StreetEcho toolkit: a how-to guide

The need for community-centric tools

Streets play a dual role, functioning not only as channels for transport but also as shared community spaces for citizens. Historically designed to prioritize vehicular traffic, urban streets are now at the forefront of a transformative shift towards more equitable and vibrant public domains. This evolution is driven by an increasing awareness of the need for cities to transition from car- dominated spaces to inclusive environments that cater to pedestrians, cyclists, and public transport.

The reimagination of street spaces is part of a broader movement to address urban challenges through more sustainable and people-focused designs. These changes are not merely about altering the physical landscape but are also about reflecting and adapting to the diverse needs of all city dwellers. By promoting a variety of uses—social gatherings, economic activities, cultural events, and so on—streets are being reconceived as dynamic spaces that enhance urban liveability and contribute to a stronger sense of community.

Integral to the success of reimagining city streets is the imperative for robust community involvement, ensuring that the voices, needs, and perspectives of communities are incorporated into decision-making about streets. Understanding public perceptions is critical in this endeavour, as it enables planners and policymakers to tailor changes that resonate with the community’s values and aspirations. Ultimately, the success of the shift towards post-car cities is dependent on the relationship between urban planners and the communities they serve.

In this sense, transforming urban streets into truly inclusive public spaces requires tools that can effectively gather, analyse, and support the co-creation of insights from a broad spectrum of community voices. Traditional urban planning methods often fall short in capturing the nuanced perspectives and experiences of everyday users, particularly those from underrepresented groups. The need for community-centric tools is evident: tools that not only facilitate the collection of data but also enable meaningful participation from the community in the planning process.

In response to this need, innovative approaches that leverage digital technology and participatory practices are emerging. The implementation of such tools promises not only to reshape our physical environments but also to foster more inclusive, responsive, and resilient urban futures.

Recognising the significance of understanding public perceptions in the transformation of city streets, the innovative StreetECHO toolkit has been developed as a comprehensive means to collect, analyse, and discuss people’s perceptions of street transformations, offering valuable insights to multiple stakeholders involved in urban planning and policymaking. The toolkit consists of a survey tool, a data visualisation tool, and a workshop protocol tool.

Who Could Use the Toolkit?

The StreetECHO toolkit is designed for a wide range of stakeholders involved in urban planning and community engagement, each playing a crucial role in the transformation of city streets into inclusive public spaces. The primary users of this toolkit could include but are not limited to:

To integrate citizen feedback directly into their design processes, ensuring that street transformations reflect the diverse needs and preferences of the community.

To make informed decisions that support sustainable urban development.

To champion the interests of local communities by gathering and presenting the opinions and needs of residents, particularly those from marginalized or underrepresented groups

To understand how changes in street design affect mobility patterns.

To engage the public and incorporate their insights into environmental advocacy and planning efforts.

To gather data, test theories, and provide evidence-based recommendations for urban design practices.

What questions does the toolkit answer?

The StreetECHO toolkit is designed to aid with a number of challenges and respond to the questions below. Each of these questions is essential for creating streets that are not only functional but also inclusive and responsive to the needs and aspirations of their users.

The toolkit includes a survey tool that captures diverse opinions and perceptions about specific streets. It gathers data on how citizens use these streets, their feelings towards them, and their suggestions for improvements.

The data tool within the toolkit allows users to visualize survey results and other collected data through interactive maps, graphs, and dashboards. This helps stakeholders see patterns and trends that inform planning decisions.

The workshop tool provides a structured approach to engaging community members in envisioning future scenarios for their streets. It facilitates brainstorming sessions and collective decision-making.

By utilising feedback mechanisms embedded in the toolkit, users can gauge community responses to proposed street changes, assessing their acceptance and satisfaction levels.

The toolkit helps determine community preferences for street functions and desired features.

The toolkit provides solutions for inclusive engagement, ensuring that all demographic groups, including often underrepresented populations, have their voice heard.

The toolkit allows for long-term tracking and analysis of the impacts of street transformations, helping to predict future outcomes and necessary adjustments.

By facilitating dialogue and cooperation among urban planners, local governments, and community members, the toolkit fosters a collaborative approach to urban transformation.

The concepts behind the toolkit

Examining the concept of convivial public spaces, particularly considering streets planned and designed for both mobility and people, has been one of the fundamental pillars of the EX-TRA project. This has involved an exploration of urban spaces that harmoniously accommodate both vehicular movement and create environments conducive to inclusivity, social interactions, and community wellbeing.

