UBC Graduate Research

Evaluating Touch-Table Technology in Neighbourhood Planning Lay, Erica


The International Panel for Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report (2007), drawing on the work of scientists and climate change experts worldwide, reports that not only can we observe altered climate scenarios across the globe, but that we can attribute these changes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emission levels that are generated by humans and that are higher than normal. The depth of GHG emission reduction needed to reverse climate change must be driven by national and international agreements and initiatives. However, research shows that individual citizens are more compelled to act on climate change initiatives when climate change communication is made tangible and local (Nicholson-Cole 2005; Moser 2010). One of the ways we can do this is to engage people using local government’s most significant public policy tool to address climate change: land-use planning (Andrews 2008: 847). Planning professionals and teams are increasingly using visual technology in planning processes to attract more participants, to convey information on complex issues, and to directly involve citizens in neighbourhood planning, with the intent of empowering citizens in the decision-making processes. Visual technology tools offer promise for helping to articulate more explicit links between urban form (neighbourhood design) and climate change by making information tangible to local users (Robinson in Campbell 2006; Senbel and Church 2011; Sheppard et al. 2011). Using a case-study in Revelstoke, BC, this paper examines how one of these tools can serve to go beyond engagement to mediate instances of empowerment. A team of University of British Columbia (UBC) researchers is in the research and development stage of creating a computer user-interface that enables users to collaboratively design and visualize future neighbourhoods, in both 2- and 3-D, by means of a touch-sensitive table-like computer screen. Over the course of 24 workshops (two separate weeks) in Revelstoke, 48 participants were engaged using this ‘touch-table’ to plan one of two future neighbourhood centres in their hometown. Examining the video and audio transcripts of these workshops with Senbel and Church’s 6-I's of Design Empowerment, results showed that the touch-table augments participatory processes by supporting procedural and substantive learning, information, ideation, and integration in neighbourhood design. The tool showed potential but not direct evidence of integration, inclusion and independence. Recommendations for future use of the touch-table include considering

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