Use This Urban Design Tool To Prototype A Different Street Outside

“Key to the Street” lets you take an unpleasant urban scene and sketch in the features you would like to see.

Use This Urban Design Tool To Prototype A Different Street Outside

Let’s say you’re out for a walk one day, and you come across a part of the city that could use some work. You have some ideas–a walkway and park here, some trees and shrubbery over there. You probably just keep it all to yourself. But what if you could put it to paper and share it with the world?


Key to the Street, a new citizen-planning tool, allows for just this. Using your phone, it lets you take a photograph of a site, and immediately start sketching and filling in features. You can then share your concept with the city government, and allow others to riff on your ideas. “People will keep building on each other’s ideas,” says Jessica Lowry, who created the web-based tool. “You will have an iteration process and a refinement happening.”

The goal is to improve the city and educate the public about what’s happening with particular locations, says Lowry, who is working with the city of Austin on the project. As well as drawing ideas of their own, people can also look up what the city is planning for a spot (if anything).

Try a prototype version here, or see a video of the tool in action above.

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Lowry says she was inspired by Candy Chang’s “I Wish This Was” project in New Orleans. After Katrina, Chang placed boxes of stickers and marker pens about the city, asking people to imagine different uses for buildings (many of which were boarded up). Key to the Street is the digital version, with an emphasis on making streets more walkable.

“For me, walkability isn’t just about infrastructure,” Lowry says. “There are lot of examples in the U.S. where there are sidewalks but that doesn’t mean people feel safe walking there. It’s also about the beautification of the environment and making it feel welcoming.”

Lowry is planning a pilot with Austin next January. Volunteers will use the tool to make diaries of what it’s like to travel the city’s public transit, and generate suggestions for improvements. A full version of Key to the Street should be available for other cities next March.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.