Meanwhile, the project has highlighted that when reflecting on streets as convivial public spaces, it becomes imperative to contemplate various dimensions of justice and equity. In this sense, understanding the diverse perspectives and knowledge of citizens is crucial in ensuring the development of fair and inclusive urban interventions. The EX-TRA project, and the StreetECHO Toolkit more specifically, revolve around ambitions to de-centre expert knowledge and delve deeper into non-expert viewpoints for a comprehensive understanding of the evolving dynamics within mobility culture.

This paradigm emphasises the need to move beyond traditional, expert-centric approaches, and explore the diverse perspectives held by those who may not possess specialized knowledge in the field. The section below will delve into more detail on the abovementioned conceptual explorations.

Streets as convivial public spaces

Urban planning is progressing towards the development of vibrant public spaces that seamlessly integrate both mobility and people-centric design (Bertolini, 2023). The concept of conviviality encompasses the harmonious coexistence of liveability and sociability, as highlighted in various urban and transport studies (Bates, 2018; Bertolini, 2023; Shedid & Hefnawy, 2021). In urban design, conviviality is a concept that emphasises the harmonious interaction between diverse elements within the urban landscape. At its core, conviviality celebrates diversity, embracing the richness brought forth by various urban elements (Bertolini, 2023; Mehta, 2014). It goes beyond physical space and the mere arrangement of structures and streets, delving into the social dynamics and identities that define the character of a city. Convivial urban spaces are those that foster inclusivity, encouraging interactions and connections among individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences.

As scholars have consistently highlighted in recent years, streets should not be viewed merely as conduits for pedestrian and vehicular traffic or as spaces designated solely for mobility (Kinigadner et al., 2024; Smeds & Papa, 2023). Instead, they are dynamic elements that actively shape the urban fabric, and street design involves more than fulfilling utilitarian functions. A well-designed street and one that captures the essence of conviviality integrates vehicular movement with elements conducive to community engagement, socialisation, and wellbeing (Smeds et al., 2023). Elements such as aesthetically pleasing design, green spaces, and interactive installations contribute to an environment where the community can thrive.

Diverse lived experiences in urban spaces

In order to counteract segregation in diverse urban contexts, research emphasizes that experience- based spatial design plays a pivotal role, and understanding individual experiences in the city is crucial for creating convivial environments that cater to diverse populations (Maununaho et al., 2023). This stresses the importance of shaping urban spaces that cater to the needs of diverse populations, requiring a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the lived experiences, daily lives and interactions of city dwellers. A key avenue in accomplishing experience-based spatial design is through urban experiments in street design and regulations (Bertolini, 2020; Smeds & Papa, 2023; VanHoose et al., 2022; VanHoose & Bertolini, 2023). These experiments serve as crucial laboratories for testing and implementing designs that prioritize the human experience within the urban fabric.

Despite commendable progress in designing sociable streets, public spaces still witness entanglements involving improvisation, conviviality, and at times conflict, with intricate dynamics that may arise from competing uses and users in public spaces. On one hand, observable are conviviality and encounters (Koch & Latham, 2013); on the other hand, conflicts may unfold (Verlinghieri et al., 2024). The complexity arises at the intersection of various interests, activities, and expectations, often resulting in a delicate balance between harmonious coexistence and potential conflict (Verlinghieri et al., 2024). The interplay of improvisation, conviviality, and conflict in public spaces highlights the complexity stemming from competing uses and users. Additionally, the complex nature of conviviality underlines the importance of understanding the users’ lived experience to enhance urban planning practices. This emphasizes the importance of understanding the multifaceted nature of conviviality to improve urban planning practices, as noted by Horgan and Liinamaa (2023).

Balancing expert versus non-expert knowledge for streets change

While diverse interactions foster conviviality and social encounters, some may lead to conflicts and tensions among different groups of users. This interplay of elements reflects the intricate balance that urban planners must navigate to create inclusive and harmonious public spaces. However, to achieve this balance, it is imperative to shift away from predominantly expert-driven perspectives and knowledge and better understand non-expert viewpoints. This would require ensuring that diverse citizen perspectives, voices and knowledge are acknowledged and valued in the planning process.

