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LimeWire's Mark Gorton Brings Open-Source To Urban Planning 91

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the place-2-place dept.
mytrip writes to tell us that Mark Gorton of LimeWire fame is translating his knowledge from moving bits to moving people. Taking profits earned from his software business, Gorton is applying them to projects aimed at making urban transportation safer, faster, and more sustainable. "That's not the only connection between open-source software and Gorton's vision for livable cities. The top-down culture of public planning stands to benefit by employing methods he's lifting from the world of open-source software: crowdsourced development, freely-accessible data libraries, and web forums, as well as actual open-source software with which city planners can map transportation designs to people's needs. Such modeling software and data existed in the past, but it was closed to citizens. Gorton's open-source model would have a positive impact on urban planning by opening up the process to a wider audience, says Thomas K. Wright, executive director of the Regional Plan Association, an organization that deals with urban planning issues in the New York metropolitan area."
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LimeWire's Mark Gorton Brings Open-Source To Urban Planning

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 30, 2009 @04:07PM (#26671359)

    There's an active forum on skyscraperpage that loves watching urban development projects.

    Since there's an OCD community for every field.....perhaps this can be used to draw on their contributive energy.

  • by mcgrew (92797) *

    Isn't that term an oxymoron?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jd (1658)

      No, the Oxy Moron is the person who hires an urban planner.

      • No, the Oxy Moron is the person who hires an urban planner.

        No, the Oxy Moron is someone who does urban planning without hiring a trained urban planner. Most of the bad results you see are the result of letting other considerations (usually short-term financial or political) override livability.

        (Disclaimer: I have an undergraduate degree in geography, specializing in urban and regional planning. However, I am not a certified urban planner.)

  • Grues (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by Idiomatick (976696)

    I have my light on and I have matches but my posts seem to get randomly eaten on /. lately. I'm not sure what to do. Is there some way I can be saved from this?

  • by jd (1658) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {kapimi}> on Friday January 30, 2009 @04:31PM (#26671613) Homepage Journal

    Although I would quibble with some of the Prince of Wales' suggestions for urban villages, I think they would make for a sound footing for any kind of open source urban plan, even if they're sub-optimal. Sort of like POSIX is flawed as an OS specification, but starting from POSIX or using POSIX as a guide often produces better results (such as Linux) than starting completely from scratch (the way Windows has).

    I would also point out that optimizing things for mass transit requires that the area in question actually supports meaningful mass transit. Most States either restrict it to a relatively insignificant area (eg: Portland OR's TriMet) or render what is supplied useless (never, ever take a bus in Norfolk, VA, unless you've got a week's supply of food).

    I grew up with British Rail, Greater Manchester Transport and - when they finally appeared - Busy Bee Buses. As much as I had contempt for them - BR once excused their late trains on the wrong type of snow, and a single inspection one year failed over 30% of GMT's buses due to brake failure - the speeds, coverage and level of service would put any American mass transit system to shame.

    Would I accept the UK's level of service in the US? It wold be infinitely better, but I wouldn't regard it with any less contempt. You don't have to go far to be infinitely better than zero. It would need to be vastly more reliable and vastly more dependable and have superior coverage.

    (When you look at the disused stations and abandoned rail lines in the UK, you can get a better feel for what I consider to be an acceptable level of coverage. It must be possible to dispense with cars for the majority of the needs of the majority of the people, or it's insufficient to fix the root problems and will merely delay the inevitable.)

  • Do you really want to live in a city designed by a bunch of fifteen year olds whose idea of a great city is lifted from World of Warcraft?

    • by Chabo (880571)

      Implement a device that allows people to walk through each other. Problem solved.

    • by Ironica (124657) <[pixel] [at] [boondock.org]> on Friday January 30, 2009 @05:19PM (#26672159) Journal

      Do you really want to live in a city designed by a bunch of fifteen year olds whose idea of a great city is lifted from World of Warcraft?

      I've always wished the Los Angeles Basin were encircled with a trench full of molten lava.

