4 new tools take some of the guesswork out of smart city planning

At a time when budgets are tight and urban populations are growing, city planners and developers don't have the luxury of taking on major projects and simply hoping for the best outcome. Fortunately, new tools are continually being developed to take the guesswork out of smart city planning.

Longmont, Colorado's approach to project evaluation
To understand how or if major projects, such as a park or major street improvement project, could affect other aspects of city life, the Longmont Public Works and Natural Resources department has an analysis tool that can help them understand how those projects could affect the city's environment, economy and community in general.

Referred to as the Sustainability Evaluation System, it was developed for the city as a process in which employees can evaluate a proposed project on nine primary criteria, among them energy use, best practices and impact on transportation, the environment and the community overall.

The plan came about as the result of a broad spectrum of interests such as local businesses and business organizations, environmental groups and others, according to department director Dale Rademacher. The Brendle Group was hired two years ago to put the system together. It is based on the Envision system, approved by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Public Works Association and others, according to an article in the Longmont Times-Call. Total cost? About $80,000 with some of that amount held in reserve for training.

The Longmont system relies on a computer program employees can use to evaluate major projects. As said Dale Rademacher, Longmont Public Works and Natural Resources Director, told the Times-Call: "The idea is that the process is bringing in people from different disciplines, in the case of our department, it could be bringing in engineers… together with people in the business services area that look at financial impacts with people in the natural resources department all in conversation with each other."

New Bern, N.C.  develops interactive GIS tool to unload vacant properties
The North Carolina city has embarked on an interactive Geographic Information System (GIS) project to promote the sale of city-owned property to developers and other parties. The city owns or co-owns with the county approximately 158 lots and the vast majority are vacant.

"We want to make them usable, get tax revenue from them and build up the city,” the city's Development Services GIS coordinator Alice Wilson told the Sun Journal. "We have property with a $2.4 million tax value just sitting there not being used.”

Wilson said the project makes use of software the city already owns with new functionality to enable more access to the information online and via smartphones. Potential purchasers will be able to see a thumbnail photo of the lot and an interactive map showing what's around the property and information about it. There will also be a link they can use to download property purchase order forms.

An energy calculator for building efficiency
An article in Government Technology reported on the release earlier this month of the Clean Power Plan Energy Code Emissions Calculator from the Alliance to Save Energy and the Energy Efficient Codes Coalition. It's a Microsoft Excel file that illustrates how building energy codes can help planners by giving them data to help them identify possible energy savings.

As Kateri Callahan, Alliance to Save Energy president, put it: "Talk about your 'easy button.' Our calculator makes it simple for state air quality agencies to determine the carbon emission reductions that will be achieved by the adoption and enforcement of the most recent model energy codes, which boost the efficiency of new homes and commercial buildings to historic levels."

Autodesk Urban Canvas enables new planning workflows
At the recent American Planning Association convention in Seattle, Autodesk launched its Urban Canvas tool designed to give planners innovative ways to design, analyze and collaborate with technical, and non-technical stakeholders of regional and urban planning projects.

A blog on the Autodesk site explains that with the tool (available via subscription), "Everything from editing and sharing data for parcels, buildings, zoning, and development project to more rapidly design and communicate alternative scenarios and phasing for proposed development projects can be done within a dynamic graphical environment."

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More city tools? Visit the Visioning and Roadmapping Tools section in the Council's Information Center.