Making cities easier to use

I always have a hard time explaining what we do at The Open Planning Project.  The front page of our website reads: "TOPP is a catalyst.  We empower civil society through software, media, and smart urban policy."  While this makes sense if you think about it for a while, when I first say it to people I'm usually met with blank stares.  I don't mean to dig on TOPP -- a lot of effort went into writing that tagline, and believe me, earlier versions were more abstract and less punchy. Prior to this current version, we had a different tagline: "Virtual tools for real-world change."  That's what our t-shirts still say on them, and I don't mind it.  It has a skyline above it, implying a connection with cities, which I like. But still, I don't think we have a compelling enough elevator pitch -- a description that doesn't take five minutes and a walk-through of our org chart to explain. So recently, I've been trying out something new.  I'm experimenting with the following explanation:

(standard disclaimer)  "We're a non-profit software company; yeah, it's a bit strange, I know." "We build software that makes cities easier to use.  You know, like, making it easier to get around, to interface with your government, and to connect with your neighbors."

This morning, I tried this on a friend at the gym, and I got an "Oh, cool!  You mean like public transportation?  My friend in Seattle was telling me about GPS on buses there -- how come we don't have that in NYC?"  Bingo. So, I'm going to test this out a little more.  Making cities easier to use.  I like it.  I just updated my twitter description with that; we'll see if anyone notices. To get a little more specific, here are some of the questions I think we're trying to answer that fall under this larger goal: How can we make it easier to...

  • get around? (ideally by foot, bike, or transit)

  • interface with government? (who reps me? who supports me?  how can I help?  how can I be heard?)

  • connect with neighbors? (who lives on my block?  what do we have in common?  how can we help each other?)

  • be involved in shaping the future? (combining the two above: connecting with neighbors and interfacing with gov)

Of course, there are plenty of other ways to make a city easier to use, that lots of creative projects (many of them NYC-based startups) are already addressing: How can we make it easier to...

Given all of these questions and more, it's highly likely that Making cities easier to use is still too broad; but there's no question that it's easier to explain, which is a start. And for those of you struggling with similar issues of tagline-choosing, see Seb's brand-spanking-new decision-making tool, which OpenGeo has been using recently during its own tagline discussion. // Photo of crumpled city map by Emanuele Pizzolorusso via MoCo loco

Collect this post to permanently own it.
The Slow Hunch by Nick Grossman logo
Subscribe to The Slow Hunch by Nick Grossman and never miss a post.
  • Loading comments...