      • by nschubach (922175)

        We'd just need the fault line to open a bit more. Then you can have all the molten lava you want.

    • by fudoniten (918077)
      No, I'd prefer my cities designed by bored, unionized salarymen.
    • You're right, it's impossible. Let's look at some examples.

      Could a 15 year old geeks make a good operating system? They did, and it's one of the best in the world? Huh.

      What about an encyclopedia, that's way too complex for a bunch of teenage volunteers to handle. What's that? It's better than anything else, and free as well?

      But--but--my knee-jerk, dismissive attitude towards new ideas has always served me well, and I'm only 20!

  • by rickb928 (945187) on Friday January 30, 2009 @04:41PM (#26671729) Homepage Journal

    Increasing the size of a basketball team from 5 to 40 would not make it a better game.

    Even increasing the size of the court 5-8 times would not make it a better game.

    Of course, increasing the maximum roster from 15 or so to say 40 might have beneficial impact. If you can get the benchwarmers to accept their roles as rarely playing. then you have to ask, what *is* their role?

    TFA seems to imply that more people involved in the planning process is better. I doubt it much.

    While it sounds all nice and open-source-cozy-and-warm, too many chefs spoil the soup. In the input end, more opinions, points of view, and unique ideas could yield some interesting options and maybe a new and better way. But as the planning process goes on, sooner or later decisions have to be made. The crowd is not necessarily better at making these decisions, nor does it make better decisions. Even the smaller group doesn't necessarily make better decisions when you increase the size of the group.

    And opening up the planning process to all comers doesn't even guarantee you get good and talented people involved. You just get more. More is not always better. Knowing when it is and is not is key.

    Some things might benefit, but the reality is that injecting an open-source solution into the urban planning process presupposes that urban planning is failing because of lack of involvement. Maybe it's failing because of acceptance. Or lack of adequate funding. Or a flawed vision.

    Packing us into cities may be more effecient, but as a lifestyle it is not univerally admired.

    Saying we should not be commuting so far to our jobs doesn't change the fact that many of us just don't want to live near where we work. And sometimes our jobs can't be relocated closer to our homes.

    Way it is. Duh.

    • by Ironica (124657) <[pixel] [at] [boondock.org]> on Friday January 30, 2009 @05:24PM (#26672231) Journal

      While it sounds all nice and open-source-cozy-and-warm, too many chefs spoil the soup. In the input end, more opinions, points of view, and unique ideas could yield some interesting options and maybe a new and better way. But as the planning process goes on, sooner or later decisions have to be made. The crowd is not necessarily better at making these decisions, nor does it make better decisions. Even the smaller group doesn't necessarily make better decisions when you increase the size of the group.

      And opening up the planning process to all comers doesn't even guarantee you get good and talented people involved. You just get more. More is not always better. Knowing when it is and is not is key.

      But the fact is, by *law*, we already do have the planning process open to all comers. The issue is not whether there is an opening for public participation, but for how effective that mechanism can be to engender *true* public participation in the process.

      Right now, those with the most resources can use those resources to tie up projects they don't personally like, while those without resources who might benefit from the same project are largely silent. If this software effort can level the playing field so that "all comers" can participate more equitably in the environmental clearance process (where "environmental" includes a variety of socio-demographic factors too, such as historical preservation and quality of life), it would be a great benefit (and maybe, just maybe, the 710 freeway [latimes.com] would finally get finished).

    • Bringing more people in will, in many cases, be useless or counterproductive, tricky engineering problems are often best solved by smallish dedicated teams(or, for larger problems, divided into smaller units that can be solved by smallish dedicated teams). This isn't necessarily inimical to "the crowd" since, despite its name, a lot of "crowd" activity is the work of fairly small numbers of dedicated core people, with large numbers of minor contributors on top(think wikipedia or linux kernel: there are huge
  • ... from LimeWire?
    • Don't tell the RIAA or they'll think there's more money to take!

