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 – http://www.lincolninst.edu/education/rfp.asp

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

GreaterPlaces – 2015 Innovation Award Winner

Over the next few weeks, we will be highlighting the 2015 Innovation Awards winners announced at this years New Partners for Smart Growth conference. This installment will focus on GreaterPlaces which won the Innovative Tool Award.

GreaterPlaces began as a book concept presenting design and policy innovation to address neighborhood concerns with density and infill development. However the pace of innovation in this field is not a good match for static formats like books and pdfs.  Luckily, interior décor sites like Houzz and Architizer have established good models for interactive, visual design resources.

Using lean startup techniques, the GreaterPlaces team began testing website design for presenting case studies in 2013.  The original site, debuted at the 2014 New Partners conference, aims to solve several different problems facing urban design:

  • Planning silos by sector and audience
  • Ineffective public processes
  • Association paywalls that restrict access to the best resources and networking
  • No one accessible, organized resource with an honest focus on “this is how we got great results”
  • Expensive, narrow sales channels for innovative and/or small firms

Most of all, there did not seem to be a resource taking advantage of Web 2.0: social links, interactivity, intuitive design, in-app organization and more.

This spring, GreaterPlaces will release its “beta” site with more features. So how will it work?

  • User uploaded examples of placemaking, policies and plans: The main product is a trove of case studies, photos and examples of urban design.  We will use data to give continuous feedback to authors and users in order to create case studies that deliver the best information.
  • Interactive forums: Like Houzz, users can post design challenges with streets, economic development, transit, sprawl repair and more.  Community members can respond with their firm or city’s solutions.
  • Marketplace for Goods and Services: Later this year, we will introduce an online marketplace.
  • Future features: users gave us more ideas than we can build on our current budget. If you have ideas, please send to lisa@greaterplaces.com

So what will the impact be?

  • Accessibility: an open source site for all the various stakeholders. Too many good resources are locked behind professional paywalls or lost in the Google-sphere.
  • Efficiency: City design is now a siloed affair, which favors processes by individual sector. By aggregating all topics in one place, we can better understand, present and find solutions for the interlinking aspects of placemaking and governance.
  • Innovation: How many times do we deal with intractable status quo outcomes? Leveraging the best of the web, data and social, we have new tools to spotlight new ideas, smaller firms, and multi-purpose investments.

How can you get started?  You can visit www.greaterplaces.com and sign up now.  You will get a monthly newsletter and the ability to upload your work and participate in online forums. Please contact Lisa (lisa@greaterplaces.com) for more information and please sign up.


New Library of Materials for Teaching Scenario Planning

Over the past several months, a subset of the OPTG has been working to create new resources for planning educators. The Curriculum Committee, lead by Rob Goodspeed at the University of Michigan and including a number of OPTG members as contributors, is happy to announce that they have completed three of the resources the group set out to create.  This work was made possible by all of the group members, but especially Jennifer Minner (Cornell University), Bob Paterson and Tom Hilde (University of Texas), Keuntae Kim (University of Utah), Ray Quay (Arizona State), and Peter Bishop (University of Houston).

The materials have been posted to the group website, and include:

  • syllabi library of courses involving scenario planning and/or innovative GIS, visualization, or other technical tools;
  • A set of laboratory exercises, including data, and a corresponding course structure;
  • course development guide where we have compiled lessons learned from three recent courses offered by group members.

Still in development is a citation library for instructors to use when designing new courses, although the syllabi feature many helpful citations.

These products should be considered works in progress, and we look forward to feedback for how they might be improved in the future.

Winners of the 2015 OPTG Innovation Awards!

The OPTG is pleased to announce the winners of the second annual Innovation Awards. Since 2010, the Open Planning Tools Group has brought together academics, tool developers and high capacity users to improve planning tools and technology. Scenario planning, civic engagement, opportunity mapping, and data standards are just a few of the tool areas in which this group has collaborated.

