Innovation Awards Winners!

The Open Planning Tools Group is excited to announce the winners of the third annual Innovation Awards. We received some very strong submittals this year – further evidence of the rapid rate of advancement in tools and technologies supporting scenario planning.

So, without further ado, this year, we are presenting awards in two categories:

The first award, the Innovative Planning Tool Award, highlights the best new contribution to the development of open planning tools. This year’s winner for goes to Infill Score, a free open source tool for measuring a community’s readiness for infill. This tool provides citizens, planners, and elected officials with a self-assessment tool and action planning tools to focus public and private sector investment and accelerate the implementation of sustainable communities. Congratulations to Infill Score.

Infill Score logo


Our second award for 2015 is the Exemplary Implementation Award, which recognizes a planning process or project that utilized planning tools in an innovative manner. The winner for this year’s Exemplary Implementation Award is PlaceSpeak’s Whitehorse Corridor Alaska Highway Improvement Project. To complement this complex planning process, CH2M Hill utilized PlaceSpeak for their outreach and public consultation. This allowed the Yukon Government successfully develop solutions to address the existing safety and capacity needs of the Whitehorse Corridor. Congratulations to PlaceSpeak.

PlaceSpeak logo


In addition to recognition for their achievements the award recipients will receive a cash prize of $500.

We will post more info on this years winners in the coming days…

Announcing the third annual Innovation Awards! DEADLINE EXTENDED

The Open Planning Tools Group is sponsoring it’s third annual innovation awards program to facilitate the advancement and use of innovative open planning tools. These include tools to enhance community involvement in the planning process and community decision-making, including scenario planning, civic engagement, and impacts modeling. Awards will be made for innovative tool development, for an exemplary implementation effort and for an innovative student contribution to the field.

Pass along to anyone you feel might be interested in submitting. The deadline has been extended to February 1, 2016.

For more information see here.

Thank you for a successful OPTG Symposium

Austin Evening

We wanted to send out a huge thank you to the team at the School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin for hosting this years OPTG Symposium. The group met at the Thompson Conference Center on campus for two days of inspiring presentations and discussions. For those interested in reviewing materials from the event, you can find them on the shared Google Drive.

We also want to thank the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy for generously supporting the OPTG’s ongoing activities and to PlaceMatters for helping coordinate activities.

Till next year!

Advancing innovation in scenario planning

Note: this is a cross-post from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy’s blog.

As part of a growing effort to harness technology for better long term planning, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, in partnership with PlaceMatters, is presenting the 6th Annual Open Planning Tools Symposium at the University of Texas at Austin.

   The symposium is the nation’s top gathering for developers of applications known as scenario planning tools, which help government agencies and the public make decisions about land-use, transportation and other issues that require thinking about the factors that will shape an uncertain future.

   “In the face of climate change, population growth and rapidly changing land use, the availability of technology to help us plan for an uncertain future is more important than ever,” said Armando Carbonell, senior fellow and chairman of the Department of Planning and Urban Form at the Lincoln Institute.

Communities have for many years used software in “visioning” exercises, but scenario planning tools have yet to be widely adopted across cities, counties, metropolitan planning organizations and other agencies that engage in long term planning.

   In 2012, the Lincoln Institute published a report, Opening Access to Scenario Planning Tools, recommending several actions to help expand the use of these tools, including establishing better data standards, providing for public education and technical training, creating a model scenario planning process, and improving interoperability between platforms through the use of open-source software development practices.

   The report coincided with the launch of an online clearinghouse to bring researchers, planners, and software developers together under the banner of the Open Planning Tools Group.

   As one example of how this group is helping to advance planning tools and technology, software developers have added several new tools to Envision Tomorrow, which lets planners and the public test different strategies for shaping the ideal urban community. New features include real-time feasibility modeling for redevelopment, a fiscal impact tool, and cloud-based scenario creation.