      Crap, I probably shouldn't have said that...
  • by k1e0x (1040314) on Friday January 30, 2009 @05:08PM (#26672025) Homepage

    Just get rid of the zoning laws so my work doesn't have to be 30 miles away from my house. Traffic problem solved.

    Man I hate City Planners..

    "Ohh no no no nooo citizen.. *THAT* does not go *THERE*. :snobbish laugh: You see it is only *I* who have been given the divine authority to plan this city, only *I* that has the wisdom to know where you should build your house! You wouldn't want some rabble present trying to build a.. :gasp: pig Farm next to your condo would you. (you interject something about land values and how pig farms would probbly choose cheap land..) YOU DISREGARD citizen such things! For it is *I* your majestic CITY PLANNER who decides these "land values" you speak of!"

    Ya know.. When we decide to rid ourselves of 1/3 of our useless population.. these bastards should be first on the ship.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You could easily remove all zoning ordinances (and do everything zoning ordinances are supposed to) by going to a pure land value tax, coupled with payment for all net societal costs. People sitting on vacant lots would be encouraged to develop them, or to transfer title to someone who would. Those whose activities lower the value of the surrounding land would pay higher taxes to compensate, while those who increase the value of the surrounding land -- say, by putting in a park -- could receive a portion of

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Ironica (124657)

        You could easily remove all zoning ordinances (and do everything zoning ordinances are supposed to) by going to a pure land value tax, coupled with payment for all net societal costs.

        That sounds like a fabulous idea, but I'm wondering how feasible it is to evaluate net societal costs? What about situations where some elements would see a particular development as a gain, while others see it as a loss? Do you just tally up the subjective dollar values each individual places on a particular development? If some judgments are weighted differently, how do you arbitrate that?

        For example, if you live in a community that is largely young singles, but with a few families here and there. The

      • by vantar (1123257)
        No, because at least when I was working with zoning ordinances, one of the important factors was fire risk and and no amount of land value has ever reduced a block's burn time. Making sure certain buildings and businesses can't get close has.
    • Ya know.. When we decide to rid ourselves of 1/3 of our useless population.. these bastards should be first on the ship.

      You forget. We're the descendants of the useless 1/3.

    • by Ironica (124657)

      That approach to Urban Planning was rampant in the 1960s and 70s, but has largely gone by the wayside today. Now, planners (and developers) want to see more mixed-use developments that put retail businesses, office space, and homes in communication with each other.

      Ironically, it's the citizens who defend the outdated, inefficient approach to zoning; putting your office near your home would (he fears) lower your neighbor's home value, and so he fights it.

  • by Cathoderoytube (1088737) on Friday January 30, 2009 @05:17PM (#26672135)

    Given the state of Limewire I'm not sure I'd want them involved in Urban planning.

    'And over here we have the hot teenage girl has shaking orgasm memorial park, and across the way is wicked remix plaza, and 700 fake Main streets that give you cancer if you drive on them'

  • It's odd that the news in TFA is mainly about OpenGeo, but it doesn't link to http://opengeo.org/ [opengeo.org] The article says "using OpenGeo, an open-source visualization tool for GeoServer data", but OpenGeo's website says it's consulting and support services, not a tool. I suspect the journalist just got confused?
    • by Ironica (124657)

      He's even more confused than that... while Esri makes the most popular commercial GIS software, the very same shapefiles can be used in GRASS, which is an open-source GIS package originally developed by the military and now maintained by the University of Michigan.

  • I had a sidebar on Open Source software in my comp exam for my Urban Planning degree in 2004. My assigned topic was to do a writeup on new technologies available for general-population paratransit implementations.

    I think I need to send this link to my advisor...

  • Are you bloody nuts? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday January 30, 2009 @05:51PM (#26672543)

    You want the same people who will be hopping around in their underwear, half-drunk, screaming at a television screen this sunday to be involved in how our roads are designed, our bus schedules, rail lines, and more? Allow me to interject some reality here -- there's a reason the public sector only allows people with the word "Engineer" in the job title to work on these projects. They cost millions, sometimes tens of millions of dollars, they effect millions of people, and a screw-up can cost lives or be a logistical nightmare for decades to come. Just think about your morning commute now, and then realize that this situation was created by some of the brightest and most educated minds we have in society today. These people model these problems on supercomputers, applying sophisticated algorithms and methodology that takes months, sometimes years, of slaving at a desk every day, 9 to 5, to effect a merely "acceptable" solution.

