The OpenNeighborhood Project uses both high tech tools (Second Life) and low tech (cardboard cutouts) to allow the citizens of Acton, MA to envision the redevelopment of Kelley's Corner, an important town gateway.
In 2008, Tufts' Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning (UEP) partnered with the town of Acton, Massachusetts to develop a new way to involve residents in planning. Their OpenNeighborhood Project allows citizens to take an active role in envisioning the redevelopment of Kelley's Corner, the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Main Street. It features an online computer simulation and parallel low-tech tools to help residents create their own vision for the site.
The project uses the popular video game-like virtual reality software Second Life to allow users to experience and create their own 3D model of the intersection, including virtual sidewalks, trees and other structures. In this online virtual world, project leaders created a "Village Design Center" that let users explore local history and issues and then design and construct buildings and characters, while moving freely and interacting with other users.
High school "technology ambassadors" helped adults to sign up and get acquainted with the virtual neighborhood platform, and Tufts student volunteers held weekly public meetings to help acquaint participants with the Second Life program. For citizens who do not use the computer, project leaders supplied "Visioning Boards" - a map of the site tacked onto a piece of cardboard. Citizens could draw and create foam or construction paper models.
The variety of engagement tools and methods worked to engage hundreds of residents ages 4-80, including many students. Tufts professor Justin Hollander said the project is about improving communication between those who plan cities and those who live there. At the end of the process, there will be a number of different visions and plans for what the neighborhood could look like from residents. The Acton planning department will then take those plans into account when they create a new master plan for the site.