DCT, IPA , MU Research Team Collaborate on MATS UTC Project

[Material taken from University of Delaware Center for Transportation Studies Newsletter:  https://sites.udel.edu/dct/files/2013/12/DCT-UTC-Newsletter-Summer-2015-279n2wk.pdf]

By Bill Stavru

Researchers from UD’s Delaware Center for Transportation (DCT) and the Institute for Public Administration (IPA), along with collaborators from Marshall University’s Rahall Transportation Institute in West Virginia, have been conducting research on the use of smart growth scorecards/assessment tools to advance sustainable land-use practices. Funded by the Mid-Atlantic Transportation Sustainability (MATS) University Transportation Center, the research team is studying how the concept of smart growth and scorecards/assessment tools have co-evolved and are currently being used to assess state, regional, and local sustainability goals.

The core principles of smart growth support landuse management practices that foster mixed-use development, a range of transportation options, pedestrian-scale development, and efficient, compact land use. Because smart growth has significant environmental, economic, and social benefits for communities that choose to curtail sprawl and implement more sustainable land-use practices, its principles are widely accepted and have been advanced in the past several decades by advocacy groups and professionals across all sectors.

To provide communities a means to measure the extent to which plans and policies have achieved local sustainability goals, smart growth scorecards and other assessment tools have been developed by federal, state, and local governments; metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), regional councils of government; and advocacy groups like Smart Growth America. However, many static, paper-based or early geographic information systems (GIS)–based analytical tools that were created and lauded as “best practices” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the late 1990s and early 2000s are now out of date and no longer used.

Few studies have examined whether policy implementation tools provided a method for determining how well communities were meeting sustainability goals, or gauged how new focuses of smart growth align with the contemporary use of smart growth assessment tools. Consequently, the research team is investigating the development, evolution, and use of smart growth scorecards/assessment tools. As part of the study, the research team developed an electronic survey on the current use of smart growth scorecards/assessment tools. The survey was distributed broadly to approximately 250 state, regional, and local land-use and transportation planning practitioners and smart growth advocates in the Mid-Atlantic region.

In addition, to explore the extent to which digital tools are produced, socialized, and used, the research team conducted informational phone interviews with two separate regional planning organizations that have an extensive, sophisticated digital presence. Staff members were interviewed at the New England Sustainable Knowledge Corridor, which represents three regional planning agencies across central Connecticut and western Massachusetts. The second interview was with staff members at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, a metropolitan planning organization that serves Philadelphia and its bordering counties in southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey.

Last, the research team examined the EPA’s use of GIS–based analytic tools. EPA has been involved in the creation of tools and models used to measure land use change and transportation efficiency. The research team studied the EPA’s shift from its use of the Smart Growth INDEX® (SGI), a GIS sketch tool, to its current use of the Smart Location Database (SLD) to address the growing demand for data products and tools that consistently compare the location efficiency of various places.

Preliminary findings show that smart growth and scorecards/assessment tools have co-evolved in recent years and have tremendous potential to not only perform expected analyses, such as quantifying performance on key indicators of sustainability, but also to better educate and engage the public–a smart growth principle that previously has been difficult to operationalize–through scenario planning and the development of interactive, visualization tools.  Further digital assessment tools are offering a much needed, dynamic platform with which to satisfy mandates for increased transparency, accountability, and public engagement.

Members of the University of Delaware research team are Marcia Scott, policy scientist with the Institute for Public Administration (IPA); Mingxin Li, postdoctoral research fellow at the Delaware Center for Transportation; Philip Barnes, postdoctoral fellow with IPA; and Bill Stavru, graduate research fellow with IPA.

UD article 2 UD article UD article 3

The graphics are Web-Based Interactive Smart Growth Maps, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission:  http://www.dvrpc.org/smartgrowth/maps