    Of course, try telling this to the average driver and you're likely to get a string of obscenities and an "I could do better attitude." With all respect, no sir you cannot. Not anymore than how most of the population thinks they'd be a better president, or a better quarter back, or much of anything else. There are some classes of problems that cannot be solved by simply throwing more people at it. A thousand people working on a problem isn't necessarily likely to come up with a better solution than a hundred, or even ten people, working on the same problem. It's about suitable labor, which is a quality issue, not a quantity one.

    You people should know better than to suggest this. I do not want Joe Average doing urban development, especially when he has enough trouble just getting through rush hour traffic without going postal on someone. And so we come to the part of the discussion where rationality ends and zealotry begins. There are some things that open source methodology will be suboptimal for. Specifically, things that require extreme specialization and/or have exacting standards generally won't have a healthy community of open source developers. There's only so many people in the world with the time, resources, and dedication to perform a given task, and open source development requires a certain critical mass to be reached to succeed.

    Plot a supply and demand curve and if you find those people come at a very high cost any open source development will be labored and frustrated. All open source does is severely cut the labor cost. It does NOT solve the problem of lack of suitable labor resources. This is why open source excels at general purpose systems and applications. Open source is (as a rule) quite flexible. Which is also exactly why it's ill-suited for highly specialized systems with exacting standards -- there are few labor resources in the market to support it. Ergo, those resources are at a premium. Open Source as a broad concept takes under- or un-utilized labor and creates goods and services from it. You won't find much open source development from resources that are being heavily utilized. Or, in plain-english -- college students, the unemployed, part-time workers, etc. That is your labor capital for open source. Not the engineer making $150k a year designing fire-control systems under contract for the military. Chances are, the more established and well-paid you are in the field, the less likely you are to be investing in open source projects.

    So there you have it. Before you hit reply, I just want to remind you that these are general statements, so before you present your edge case in some half-hearted attempt to prove the entire argument wrong, please consider the bigger picture.

    • by Ironica (124657)

      You want the same people who will be hopping around in their underwear, half-drunk, screaming at a television screen this sunday to be involved in how our roads are designed, our bus schedules, rail lines, and more? Allow me to interject some reality here -- there's a reason the public sector only allows people with the word "Engineer" in the job title to work on these projects.

      Yes, because now that Mozilla is open-source, NASCAR dads are committing changes to the project without oversight.

      But seriously... first of all, while all Transportation Engineering is done by engineers, and a lot of Transportation Planning is also, there's also planners (like me) who came through MA programs. I'm not going to be doing the calculations to determine the asphalt crowning to meet up with the manhole cover (though I did actually take Transportation Engineering, and learned how those calculatio

    • xkcd (Score:3, Funny)

      by Dracker (1323355)
      As always, there's an appropriate xkcd for this situation. http://xkcd.com/277/ [xkcd.com]
    • "Just think about your morning commute now, and then realize that this situation was created by some of the brightest and most educated minds we have in society today. These people model these problems on supercomputers, applying sophisticated algorithms and methodology that takes months, sometimes years, of slaving at a desk every day, 9 to 5, to effect a merely "acceptable" solution."

      I think you're vastly overestimating the efficiency and objectivity of the modern American planning process. There may in

  • I work for TOPP (Score:3, Informative)

    by dmayle (200765) * on Friday January 30, 2009 @05:51PM (#26672551) Homepage Journal

    Wow, pretty cool to be on Slashdot (I work for The Open Planning Project).

    With regards to open source, we try to tackle the problem from all sides. We try to create free and open standards for data, we lobby for said standards in government usage of data, and we try to supply the best of breed open source software that uses that data.

