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What Story Do You Want to Tell?


Measurement is all around us. We encounter it every day—spanning our personal lives, our community involvement and professional endeavors.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to run a little experiment out of curiosity—to collect examples where I came across instances of measurement, where quantified information was shared to as a part of communicating, conveying progress, making a comparison or telling a success story.


My community garden sends a weekly email itemizing food donations collected from the various plots and distributed to organizations that help people in need, such as homeless transition shelters. On the face of it, this is a list of produce, a quantification of food donated. But it is part of a bigger story of the community banding together to do something for the greater good.




B-Cycle, Denver’s hugely successful bike sharing program which was piloted in 2008 during the Democratic National Convention, recently sent an update to members on its 2010 stats.
They shared that 500 bicycles are now available in 51 stations downtown, the number of bikes checked out by residents, visitors and members, the distance traveled, the calories burned and the pounds lost. Again, this is more than a list of numbers: It is a success story and makes the case for continuing the program, for increasing the number of stations and bikes, and helps to attract additional funding.


The Downtown Denver Partnership captured their pedestrian counts on the 16th Street Mall from this past summer and shared them in an email blast. Why is this important? As the Downtown Denver Partnership states, understanding the pedestrian traffic numbers on the mall helps with the bigger picture objectives of attracting prospective Downtown retailers, developers and businesses; determining the impact of new development; identifying areas for streetscape and amenity projects; and locating areas where increased police presence or cleaning services are needed.


Moving to the project front, Daybreak, a mixed-use residential community development near Salt Lake City, Utah, measured the volume of waste rock from the nearby Bingham Copper Mine reused in both utilitarian and aesthetic ways. This is a very evident display of a sustainable approach that is part of this community’s story.



IMAGE 5: KIDS WALKING TO SCHOOL. The number of students who walk to school at Daybreak (88%) was measured and compared to students in the surrounding neighborhoods (17%) and tells a story of walkability and connectivity.


So what do all these examples have in common?

They are part of success stories. In each example, a story about value delivered or a benefit achieved or a comparison is being communicated. This isn’t just about numbers. At the heart of each of these is a story and the quantified evidence makes the story more compelling. The measurement offers evidence or proof of a value delivered. 

Storytelling is central to evidence-based design. We tell stories all the time—stories of high-performing landscapes, stories of challenges overcome, stories of the value of sustainable approaches. We propose design solutions to clients and must convince them through storytelling to spend more now but show them the long-term benefit and cost savings. We use storytelling to present current projects to secure new work, to convince subconsultants to endorse a particular sustainable approach, or even to hire the best and the brightest.

When working with teams to establish comprehensive sustainability goals for a project, I often ask them, “What story do you want to tell?”  “How are you going to make it compelling and convincing?” “How are you going to generate the evidence to back up your claims?” I urge them to add detail and specificity through metrics.

Integrating measurement into the design process keeps us accountable to the project’s sustainability goals, it adds rigor to the design process, it differentiates our firms, it makes arguments defensible, and it helps to align multidisciplinary teams.

Adapted from the presentation, Evidence: Toward Performance-Based Design, which was an education session at the 2011 American Society of Landscape Architects national conference on November 2, 2011. Allyson Mendenhall moderated a discussion featuring the following panelists: Debra Guenther, Partner at Mithun; Skip Graffam, Partner at OLIN; and Kurt Culbertson, Chairman of Design Workshop.


Reader Comments (4)

I must agree that we may hardly notice it often, but measurements are ubiquitous. You are able to present your point astutely.

November 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDenis Paxton

These success stories are really good pieces of inspirations. The measurements delivered the message very effectively. Thanks for sharing this.

November 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSybil Wieners

This is a very intelligent post! I admire your mind as you view a thing in a wider scope and can make a really good argument about it!

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKurt Whitner

Point well presented! This is a great post worth reading!

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGerard Brightman

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