With initial support from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and the Sonoran Institute, and ongoing support from its members, the OPTG hosts an annual symposium that draws innovators from around the country, as well as monthly calls, a web site, and reports such as the 2012 Advancing Scenario Planning Tools Policy Focus Report from Lincoln Institute. Through this group, tools are becoming more open, accessible, and effective, leading to more informed decisions for the communities that use them. It is in this spirit that we are pleased to announce the winners of our second annual Innovation Awards.

This year, we are presenting awards in three categories. The Innovative Tool Award highlights a tool that has made a significant contribution to the open planning tools landscape. The second award for this year is the Exemplary Implementation Award, which recognizes a planning process or project that utilized planning tools in an innovative manner to create effective public engagement or improved analysis supporting the resolution of a significant challenge. The third award introduces a new category for this year by recognizing an innovative student contribution to planning tools. This award is given specifically to students who have contributed innovative solutions to the open planning tools space – either through cutting edge research or through the advancement of innovative tools.

This year’s winners are:

Innovative Tool Award

GreaterPlaces, a crowdsourced “How To” manual for creating great places. Launched in 2014, GreaterPlaces is an online, visual collection of use cases for placemaking, policies and public participation. In addition, GreaterPlaces provides a platform for engagement and interactivity for anyone and everyone interested in city and town design.

Learn more about the tool at: http://greaterplaces.com

Exemplary Implementation Award
Imagine Hillsborough 2040 | MetroQuest

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 in the creation of a vision for 2040 to guide growth and development in greater Tampa, Florida. The visual and educational software collected input on planning alternatives from approximately 6,000 participants. The resulting vision represents a turning point for the region, calling for smart growth and powerful synergies between land use and transportation.

Learn more about MetroQuest’s Imagine 2040 project: http://metroquest.com/portfolio/imagine-2040-hillsborough/


Innovative Student Contribution to Planning Tools Award
OppMap | University of Maryland

OppMap makes important contributions to the exercise of opportunity mapping by, among other things, including the ability to select and weight opportunity indicators relative to different preferences and making the indices available to the public.

Eli Knaap designed and built a working proof-of-concept OppMap platform while working on his PhD at the University of Maryland. Since then, the platform has continued to grow into a fully featured online application thanks to generous support from outside partners.

Learn more about the University of Maryland’s OppMap tool: http://oppmap.md.facet.com

In addition to recognition for their achievements the award recipients will receive a cash prize of $500. We’ll be rolling out more info about each tool and process in the coming weeks.

INDEX Digital Charrette Participants Iterate to the Best-Performing Scenarios

Local planners in Lee County Florida have ‘painted’ themselves a preferred growth scenario that will form the basis of transportation planning for the 700,000-person Fort Myers region through 2040. Using INDEX Online and the companion SPARC data transformation service, 20 planners from ten jurisdictions and the regional MPO integrated their data into a common schema, built a common palette of desired future land-use types, and painted three alternative growth scenarios aimed at reducing VMT and greenhouse gas emissions.

Planners were able to participate online individually from any location, or as a group in a digital charrette. INDEX is open-source and web-served, so participants only need a web browser, not GIS software. This makes the process more accessible and engaging for non-technical participants, and the group can instead focus on substantive issues and the most goal-responsive scenario. INDEX scores scenarios with user-selected indicators in real-time as ‘painting’ occurs, so participants are able to use that feedback to iterate to a preferred outcome. In the case of Lee County, it was a scenario that reversed earlier projected increases in VMT and GHG emissions, and instead produced significant reductions through 2040. The accompanying video illustrates scenario painting in Lee County, and the project’s final report is available at http://www.spikowski.com/documents-LeeMPO/LeeMPO_Scenario_Report_January2015.pdf.

INDEX Online and SPARC are supporting similar scenario planning initiatives in Mississippi and Minnesota. In Mississippi, the Gulf Regional Planning Commission is using INDEX to introduce and test transit-oriented development concepts in growth planning among three counties and 14 cities as part of its long-range transportation planning. In Minnesota, three counties and 31 municipalities and townships are using INDEX and SPARC to create a common data warehouse, and in a series of digital charrettes, paint and evaluate 2040 growth scenarios in seven transit corridors covering 170 square miles.

More information about SPARC and INDEX is at http://www.crit.com/sparc, or contact Thom York, thom@crit.com.