    For the most part, the various governments aren't competing with each other for software, so open source makes tons of sense. In addition, the software support business model works very well for governments, because they want to keep this going, and most proprietary shops get bored with supporting a single large customer.

    With regards to urban planning, our original plan was just to open up the urban planning data and see where that got us, but we've actually been spending a lot of time looking at other cities that have already have better urban planning. Amsterdam, Paris, Bogota. Jan Gehl (one of the great moving forces behind better urban planning) basically said that since you can never satisfy all desire for cars (which make up a minority of the population anyway) it's better to scale back just a tiny bit the attention spent on cars and instead concentrate on the people. Since cars take up so much space, scaling back on cars just a small amount opens up huge possibilities for people.

    And also, working for TOPP is great! We do cool things, work on open source, support great causes, and the parties are kick-ass too!

    • I think that's the key statement. And you have to look at it systematically, not emotionally. It's very hard to do. But try this:

      A car is just a tool for moving people around. There are several other tools that can also move people around. The car-tool is very useful for thinly-spread populations that have lots of space to give over to the car's use and who have lots of individual resources to support their individual car.

      But, as soon as they need to move into a space that is reasonably congested wi
      • by Ironica (124657)

        I think that's the key statement. And you have to look at it systematically, not emotionally. It's very hard to do.

        Bah, not *that* hard. The concept of latent demand has been empirically verified many times over. On average, when you add capacity to a congested roadway, it takes about four months for traffic levels to regain or even surpass where they were before the capacity increase.

        The problem is, personal vehicle transportation costs are largely up-front costs, with very little cost per use. Once you've bought a car and paid for insurance, the very low price of gas (no, I'm not joking; even at $5/gallon it's chea

      • by thogard (43403)

        A car is much more than just a transport tool. It can be a mobile office as well as providing isolation, control, projects images of power and others. After all guys still buy cars that appear fast to impress girls. A modern cubical (and its associated hallways) is smaller than the space need by parking space (and its associated lanes)

    • by AlXtreme (223728)

      [...] we've actually been spending a lot of time looking at other cities that have already have better urban planning. Amsterdam, Paris [...]

      You, sir, have obviously never lived or worked anywhere near Amsterdam.

      I don't know the expert opinion on Amsterdam urban planning, but tell the average man on the street that their city has been planned properly and they'll laugh in your face. The only means of transportation here that doesn't suck is cycling, roads and public transportation in the city are either ove

  • I've always wanted to see roller coasters take you to work... Like "Loop the Loop" for Chicagoans... Could raise funds that could be injected into developing the rest of the transportation system, and would sure beat every commute I've ever been in...
  • Unfortunately the article provides little to no substance to help people do urban planning, because it does nothing to support transport planning. All it does is hype a server that allows you to overlay your own data on a map. Well ... the Open Source package GRASS GIS (see http://grass.itc.it/ [grass.itc.it]) already does that, and a host of other useful things besides.

    That's because the software developers mentioned don't start by looking at what's needed to support a planning process (which is a GIS system like GRASS

    • by thogard (43403)

      Grass doesn't do web well since it was it predates the web. When I quit working on it in 1987 it was still mostly FORTRAN but at that time lots of the C interface code was written by me. If you don't like what I did, feel free to rewrite it.

      • by golodh (893453)
        I don't mind that Grass "doesn't do Web well". In fact I don't see the Web part as all that important. It's hip and nice to have, but not something I'd invest a huge amount of time in since it's of little use to me.

        That Grass "doesn't do Web well" could have been the focus of a project that can call Grass library functions to extract an image from a Grass database, provide windows onto it, display those windows, capture user input and store web-based scribbles in e.g. a new layer in a Grass database. That

  • Reminds me a lot of Architecture for Humanity [architectu...manity.org]. Also check Cameron Sinclair's (founder of AfH) talk at TED [ted.com] in 2006.

  • Mark Gorton seems to be getting into another open source project too, LimeBits [limebits.com]. It says it's in alpha, but it's some sort of javascript website sharing exchange. It links to limelabs.com, a Gorton operation.

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