Historically, urban streets have been designed primarily for vehicular traffic, a perspective known as ‘seeing like a state,’ which emphasizes efficiency and productivity (Smeds et al., 2023; Scott, 1998). This top-down approach often neglects the multifaceted roles streets play in urban life and overlooks the complex realities of those who inhabit and use these spaces daily. Nevertheless, in recent decades there has been growing appreciation for the social functions of streets, which has led to a series of placemaking and street regeneration efforts. While well-intentioned, these may not fully meet the diverse needs of the urban population as they continue to prioritise expert opinions and quantitative metrics at the expense of the lived experiences of city residents, while also disregarding differences in social identity between different individuals (Krivy & Ma, 2018).

The exclusion of varied social identities and the preference for expert knowledge in urban design processes can lead to environments that fail to serve all community members effectively. This erasure also raises questions about power dynamics within urban planning. Who gets to define the narrative of the city, and whose perspectives are prioritised in the design and planning process? These questions emphasise the importance of adopting an inclusive and participatory approach to urban planning, where the voices of all community members, especially those traditionally marginalised, are considered and valued.

The traditional paradigms of ‘seeing like an expert’ often limit the inclusion of local knowledge and perspectives, which encompasses rich insights into how streets function from physical, social, and institutional perspectives. Ignoring this local knowledge and the plurality of citizen perspectives can result in planning interventions that are not only out of touch with community needs but also potentially exclusive and discriminatory. Such approaches can exacerbate socio-spatial inequalities and perpetuate injustices, manifesting either through neglect of certain groups’ vulnerabilities or through interventions that actively and intentionally marginalise communities (Anguelovski et al., 2016).

Just Streets: Applying the concept of justice for street change

To counteract these tendencies, urban planning must evolve to prioritise issues of justice. In transport planning, the pursuit of justice has traditionally focused on distributive justice, which seeks to ensure equitable access to the opportunities that transportation services and infrastructures offer. This form of justice emphasizes the removal of accessibility barriers and the enhancement of inclusivity within transportation systems, aiming to provide fair resource distribution across urban populations (Pereira, Schwanen & Banister, 2017; Martens, 2017). However, the scope of justice in street transformations is expanding beyond simple distribution to include procedural and recognition aspects of justice, which involve deeper levels of public decision-making processes (Young, 1990).

Procedural justice refers to the inclusion or exclusion of different individuals and community groups in decision-making processes. This extends to recognizing the diversity in mobilities, desires, and needs, highlighting the significance of accounting for varied perspectives (Sheller, 2023). It emphasises participatory decision-making, ensuring that decisions about street layouts, accessibility, and usage are made with consideration of the diverse mobilities, desires, and needs of all city dwellers. Although this aspect of justice is well recognized in spatial planning research, fewer mobility scholars have engaged with the concepts, with only a few recent exceptions (Vitrano & Lindkvist, 2022).

The need for growing examinations of different dimensions of justice in mobility planning is even more prominent when considering the concept of epistemic justice. Epistemic justice highlights the importance of incorporating a broad spectrum of knowledge into decision-making processes, particularly the insights from non-expert groups. Defined by philosopher Miranda Fricker (2007), epistemic justice is divided into testimonial justice—ensuring that all community voices are heard— and hermeneutical justice—guaranteeing that these contributions are genuinely understood and considered by planners (Schwanen, 2021). This approach not only asks ‘who is in the room?’ when decisions are made but also critically examines ‘whose knowledge matters?’ in the planning process (Beebeejaun, 2017).

The concept of epistemic justice provides a crucial framework for ensuring that all community members, especially those historically marginalised in urban planning processes, have their voices heard and valued in the transformation of city streets. This approach is about recognising and valuing the diverse forms of knowledge and experience that residents bring to the discussion about urban spaces. The application of epistemic justice principles to street transformation can be summarised through the following points:

As previously described, this involves acknowledging the insights and experiences of all community members, not just those with formal expertise in urban planning. By integrating local and experiential knowledge into the planning process, the solutions developed are more likely to meet the actual needs of the community.

The integration of epistemic justice principles in urban planning more generally and street planning more specifically ensures that engagement processes are designed to be accessible to everyone, regardless of their background or abilities. This might involve using various formats and channels for consultation to reach a broader audience and facilitate more meaningful participation.

Epistemic justice also refers to ensuring that the process by which decisions are made is open and transparent, helping build trust within the community.

An additional critical aspect is providing community members with accessible information and tools needed to understand and engage with the planning process.

