The new MAC design guidelines, 2-8-2019, CORRECTED 2-10-2019

Posted on February 8, 2019

This is a continuation of this post, about the Town’s incorrect information on its own meeting schedule, and this post, about what citizens would like to see changed about MAC.  Both posts are from earlier today.

The Board of Architectural Review meeting that was originally scheduled for this morning is now rescheduled to 8 AM 2/15/2018.  Posted with that new meeting notice is the Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) Zone Preliminary Draft Design Guidelines, dated 2/7/2019.  You can pick up a copy from this web page.

I think this clears up a few things for me.

I have done a fair bit of survey work in my time, and routinely used most of the large-scale health-related surveys produced by the Federal government.  I have repeatedly said that it is difficult, if not impossible, to draw firm conclusions from visual preference survey dataTo go from a set of ratings of pictures, to a set of zoning policies, that’s a task for experts.  Certainly beyond my abilities, and I made my living as a self-employed data analyst for close to 20 years.

And yet, the Town’s schtick was that their visual preference survey was going to shape the voluntary design guidelines.  It was going to let Vienna citizens have some input in shaping MAC.

But now, all mention of the survey has vanished.  Not only does the Town not even bother to explain how they used the survey data.  Heck, they don’t even bother to note that the survey was done at all.

CORRECTION:  Turns out, the full and detailed explain of how Town Staff developed changes using the survey pictures was presented in a memo from Town staff to the Planning Commission, not the BAR (available as a .pdf here.)  Here’s the detailed methodology:  “Of the 41 images in the survey, ten were found to be highly rated by citizens. Using these highly rated images as a guide, staff researched and developed design guidelines.” 

Hope that explains it to you, because that’s all you get to know.

Returning to my original post:

And yet, I recognize many of the pictures in these new guidelines.  Hmmm.

Here’s my guess.  They figured out what the guidelines were going to say.  And found a set of pictures that would be acceptable.  Then they made up the survey as a kind of busy-box for the citizenry.  We thought we were driving the car, but the steering wheel wasn’t connected to anything.  The results from the survey had nothing to do with the content of these guidelines.  It wasn’t used to shape the policy.  As I noted in the reference just above, it’s really hard to do that in any objective fashion.  And they didn’t do that.  Instead, best guess, they picked the highest-rated pictures from the survey to populate their the pre-determined guidelines document to ensure that the resulting document would have the highest visual appeal to the average citizen.

Translation:  You took that survey thinking you might change MAC policy.  But all you were really doing was helping fine-tune the propaganda.

So in this world view, the Town has spent its time producing a slick four-color advertisement for MAC. And the visual preference survey?  That wasn’t to shape policy.  That was their marketing research.  So they could sell MAC more effectively.

I’d love to be proven wrong about this, but we’ll see.  Because this is disappointing even by the standards of duplicity that the Town has set regarding MAC.  So it will be interesting to see if they even bother to try to explain how the survey was supposedly used to shape the policy.  Let alone actually describe methodology in detail.

At the end of the day, what I said in the prior posts still stands.  In terms of getting the changes that people appear to want, the Town has spent its time producing this beautiful brochure, full of pleasing but ultimately misleading pictures, mostly of buildings far smaller than what will be produced under MAC.   And as of now, my guess is that the “visual preference survey” was merely a way of optimizing the resulting beautiful brochure as a propaganda vehicle.