As Cities Rebuild and Expand, City Governments Must Find New Ways to Better Connect with its most Important Shareholders, the Public

The lack of existing dwelling stock is a growing issue across many cities. Shortage of housing leads to increase in rents causing many people to spend above a third of their income, beyond which a household is considered rent burdened. The public pressure on governments also increases to help balance the housing supply and demand by funding projects and permitting more lands for construction and development. Inevitably, this will impact the day to day life in a city. It will place under strain the local government’s relationship with its residents.

Governments are often the pivot point of a teeterboard. An ideal government, perhaps, is the one that always finds the balance between the needs of the public and the private. This is even more true for a city government where the tolerance for political paralysis or incompetence to deal with issues is narrow. Benjamin Barber mentions during his TED talk that mayors must be “pragmatic, must run the city otherwise they are out of the job”. So the question here is how do the local governments stay connected with its citizens and address their concerns as the housing investments continue and more real estate developers hit the ground, flooding the city streets with construction equipment effecting day to day routine of the people.

This past January, the government in the UK has announced to provide funds for the construction of 200,000 new homes in the next five years. Are local governments in the UK ready to embrace the impact of the growth and expansion as the investments arrive and developments projects take off? How will the large number of development sites impact a city’s operations? How can local governments involve its most important shareholder, its citizens in the development of future projects and get their feedback data in relatively small time? We must get local governments to know about complaints and concerns.

New York City has 311 call-in system to report non-emergency issues and make city service requests. Noise complaints, hygiene or impact of a new construction site can be reported by just dialing 311. Other cities have similar systems. However, city agencies can now do more by actually involving city residents in the decision-making process for its operations or even during a design stage of a major development project.

Collaborative Maps Demo Website

Collaborative Maps’ site does exactly this. Josef Hargrave writes that it engages effectively the residents who live in a current or a future project site. The site allows shareholders to review the conceptual designs by utilizing visualization and auralization tools and give feedback on the website. One example is the development of a high speed rail in the UK to study the impact of mitigation measures such as noise barriers and the use of low-noise technologies fitted with sound insulators. Such sound simulation demonstrated the noise impact of the project on the local communities. Soundlab claims that an estimated of 25,000 people listened to the auralisations during ‘public consultation’.

Noise Mitigation Simulation During Engineering Design. Watch video here

Another advantage to the local governments for having this kind of resource and a platform is that it will bring together the residents and have them not only provide feedback to the project and the agencies but also facilitate people converse with one another on the website. This would help the City agencies to monitor what its citizens think and say to each other about the city’s services, operations or about the impact of a construction development. As urbanization continues, the local governments must seek new ways to measure the pulse of its citizens.


Arup Visualization and Auralization — 1st video from top:

Josef Hargrave, “Good Design is Democratic:”

Benjamin Barber: “Why Mayors Should Rule the World”