Penn Community Works Project, a collaboration among Hennepin County, the city of Minneapolis, and Metro Transit, aims to improve connectivity/mobility, spur economic development, and enhance livability along Penn Avenue North. The responses collected from the engagements are valuable data because the responses can indicate how people currently perceive these three themes — connectivity/mobility, economic development, and livability — and peoples’ vision of how these themes can be improved, thus achieving the goals of the Penn Community Works Project.
To sort, or code, the data, I went through each response and pulled out keywords that indicated a response referred to one or more of the three themes. Some responses touched on all three themes and were categorized as such but most only addressed one theme. For example, responses that mentioned one or more of the following keywords: parking, transportation, street, bike, walk, bus, car, hiway/hwy/freeway, railroad, commute, road, and repave were coded as data on connectivity/mobility. I looked at each keyword in context of the entire response to determine if the response did indeed fit within the theme. Some responses did not fit into one of the three themes and was thus labeled “other.”
Sorting through the responses, I found my list of words indicating responses fit within the livability theme was more diverse and complex than my lists for the other two themes, connectivity/mobility and economic development. Therefore, I split the livability theme into seven subthemes: safety, housing, health, city processes, public space/built environment, programs/activities, and community.
Finally, I pulled out responses that articulated assets in the community and those that articulated opportunities for improvement. Most questions steered the participant to either comment on an asset or an opportunity. Like the three themes above, some responses indicated both assets and opportunities and some indicated neither. Recognizing what people enjoy about their community, identifying its assets, is an important part of the planning process that is sometimes sidestepped. Knowing what people enjoy about their community and what they want to change gives planners a base from which to work, focus on leveraging the assets and improving the opportunities.
By sorting responses by keywords I attempted objectivity but the practice is still very much subjective. I wasn’t part of the initial data collection and I relied on my personal analysis of how I perceive the three themes and the meaning of each response.
– Rachel Engh
Rachel Engh has a master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs; she’s specifically interested in the intersection between art and the built environment and how to evaluate the impact of community arts initiatives. She has worked with Pillsbury House + Theatre to create a plan to measure the impact of their ArtPlace-funded Arts on Chicago project in South Minneapolis and with PlaceBase Productions to evaluate how rural communities and economies are affected by site-specific theater.