1. Mr. Doyon,
    Thanks for exposing this sticker on a door “street art” scam for what it is- snake oil sold by a traveling circus of “experts” and their band of performers who set the tents, and scam the locals.

    You call it inane, I call it kumbayanonics, or the Cult of 501c3ers .

    They are handsomely paid entertainers who can guess the weight of your town’s elephant, but your still on the hook to feed it when they skip town, or that grant runs out.

    Sorry to sound jaded, but as much as we were helped by the selfless, hardworking, and wonderful post Katrina (THANK YOU!!!), our pockets were also picked by an “Exploit us Right” circus.

    Best from Freret Street Uptown NOLA-
    Andy Brott

  2. This makes me think of the eye doctor: Which lens looks better? Lens A… or Lens B? How about now? Lens B… or Lens C? The trick, I think, is to be able to present good options while still allowing real input.

  3. I agree. We call it, quite radically, p2p urbanism, and it’s the methodology we use when planning an alive place. Psychoterapy is the model, or, even better, Socrate’s maieutics: the art of asking and helping people to find their own reality, need, truth – that we don’t know in advance at all.

  4. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking people ‘what they want to see here.’ It’s okay for an opener. It’s compatible with all the good advice which follows in this article. I have a lot of experience in my own creation of preliminary floor plans for single-family homes. I started after collecting likes & dislikes of others’ plans. I use a dynamic approach to functions and spaces and stuff needed. Back to planning, to me it’s not planning unless I start with “bare ground” – as after a tornado. Still haven’t been allowed to start my work. Otherwise you’d have heard of me. Everything else is infill or change. Near where I live, there’s an abandoned property which needs to be torn down & replaced with something else. I’ve been involved in the discussions hosted by the local Alderman. Some neighbors want it all to be one use, while a developer has a much different plan. The Alderman likes my plan the best, and it has some academic support I quoted from a scholarly book, which the others don’t have. I made my plan as a local resident with pretty good education in the field. But formally, I’m still just a “nobody” with no resources to invest; so I don’t know what will happen. There’s still no $$ for demolition.

  5. minor point: steve jobs didn’t invent the smartphone – the entire history of apple is basically taking what already exists and making it better and more consumer-friendly.

    it’s more about realizing the potential for a certain idea and marketing it to the public in a way that people can understand and get behind. but you’re right that we really shouldn’t wait around for the public to tell us what they want – but there also has to be buy-in.

  6. Loved this article! It’s not just about asking questions, it’s about asking the *right* questions.

  7. This is incredibly important. To borrow from disruption expert Clayton Christensen, people don’t buy products,whether the product is a cell phone or a car or a downtown revitalization plan. Rather, they have a problem — a job they need done — and they hire a solution to the problem or a tool to do the job. So the right question becomes not “What would you like to see here?” but rather “What ‘job’ are you having trouble getting done and what would be a great solution?” There are hundreds of relevant ways to ask that question in context so that you get really insightful answers, but the first step is to identify the unmet need.

  8. Pete Frautschi says

    I like this post and the quote from Steve Jobs. Another quote from Henry Ford goes something like this, “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they’d have said, ‘faster horses’.” I think the charrette process is a good tool for urban designers and planners who don’t know the area they are designing- it brings in a lot of information in a short time. But it is a cop out for Urban Designers often with masters degrees and years of experience to defer to amateurs whose only relevance is the location of their residence as having input of equal value. I don’t expect my physician to ask me or any of my relatives for advice on how to set a broken bone, or present me with three “equal” options ranging from ‘do nothing’ to use of the ‘latest greatest techniques.’ I’m not saying local input is not helpful since the more information professionals have the better prepared they are to synthesize it and generate the most optimal design. I am saying that doctors and urban designers are professionals because they are educated and trained in their fields of expertise and they should be better at their profession than random people in the neighborhood. They should accept input that makes sense and disregard faulty input. And I like the idea of asking what the problems are rather than what should go where.


  1. […] designer’s dilemma is finding new solutions for old problems.  The good folks at Placemakers recently considered this in part by questioning how we ask people questions.  Steve Jobs famously observed that many people […]

  2. […] of PlaceShakers reveals that we’ve been working a bit of a theme. It began when I wrote about the failure of planners to ask meaningful questions, and how that not only sets the stage for unmet community expectations, but devalues the art and […]

  3. […] written before about how planners can better work with communities towards successful outcomes, as well as the diverse roles — many requiring no expertise […]

  4. […] on this drum in a March, 2011 blog post. And Scott Doyon has come at the topic from several angles here, here and here. Now, it’s becoming even more clear that what we thought would make everything […]

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