Lean Placemaking: How (and Why) Cities should adopt Lean Startup principles

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1. This is my hometown, Wehchesteh Meeyamee, where my most exhilarating memory was playing an ersatz game of frogger as I tightroped down pencil-thin sidewalks, dodging cars as I crossed strip- mall line highways, all to get to a chicken teriyaki sub. 2. Its also a failed product. Back then, I wasnt a researcher, entrepreneur or Lean Startup evangelist. I was a consumer. I consumer of place. An unsatisfied consumer of place. But my Wechesteh story isnt unique. And this is why. 3. Cities are zombies of the startup kind: Theyre operating but not thriving; theyre in a state of limbo: not dead yet not exactly alive. Unfortunately, theres an epidemic of these soulless placeless cities. 4. Cities have spent so much damn time in the building, forget about not grasping the customer problem, they totally misunderstood who their customers were. They built cities for cars, not people. And failed to harness the power of place of placemaking to enrich our lives 5. For cities, getting out of the building means sending out a notice for public approval. Best-case scenario, an angry mob shows up protesting the project; worst case, no one shows up and the doomed-to-fail project THIS gets approved. 6. The fallout is more than just primary- colored storage units amidst residential neighborhoods. Urban highways, desolate public spaces, no-name suburbs, elite enclaves, pedestrian no- man lands, dont make for lovable places. They make us fat, unhappy, isolate us, harm the environment and cost us money. 7. But the thing is that even when cities do engage with the public, its usually way after sending out a request for proposals from experts, that in and of itself often presupposes a solution. This trickle down placemaking process is broken 8. But it doesnt have to be this way. This is the highline in NYC. Its widely successful with over five million visitors a year. Its a grassroots project that started with customer development at the very heart of it: a community-led design competition 9. Cities need to move from an entrenched this is how we do it, build it and they will come, we know best mentality to an evidence-based framework. They need to recognize that while people might not be able to design the solution, theyre the experts when it comes to their pain points. 10. Cities need to listen to what people and places are telling them. Cities need to be more like Lean Startups Cities need to get the heck out of the building. Cities need to adopt Lean Placemaking. This is where my startup can help 11. State of Place is more than just a data analytics platform - it enables cities to get out of the building and into the block. Our app collects data on over 280 built environment features like street trees, parks, sidewalks you name it, we measure it. 12. then aggregates that into the State of Place Index, which quantifies what people love about cities; diagnoses communities physical needs categorized into ten urban design dimensions, and predicts economic performance. But the key is we train the community to collect the data. 13. State of Place not only factors in a citys goals, capacity and budget, but also community or customer inputs. Cities get an in-built customer development platform that helps produce evidence-based hypotheses about problems that communities care about. 14. For example, State of Place allows cities to easily generate falsifiable problem hypotheses like 30 out of 50 residents believe there is not enough green space within close walking distance of their homes. Cities would then run customer interviews to validate that hypothesis, 15. run State of Place analytics to identify potential minimum viable projects, and then select one that addresses the problem from a physical and community perspective, and is poised to maximize return on investment, like transforming parking spaces into a pop-up pocket park. 16. Cities would then use this MVP to test yet another falsifiable hypothesis, this time about product-market fit: the pop-up pocket park will attract at least 150 people over the weekend. 17. If this benchmark isnt met, cites would conduct further customer interviews to understand why: only 50 people visited the pop-up pocket park because it was hard to find. The real problem wasnt a perceived lack of green space, but rather a lack of knowledge of and difficulty accessing existing green spaces 18. Finally, cities could use State of Place to implement the pivot and identify the real solution: create better signage for and provide safer pedestrian access routes to existing green spaces not only easily saving significant amounts of money, but also truly solving the problem 19. So again, cities need to be more like Lean Startups. The promise is the same: if you build something someone actually wants or needs, they will come. If you get out of the building, youll know what that want or need is. 20. State of Place is simply adapting Lean Startup methods for use in Lean Placemaking to help deliver places people love. And the parallels are endless. Lean Startup can change everything. Lets work together to make that happen for cities or otherwise. Thanks very much. @STATEOFPLACEORG MARIELA@STATEOFPLACE.ORG MARIELA ALFONZO STATE OF PLACE TM