Webinar Recap: City of Pittsburgh + Kurb.io Debut Realtime Outdoor Space Planning

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Kurb Collaborative Planning: Before & After

Headstorm and Pittsburgh’s Department Of Mobility & Infrastructure recently introduced Kurb.io to an international audience of urban planners, smart city tech firms, and community organizations. Having emerged from our vaunted Foundry product development process, Kurb originally set out to address the massive unplanned shift in land use driven by COVID-19. But as we quickly learned from 500+ hours of interviews, the need for rapid & inclusive prototyping of land use solutions was already a rising tide in need of simple tools and technologies.

We’re happy to bring Kurb.io to all those cities and municipalities seeking urban transformation & innovation, both near and long term.

What Kurb.io Does For Outdoor Space

Kurb is a map-driven collaboration tool for cities, neighborhoods, businesses, and residents to get on the same page regarding the use of space.

How the Pittsburgh community planned a street takeover for Pamela’s Diner using Kurb

Traditional land use planning has a lot in common with the tensions of design thinking and product development – something we know a bit about. The more stakeholders you involve, the longer and more complex the timeline gets… even to the point of sidelining the work indefinitely, as we’ve all seen with city development projects. On the flip side, a lack of stakeholder input typically comes back to haunt planners — if not immediately through lawsuits or non-enforcement, then eventually through voter backlash or tax & revenue shortfalls.

Being stewards of the public interest, city & community planners typically lean towards involving more stakeholders up front, in the prototyping phase. This conventional approach usually requires community meetings (in-person or virtual), messy Powerpoints or hard to co-design printed maps, and overly technical documentation – all of these factors are amplified by the squeakiest wheel who can often be heard at the expense of those less vocal or unable to participate. This process of gathering holistic input on public space — and communicating it out for evaluation — is not only time-intensive but can lack accountability for democratizing the use of space, let alone being transparent in nature.

We didn’t like that design, and when we realized no one else did either, we set out to build Kurb.io.

Using this collaborative map-based tool, any resident with the link can submit a vision, a concern, or a solution using a model of the actual space and resources at stake. In turn, anyone else can comment on those submissions and provide further support or context. It’s an inclusive platform meant to reduce the legwork & complexity for project planners, as well as the physical or temporal participation limitations for impacted residents.

Kurb.io offers a pragmatic sandbox in which the stakeholders can sketch and prioritize change with about the same ease as a DIY website builder. It’s the kind of magic projects often lack, due to an imbalance of control & responsibility. We set out to align those two forces, in order to move urban innovation forward efficiently.

Contact Headstorm for a Kurb demo & product roadmap.

Why Rapid Prototyping Of Outdoor Space Matters

There’s nothing like a global pandemic to make you rethink the way your city works, and for most of us, recent changes to dining, shopping & entertainment have been glaring examples of fast-paced land use transformation. That said, it’s worth noting that cities have been working on these kinds of shifts for decades, and what often gets in the way is a lack of rapid prototyping: the ability to create a low-resolution concept in order to stress test, estimate impacts, and plan resources.

We previously talked about how city planning projects fail to get off the ground when too many stakeholders get involved. What’s usually happening there is that fear and speculation weigh down a plan’s progress; if the plan can’t please everyone, it’s not worth the risk.

Cities and community groups have recently taken to tactical urbanism as a small-scale solution, deploying non-destructive low-res plans in the wild in order to gather real evidence of impact. We’ve seen this as well during the pandemic, but what hinders tactical urbanism is that by nature, it doesn’t ask for input. When conceiving more complex projects, or operating in space that traverses private & public property lines, input is necessary before laying down a set of cones or a line of paint. For such robust projects, Kurb drives urban transformation at high speed without excluding residents, businesses, or other interested groups. Planners can therefore match the speed of cultural shifts with city infrastructure that is ready for optimization.

What It Means For You

Whether you’re a land use planner, a business or a community organization, we see Kurb as your opportunity to reshape the space around you. The digital world shifts in a heartbeat, and cities need a means of understanding and applying their own potential to shift with it. 

In our pilot city of Pittsburgh, some of the more prominent stakeholders laid out just how valuable Kurb can be:

We’d love for you to try out Kurb.io for yourself with a free beta account, and shows us what kind of change you can create whether it’s your current town, hometown, or some place you plan to be in the future.

Headstorm is now seeking strategic partners, cities and agencies to help bring Kurb’s collaborative power to the people. To talk more or schedule a demo, get in touch with us.

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