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Photo by C.M. Keiner, via Flickr.
Construction cranes over Seattle. (Photo by C.M. Keiner, via Flickr/Creative Commons.)

The City of Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development released a new online feature this week called “Shaping Seattle: Buildings” — allowing users to click on various points on a map to see details and renderings of major projects under development around the city.

Ethan Phelps-Goodman
Ethan Phelps-Goodman

It’s a new way to view the development boom in the city, but if it sounds familiar, it’s no coincidence. The city took note when former Facebook engineer Ethan Phelps-Goodman released his own web app, called Seattle in Progress, using city data last fall. In fact, city officials talked with Phelps-Goodman about his app, but ultimately decided to make their own version.

“Our new map is an interactive opportunity to learn more about what is being built in Seattle, and in your neighborhood,” said Mayor Ed Murray in a post announcing the news. “It is a great step forward in keeping communities more informed and involved in shaping the growth of our city.”

Shaping Seattle
Seattle’s new “Shaping Seattle” site.
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Ethan Phelps-Goodman’s Seattle in Progress site.

Phelps-Goodman had hoped to be able to collaborate with the city instead. Despite what amounts to new competition, he is forging ahead with Seattle in Progress and continuing to add new features and capabilities, including new ways for citizens to understand the transformation of their communities.

“The goal of Seattle in Progress has always been to show how technology can make people better informed and more engaged in civic issues,” Phelps-Goodman said via email. “I think we’ve been very successful in that—in less than 9 months we’ve had over 60,000 unique visitors to the site, bringing in far more people than have ever been engaged in the Design Review process before.”

Phelps-Goodman added, “But as a civic technologist, one of the most impactful things I can hope to do is change how the government itself uses technology. So I’m proud that our work has led the City to update their tools, and I’m flattered that they’ve chosen to model their new site after Seattle in Progress.”

One advantage of Seattle in Progress is that it’s designed for mobile use, using location-based technologies and a lightweight image viewer to let people easily see and view project documents on their phones when they’re walking around a neighborhood and find themselves wondering what’s going up on a specific block.

The city’s site actually shows many more projects than Seattle in Progress does — but that’s because the city includes many projects that have already been completed, which actually makes it more difficult to get a sense for current development projects in a given area.

“Ultimately, I hope that there can be a more direct collaboration between the City and Seattle in Progress,” Phelps-Goodman said. “In the meantime, I’m happy to continue leading by example.”

Phelps-Goodman recently released a subscription-based, professional version of Seattle in Progress with tools and analytics for people in the real estate industry and others to track projects. In addition, he says he’s working on an update to the free version of the site to help residents understand development at a neighborhood level “in a way that’s never been possible before.”

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