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Redesigning City Streets with a Mobile Phone

Key to the Street is a cloud-based service that allows anyone with a mobile device to participate in the design of public spaces.


Have you ever asked yourself, "What can I do today to make my city a better place to live?"

Up until a few years ago, it wouldn't have occurred to me to ask that question. My city was detached from the forces that managed it. I never had any expectation of influencing the place I called home. I went to work, exercised, paid my bills, hung out with my friends—and my city was simply the place where all those things occurred. It's not that I didn't have any ideas for improving the city; I just never thought about getting involved.

When I attended SXSW Interactive in 2012, I heard two different women deliver speeches that changed how I thought about making change. One of those women was Jennifer Pahlka, the founder of Code for America. She got me thinking about the role of government and how open software could disrupt and improve the old ways of doing things. City services could become better and cheaper through open technology. Anthropologist Amber Case informed all the conference attendees that we were technically cyborgs, being that we are attached to mobile devices that could allow us to become smarter and more efficient.

I came back from the conference incredibly inspired by the possibilities of mobile devices enabling each of us to become a force of positive change in our cities. I thought to myself, many people don't have the time to sit in a city hall meeting to present their concerns and/or ideas to improve their city streets. A previous project with the Environmental Protection Agency of Victoria helped me realize that by connecting as many people as possible and providing the right open source tools, people can and will create positive change for themselves. I came up with an idea for a product so compelling I left my workplace in Melbourne and relocated to Austin, Texas, to begin work on my own startup.

Key to the Street is a cloud-based service that allows anyone with a mobile device to participate in the design of public spaces. The main focus is encouraging more people to walk—the cheapest and easiest way to improve one's wellbeing. I'm starting with a focus on walking because most cities need to scale down to allow for this basic activity—to put the focus on health and sustainability. People are encouraged to use Key to the Street when they're physically standing at the exact location they hope to help improve. Everyone can share their ideas for better designs and learn from one another. Cities can become even better by enabling more people to participate in urban design.

The process begins with you standing in a street area you think needs improving and capturing a photo and the location info in the Key to the Streets app. You then have the option of either sketching and/or dragging/dropping elements on the photo to provide design ideas. There's also an option to send audio or a text message about your ideas.

Key to the Street then collects and analyzes this data for city planners to help them make well-informed decisions for redevelopment projects. Urban designers can use this data generated from local citizens to not only inspire design plans but also give proof to city government that there is a need for street redesign. As a result both citizens and designers accelerate the process of making their cities more walkable.

Please join my team by backing Key to the Street on Kickstarter. The City of Austin is ready to use this tool in a pilot, but I can't deliver it until I'm able to complete more of the development work. There is a plan for scaling the service quickly so that Key to the Street can be available in every city around the world and I've already received interest in funding once the beta version is built.

Anyone can use Key to the Street to create a project to improve any type of public space and invite others to collaborate on ideas. Whoever is interested in participating can use the design tool to sketch on top of a photo or image to submit different ideas. After the pilot is complete in Austin this spring, Key to the Street can be released globally and we'll all be able to use it anywhere in the world. Your support of Key to the Street on Kickstarter today can help make your city a better place to live.

Images via (cc) Flickr user Alex Hayes and keytothestreet.com

This project is part of GOOD's series Push for Good—our guide to crowdsourcing creative progress.

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