand how the East Austin study area is performing from a quality of place and mobility perspective, which impact the affordability, safety, comfort, and enjoyment of accessing healthy places and healthy living options. Additionally, this information can also be downloaded into paper reports that can be distributed to community members that do not have digital access.
3) Create heat maps overlaying external geographic demographics and health living options data onto State of Place data and integrate into our existing software platform
We will integrate data from the City of Austin's open data portal to create an overlay of State of Place data with geographical data regarding vulnerable populations and access to existing health living services. We will display this data using our existing heat map feature in the software. This data will be used (in step 5 below) to help identify priority areas for interventions and to create a shortlist of possible locations in which to create the "rotating, mobile, healthy places."
4) Hold onboarding session for all users, explaining how to use software
While the State of Place software is quite intuitive and easy to use, we will hold an onboarding session in which we not only teach stakeholders how to use the software, but explain the data and results of the analysis of the East Austin study area.
5) Guide community engagement workshop to set priority areas and create shortlist of potential "rotating, mobile, healthy places."
Our business model does not normally provide for community engagement workshops per se. In other words, we are not normally the ones to hold community engagement workshops (as this isn't scalable), but rather we encourage our users to use the tool to do so. However, we believe that for the purpose of this challenge, it is essential to make community engagement an integral part of the process, and as such, we propose to help project stakeholders guide this process as part of this proposal. We also believe this process will inform our product roadmap in a way that significantly adds value to the business.
This initial community engagement workshop will be tied to the onboarding session, but focus on getting community stakeholders to use the State of Place software, data, and heatmaps to identify priority areas within the East Austin study area in which to focus in terms of implementing interventions that will increase quality of place, health access, and mobility. The community workshop will also lead to the creation a shortlist of possible locations in which to deploy the "rotating, mobile, healthy places," including an understanding of the kinds of service and activities the community would like these places to offer, including, but not limited to, mobile clinical care, mental health services, social activities, designated spaces for physical activity, etc. The community may also identify existing parks and public spaces in the area that can serve as one of the locations for which to host the "rotating, mobile, healthy places."
The point of the community engagement process is to enable stakeholders to use State of Place as a tool by which to generate data-driven decisions; but the community is in the driver seat. This contributes as a key "Community Buy-in" element as identified by the City:One Challenge's priorities. Our goal is not for us to come in and use State of Place ourselves to "consult" the community on what they should or should not prioritize. Indeed, as our aim is to build a scalable software that can be used by communities writ-large without our intervention (aside from typical customer support). This enables the community to create "Solutions for All," minimizing barriers into the community as is valued by City:One. For the purposes of this proposal, we see this as part of our Design Thinking process, which we elaborate on below.
6) Use Design Thinking process to refine, develop, and deploy enhanced prioritization feature that includes community-led module
As noted in the description of the State of Place software above (step "E"), users can get customized urban design priorities most likely to lead to their desired, stated goals. Namely, this prioritization feature currently allows users to generated a ranked list the ten urban design dimensions (that we measure as part of the State of Place Index) in order of priority, given the specific aims they want to achieve and how feasible those aims are. This is because, as explained above, some urban design features matter more than others depending on what goals are desired (this is based on our forecasting models), and some features are harder to implement than others once they are in place (it's easier to add a coat of paint than to recreate an entire street network or move a highway).
We currently have a separate module that is not integrated into the software that measures community's preferences and satisfaction levels regarding urban design features. So while the algorithm is based on objective measures of whether say, a sidewalk does or does not exist, this community module focuses more on how important said sidewalk is and how satisfied a person is with said sidewalk. This serves as a way to consider the needs and wants of a community alongside other objectives, such as increasing retail revenues or pedestrian flows. It is also a way to ensure that redevelopment projects are indeed designed to provide "solutions for all."
However, to date, this module has not been used frequently as it is not incorporated into the software. We believe that this project would benefit tremendously from officially integrating this functionality into the software and using it to assess the preferences and levels of satisfaction of the community stakeholders within the East Austin study area. Accordingly, we propose to use a Design Thinking methodology to refine, develop, and integrate this community engagement module within the State of Place software. This module will ultimately process the community's preferences and levels of satisfaction into an objective score that will be integrated into the prioritization feature. This will allow users to consider community needs objectively when deciding on urban design priorities needed for an area.
7) Gather community input through new prioritization tool
We will guide community stakeholders to gather community input using the enhanced prioritization tool. Specifically, community members will use the prioritization tool to quantify how they feel about the built environment features of the priority areas identified in Objective 5. They will answer questions regarding how important certain features are and how satisfied they are with those features. This will then allow community stakeholders to account for community needs objectively when deciding on which urban design changes to focus on within the identified priority areas.
8) Guide scenario planning by project stakeholders using State of Place software
Project stakeholders will use the State of Place software to create scenarios for priority areas, based on the urban design prioritizations and recommendations generated through the software, as well as community input gathered through the community engagement process. The State of Place software will calculate before/after scores for all scenarios inputted into the software. Project stakeholders will identify top scenarios for each priority area (which includes one candidate each for a "rotating, mobile, healthy place") identified throughout the course of the project. Stakeholders will then develop short, medium, and long-term intervention plans to develop and fund these design and development scenarios based on their scores (i.e., how many more points they garnered on the State of Place Index), feasibility (budget and capacity), and desirability (community input).
9) Finalize location for first demonstration project of a "rotating, mobile, healthy place"
Community stakeholders will finalize selection of first demonstration project of a "rotating, mobile, healthy place." They will choose among the top scenarios created for each of the potential "rotating, mobile, healthy places" created in Objective 8.
10) Implement demonstration project
While State of Place as a software company does not incorporate build-outs (i.e., creating actual developments) or activations as part of our normal business model, we believe that for the purposes of this proposal, and in order to deliver tangible value to the community (not just a plan) that will galvanize the stakeholders involved in the East Austin study area, we would like to facilitate the implementation of the "rotating, mobile, healthy places" scenario plan selected in Objective 9, within reason. We believe that even a "lighter, quicker, cheaper" version of the first "rotating, mobile, healthy place" can be feasibly integrated as part of the proposed solution of this Challenge. That said, this requires community and project stakeholder buy-in, namely potential community health providers (such as East Austin Health Center). Accordingly, the feasibility of this objective will be tested during the community engagement workshop and design thinking process. Even if this objective is deemed not to be feasible, we believe that the community will have gained tremendous value from Objectives 1-9, which will have delivered a feasible and implementable plan to increase affordable, safe, comfortable, and enjoyable access to "rotating, mobile, healthy places."
Ultimately, State of Place provides an effective, implementable tool that allows the community and its stakeholders to understand current conditions, future possibilities, and how to alter the built environment to pursue self-directed goals and priorities. Further, we allow for a mechanism to prioritize vulnerable citizens, equitable mobility options, and more accessible urban design that empower healthy living.
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