As an active member of your community, you’re probably aware of any modifications your neighbors are planning to their homes. But what about the empty lot six blocks away or your favorite hole-in-the-wall cafe down the street? Even active community members have trouble keeping up with all the planning projects in their area, since it requires continually monitoring their municipality’s website. If you live near municipal borders, that can mean routinely checking two or more websites for new planning applications. But if you live in Australia or the UK, there’s an easier solution: Twitterplan.
Twitterplan is an extension of Planning Alerts, a not for profit organization based in the UK that inspired a sister site in Australia. It is a free service that sends email alerts and tweets about recently filed planning applications; enabling citizens to become more active participants in their communities before construction (or demolition) crews mobilize and it’s too late to take action. Planning alerts seeks to promote open data policies, transparent governments and citizen engagement in participatory planning. Signing up is easy, just navigate to planningalerts.com or twitterplan.co.uk (in the UK) or planningalerts.org.au (in Australia), provide your email and street address, and define the radius for which you would like to receive planning alerts. No more perusing cryptic websites required.
As typical in the government2.0 sphere, one would think these services were being provided by the government, but they’re not. Planning Alerts in both the UK and Australia were founded entirely by volunteers. The Australian version has been embraced by government, with funding coming from the Australian Government 2.0 Taskforce. Conversely, the original UK website has been met with dissidence. The British Royal Mail has a tight grip on postal codes and all services using them for location and mapping purposes. A service provider that Planningalerts.com relies on just recently was shut down and ongoing legal action has resulted in greatly limiting the site’s mapping capabilities.
Government and funding issues aside, obtaining planning information from local authorities and issuing alerts is a time-intensive process. How can you help? If you live in Australia or the UK, encourage your city to adopt open data policies and make information user-friendly, machine-readable and easily searchable. For more information on the best forms of output data see Planing Alerts Guidelines: http://www.planningalerts.com/getinvolved.php