We live in a world where there is constant competition for people’s attention. On a daily basis we can be inundated by information from dozens of social media sites, news aggregators, blog, vlogs, podcasts, twitter, facebook and so on. With more distraction than ever before, how is a simple notice for public consultation supposed to gain traction? How are people going to think deeply about a subject when there are a dozen other things vying for their attention? How are we supposed to encapsulate complex issues and thinking into just 140 characters or less?
This is one of the fundamental challenges with which modern planners are now wrestling…how to break through the noise and truly reach people. How can we get people to really engage with a project and help them to gain an understanding of what is going on? More and more these days, the tried and true method of public meetings, newspaper articles and standard public notices just doesn’t seem to be reaching people like they used to. Most of us feel just too busy, or too distracted, or too tired to read extensively to inform ourselves on an issue.
But not to worry, this is not the end of planning communications, but rather, the launching pad for a renaissance. If we want to truly reach people, we need acknowledge these challenges and push the dialogue forward in new and more creative ways. We need to speak in mediums that people are comfortable with. We need video.
For many, especially the younger generations, video has become the dominant information medium. Television news viewership has surpassed newspaper readership for years. Far too many students watch movie versions of the books they are supposed to be reading. Watching a quick Youtube video is the new “how-to” reference. Simply put, the role of video in society has moved beyond novelty and has become an increasingly powerful information medium.
Within planning, the increased use of video could improve numerous aspects of our field. Besides the clear use as a presentation medium, planners could also benefit from using video as a way of hearing more directly from local stakeholders. Wondering how to redevelop a neighbourhood or make major zoning changes to an Official Plan? A well produced documentary could capture the real voices and realities of life for area residents. People who might never attend a consultation or fill out a survey might find this to be a way to help engage with the process, allowing them to share their perspectives and stories to give planners a real understanding of the area and its people. For public consultations, a concise and visually appealing video showing various artistic representations of a proposed project would mean far more to people than a dry textual description. A 3D visualization with depth and movement can impart a liveliness that images on paper struggle for. The impact that this could have on the public perception of the project cannot be understated.
As society devotes more and more attention to new media, it is becoming increasingly clear that this marks both a powerful challenge and a fascinating opportunity for modern planners. It is essential that we continue to employ innovative new methods and keep up with cutting edge technologies or risk being left behind. Planners should learn to embrace video in the planning process as much as people have come to embrace it in their living process.
Noah Brotman is an Urban Planner at Hardy Stevenson Associates Limited and the newest member of our team. Noah completed his Master of Environmental Studies and Urban Planning at York University. While there, he focused on planning policy development, urban design, renewable energy implementation and community involvement in the planning process. Noah has extensive experience in video production as well as experience in analyzing the impacts of large-scale infrastructure projects on local communities.