   The Lincoln Institute has announced it will support four new proposals to further develop and improve scenario planning tools: 

  • From Social Vulnerability and Neighborhood Effects to Planning Knowledge: Tools for Considering Social Equity in Scenario Planning: This project, led by Robert Goodspeed of the University of Michigan, will create tools to investigate which populations might be vulnerable to planned change, the demographic profile and anticipated well-being of residents for each scenario, and what effects a given scenario will have on the residents of surrounding areas.
  • Alpaca: An Economic Evaluation Plug-In for Scenario Planning Tools: This project, led by Colby Brown of Manhan Group LLC, will create an open software library that will calculate property prices and values as a result of the interaction between competing consumers in the real estate market, enabling the computation of more robust economic indicators to address topics such as housing affordability, fiscal effects, income inequality, and gentrification.
  • Open Vulnerability Mapper: This project, led by Bev Wilson and Arnab Chakraborty of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will support better planning for climate change through an open source tool to map where the most vulnerable people live and where the most hazardous places are. The mapper will be developed for the Chicago area, with a toolkit for adapting it to other places.
  • Scenario Tools for Equitable Corridor Reinvestment and Affordable Housing Preservation: This project, led by Elizabeth Mueller of the University of Texas at Austin and Jennifer Minner of Cornell University, will build on a metric developed for Austin, Texas, which helps cities identify areas most vulnerable to displacement from infill development, where preservation is urgent. It is intended to help replicate this tool in other fast-growing cities, with integration into a widely used scenario planning tool known as ET+.

   These projects support the Lincoln Institute’s goal of fostering better planning practices to address major social challenges such as climate adaptation, housing affordability and inequality. In the coming months and years, the Lincoln Institute will mobilize new research and development to further advance tools that address these challenges and others, such as water resource allocation.


6th Annual OPTG Symposium

The 6th Annual Open Planning Tools Symposium is being held at the University of Texas at Austin on November 18-20th.

Please join us in Austin for our annual symposium on open source tool use and innovation. This two and a half day symposium will be held at the Thompson Conference Center on campus. Building on years of work funded by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, this intimate symposium serves as the country’s leading work-session for open source planning tool developers, researchers, and high-level users. We will highlight key projects coordinated by group members such as the development of a curriculum material library, the annual Innovation Awards and others.

Stay tuned as we update details on this years event.

Tools for Planning: Urban Canvas and Urban Data Science Toolkit

Planning Tool Showcase: Video introduction to Urban Canvas and UrbanSim by Paul Waddell and Jason Oliveira
In our continuing effort to highlight tools for planning, we are excited to share an introductory video of Autodesk’s Urban Canvas. Develeped over the past few years by Synthicity in Berekley, CA, the tools and team were recently acquired by Autodesk. Urban Canvas is a next-generation 3D visualization and analysis tool that can inform design by facilitating early-stage prototyping with easy to use design tools, and intuitive, integrated analytics. It enables a broad set of users and stakeholders to engage in the planning and design process in its critical early stages and follow this through more detailed planning stages. In this video Paul Waddell and Jason Oliveira provide a facinating overview of how Urban Canvas can support planning and design workflows and how it can integrate with tools such as UrbanSim.
For more information on Urban Canvas and UrbanSim, see Synthicity’s website.

Tools for Planning: Envision Tomorrow Plus

Planning Tool Showcase: Video introduction to Envision Tomorrow Plus by Alex Steinberger

Imagine having the innovation and technical ability to look into the future and shape the ideal urban community after test-driving different strategies to see which ones work and which ones don’t – all without having to turn a shovel of dirt, pay for expensive public works projects, or support a redevelopment project that may or may not work.  That’s what Envision Tomorrow does. This innovative open-source software program developed by Fregonese Associates takes the guesswork, the uncertainty, and the “What if?” out of the urban planning equation.

Recent additions to the tool include real-time feasibility modeling for redevelopment, a fiscal impact tool, and cloud-based scenario creation.  While collaboration with HUD and other institutional partners has allowed for tremendous progress in scenario planning technology, more work remains.  This video overview showcases the suite of planning tools that comprise Envision Tomorrow and presents ideas and a call to action for further funding and collaboration to lower technical barriers to scenario planning.


MetroQuest’s Imagine 2040 Hillsborough – 2015 Innovation Award Winner

As part of our continuing effort to highlight the 2015 Innovation Awards winners announced at this years New Partners for Smart Growth conference we wanted to share some information on the winner for the Exemplary Implementation Award. The award this year went to MetroQuest’s Imagine Hillsborough 2040 project.

Imagine 2040 Hillsborough

What happened when Tampa tried online engagement?