Inclusive and participatory design for reimagining the streets

The previous section clearly evidences that there is a pressing need to shift towards more inclusive and participatory approaches that prioritise the voices of the community in street planning processes. As previously mentioned, the erasure of social identity differences and the marginalisation of citizen perspectives can perpetuate socio-spatial inequalities and injustices within urban environments. Moreover, embracing a broader conceptualisation of justice, which encompasses procedural and recognition aspects within public decision-making, is essential for fostering equitable and inclusive urban spaces. This entails not only dismantling barriers to access but also ensuring that diverse perspectives are acknowledged and valued in the planning process. This also includes paying attention to the viewpoints of a diverse range of individuals.

Nevertheless, scholars have also called for shifting from looking at individual viewpoints to those of collectives, as discussed in literature on deliberative democracy (Sanoff, 2011). Deliberative democracy is concerned with citizen engagement in dialogue and deliberation, prioritising active participation and processes that generate understanding amongst citizens with different perspectives and interests, leading to more mutually acceptable decisions and solutions (Sanoff, 2016). Underpinning this framework is the idea of collective intelligence (Atlee, 2003), which highlights the ability of groups to synthesize diverse perspectives and experiences effectively, leading to insights and solutions that surpass those of individual members. This approach fosters a sense of shared ownership and leverages collective intelligence to address complex challenges through informed decision-making and dialogue.

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Tools

Developing Strategies for Change During Street Experiments

Many factors at play when it comes to organizing successful street experiments. In our research, we identified enablers and barriers that either support or limit street experiments on their way to triggering system change. Additionally, we recognized the role that municipalities adopt towards street experiments as particularly important in this process. The Developing Strategies for Change workshop brings these findings together and offers an interactive format for civil servants to explore different roles and enable collaboration between departments.

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Tools

Conversation Starter Deck

Organising a street experiment is a complex process. The Conversation Starter Deck is just that – designed to start the conversation about organizing a street experiment. The input for this deck is cards, drawn from insights generated during the EXTRA project. The questions on these cards are intended to provide policy-makers and experiment organisers with an overview of the most important aspects to consider while organising a street experiment. At the same time, it offers a unique and interactive form to engage diverse departments and discuss experiment goals and ambitions.

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Tools

GOAT (Geo Open Accessibility Tool)

GOAT is a digital planning tool designed to enhance sustainable mobility and urban development by integrating various accessibility indicators. It utilizes a broad spectrum of data, including points of interest, buildings, population data, land use, and environmental data. Tailored for local authorities, regions, and planning offices, GOAT aims to streamline planning processes, fostering efficiency, collaboration, and data-driven decision-making. Using OpenStreetMap data, it offers isochrones, multi-isochrones, heatmaps and scenarios supporting walking, cycling, and wheelchair accessibility assessments. Moreover, its digital accessibility facilitates participatory methods, engaging stakeholders, practitioners, citizens, and academics in exploring accessibility impacts in various cases.

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Tools

D4AMS (Dashboard for Alternative Mobility Scenarios)

The Dashboard for Alternative Mobility Scenarios (D4AMS) allows policymakers and mobility experts to explore the mobility outcomes of street experiments and shared mobility options on the city level. Various scenarios are presented for four case study cities: Ghent, Bologna, Munich, and Amsterdam. These scenarios include different configurations of shared mobility options and street closure plans, allowing for comparative analysis. The dashboard website also contains more information on the methodology and outlines major policy guidelines.

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Tools

IAPI (Assessing Inclusive Accessibility by Proximity)

IAPI is a GIS-based quantitative methodology for assessing accessibility, through active mobility, to a basket of daily, essential services at the district and city levels. IAPI measures accessibility by considering how the technical performances and perceived qualities of the neighborhood’s paths and public spaces can influence active mobility for pedestrians, people with reduced mobility, and cyclists. By using open data – mainly from OSM – integrated with crowdsourced information collected via citizen direct involvement, IAPI is designed to maximize scalability, transferability, and the level of customization for context-sensitive applications.

 

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Tools

StreetECHO

StreetECHO is a comprehensive open-source toolkit designed to facilitate stakeholder engagement with communities in the transformation of urban streets, emphasising the importance of diverse citizen perspectives, experiences, needs, and values related to city streets. This toolkit comprises a suite of tools including a data collection survey and a street mapping tool for documenting individual perceptions of street transformation. It also features a dynamic data visualisation tool, allowing users to navigate and engage with aggregated data in real-time. Additionally, StreetECHO offers a detailed workshop protocol for community engagement workshops, ensuring inclusive and effective participation.

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