Kentucky Planners Learn to Engage the Community with Story Mapping

Ever since the 1960s, when Historic Licking Riverside Neighborhood residents rallied for its preservation, it has made a name for itself as a desirable historic neighborhood with an abundance of community clout.

When reporting on the planning developments of such an established neighborhood, a little creativity goes a long way. When Planning and Development Services (PDS) of Kenton County wanted to take a fresh approach in displaying the neighborhood’s achievements since its 2013 Great Places designation, they turned to a tool that is gaining traction with planners: story mapping.

The interactive mapping tool engages users with text, photography, and other multimedia tools. Clicking on colored components of the neighborhood map reveals facts about historic landmarks and parks. Scrolling down through the cascading panels reveals video interviews with residents — including Mayor Sherry Carran.

“[The Historic Licking Riverside] is not just one story,” said Emily Ahouse, preservation & planning specialist at the City of Covington. “There are many facets that can be told through story mapping.”

The story map endeavor at PDS of Kenton County started in 2015, when the Kenton County Plan4Health Coalition was wrapping up itsPlan4Health grant focused on food deserts in the county. The agency had just started exploring story mapping as a tool for displaying geospatial data in a user-friendly and engaging way.

The Kenton County story mapping team: from left, Ryan Kent, Louis Hill, and Trisha Brush. Photo by Pete Berard, public information coordinator at Planning & Development Services of Kenton County.

“Story mapping is a great way to get your point across to an audience without bombarding them with graphs,” said Ryan Kent, GISP, principal GIS data analyst at PDS. When data are contextualized with photos, videos, and text, the public is more likely to engage with the information.

“Civic engagement is part of our heritage,” explains Marc Hult, President of the Historic Licking Riverside Civic Association. “It’s what we do … [the story map] is telling our story, and I think we have a good story to tell.”

The Kenton County Plan4Health team presented the final product at the National Planning Conference in Phoenix that year, where they caught the eye of our Great Places team. Soon after, the master mappers unveiled a story map for the Historic Licking Riverside Neighborhood.

“The complexity of planning is not always obvious to people outside the profession,” admits Louis Hill, AICP, GISP, geospatial data analyst at PDS. “And the [story mapping] process, when it’s done well, can be so collaborative.”

Creating a story map for the Historic Licking Riverside allowed Kenton County planners to tap into the hidden talents of their colleagues. One team member used his video skills to personalize the planning achievements through interviews with community leaders.

So how can technological novices dive into story mapping?

“First, ask your GIS department!” advises Trisha Brush, GISP, director of GIS administration at PDS. But for planners looking to strike out on their own, the Kenton County team recommends starting with ArcGIS online, where planners can create a free account attached to their organization. Esri’s story map gallery is a curated repository of easy-to-use templates.

Story mapping may seem intimidating, but it pays off. The Kenton County story map efforts received the 2016 “Outstanding Use of Innovative Technology” award from the APA Kentucky chapter for their work in this area. One local city official worked with the team to build a story map to lobby the state legislature for a street realignment and was awarded $250,000 in design funds.

Another city official lobbying for a similar project without a story map came back with nothing — now, that administrator is working with Kent, Hill, and Brush to make a story map of his own.

“Being able to interact with [a story map] can provoke emotion,” explains Brush. “That’s how planners interact with people for more feedback and interaction.”

Check out the Planning and Development Services of Kenton County’s latest story map that brings to life the planning behind 2013 Great Places in America designee, Historic Licking Riverside Neighborhood.

October 7, 2016

By Samantha Schipani