MetroQuest is public involvement software with a track record of award-winning planning projects including the “Imagine 2040 Hillsborough” project.
Hillsborough County in central Florida, which includes the city of Tampa, projects its population of 1.2 million will grow by 600,000 more people plus add 400,000 new jobs by 2040. In order to guide its future, the county asked local residents’ to explore potential growth strategies. It wanted to find out what citizens liked and didn’t like about different scenarios as well as consider how current decisions might impact the future.

Imagine Hillsborough 2040smThe project team assumed that the majority of their local community were in favour of the current state of things – automobile oriented urban sprawl with no major density downtown where most people commuted. This assumption was based on what they were used to hearing from the “public” at traditional workshops and meetings.

Working in partnership with the Hillsborough MPO and Planning Commission and Jacobs Engineering, MetroQuest helped engage citizens and businesses online, in workshops and at touchscreen kiosks. With a bilingual presentation in English and Spanish, MetroQuest was used to both share information and educate the public as well as collect comments and opinions on issues around homes, jobs, transportation, and funding.

After using MetroQuest and getting 6,000 responses from a broad demographic, the Hillsborough MPO was shocked tokiosk(imagine2040) see that over 80% were actually in favour of a much more densely populated downtown core with extensive public
transportation options and support for cyclists.

This result was all the more impactful because MetroQuest presented both the benefits and trade-offs of each alternative before collecting their opinions. That meant that people supported this smart growth direction knowing full well that along with the benefits come some tough trade-offs.

After completing their engagement process, the Hillsborough MPO received unanimous approval for their plan and moved to the implementation phase immediately. In the months following the approval they implemented a bike sharing program and a series of other smart growth programs without resistance.

“Professionally, I have tried other methods of public engagement in the past that do not work as well [as MetroQuest]. We often rely on more traditional means like meetings and workshops, etc. that people don’t feel they have the time for, nor are they excited about. Who wants to sit through a 20-minute PowerPoint presentation when they should be home getting kids fed and to bed? The MetroQuest tool looks fast. It looks interesting. It is available to use when the user is available.”

– Katie Habgood, AICP, Transportation Planner, JACOBS Engineering

Learn more about MetroQuest here.


Thinking About the Future with Scenario Tools – APA 2015, Seattle, WA

On April 18th, the OPTG teamed with PlaceMatters, the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, the Sonoran Institute, and the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University to provide a day long training on scenario planning tools and techniques at the APA annual conference in Seattle. The workshop covered the theoretical and practical underpinnings of the way in which communities can use scenario planning tools to consider future choices. This included tools for acknowledging the inherent uncertainty about the future and to help pick actions that perform well over a range of possible futures. Hands on exercises and demonstrations were set up to provide an understanding of approach and how technology can support scenario planning processes. Also included were case studies of communities that have used a range of tools and techniques to plan for their future.

Thanks to Arnab Chakraborty from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Ray Quay from Arizona State University, Brad Barnett from Calthorpe Analytics and Ken Snyder and Critter Thompson from PlaceMatters for co-leading the event. If you weren’t able to attend the workshop, some resources are posted below that might be of interest.


Lincoln Land Institute books and reports:

Other Notable Resources:

  • Quay, R. (2010). Anticipatory governance: A tool for climate change adaptation. Journal of the American Planning Association, 76(4), 496-511.
  • Chakraborty, A., Kaza, N., Knaap, G. J., & Deal, B. (2011). Robust plans and contingency plans: scenario planning for an uncertain world. Journal of the American Planning Association, 77(3), 251-266.
  • Chakraborty, A., McMillan, A., “Scenario Planning for Urban Planners: Toward a practitioner’s guide”. Journal of the American Planning Association (forthcoming)
  • Lempert, R. J. (2003). Shaping the next one hundred years: new methods for quantitative, long-term policy analysis. Rand Corporation.
  • A list of Tools & Techniques for Scenario Planning and Regional Planning put together by PlaceMatters

Funding Opportunity – Planning and Urban Form Research and Development: Enhanced Scenario Planning Tools

The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy has released an RFP that may be of interest to readers:

Planning and Urban Form Research and Development: Enhanced Scenario Planning Tools

You can find the RFP on their website –

The deadline to for applications is May 15, 2015. Please share with folks you think might be interested.