IPA and Marshall University’s RTI Partner on Research of Smart-Growth Evaluation Methods

Few studies have gauged causal linkages between shifting smart-growth agendas and the development of new tools to evaluate smart-growth outcomes. To bridge this gap, a research team comprising staff of the University of Delaware’s Institute for Public Administration (IPA) and Delaware Center for Transportation (DCT), and Marshall University’s Nick J. Rahall, II Appalachian Transportation Institute (RTI) explored factors that have both transformed the concept of smart growth and, concurrently, shaped smart growth evaluation methods and formats. Research was funded by the Mid-Atlantic Transportation Sustainability University Transportation Center (MATS UTC).

The research was conducted in two phases.  A phase one report, The Use of Smart Growth Scorecards/Assessment Tools to Advance Sustainable Land-Use Practices, was published in June 2016 and co-authored by IPA’s Marcia Scott, Philip Barnes, and William Stavru; DCT’s Mingxin Li; and RTI’s Sinaya Dayan, Curtis Jones, Justin Matthews, and Jeff Cragle.  The results of this research reveal that both the concept of smart growth and the development and use of scorecards/assessment tools have co-evolved. Shifting state and federal legislation, leadership, political agendas, and funding have shaped the extent to which smart growth practices are implemented and evaluated at the local government level.

The analysis indicates that a variety of contemporary assessment tools have been developed to provide either qualitative data and/or quantify performance on key indicators of sustainability. Transportation researchers from academia, as well as the public and private sectors, have played an important role in developing models and tools for analyzing smart-growth strategies. Travel demand models are commonly used to assess the impact of smart growth programs. Yet, considerable expertise is required to effectively utilize newer, state-of-the-practice travel forecasting models, which place them out of reach for most local jurisdictions. New assessment tools are being crafted and used to better educate and engage the public through scenario planning and the development of interactive, visualization tools. Further, digital assessment tools offer a much-needed and dynamic platform with which to satisfy mandates for increased transparency, accountability, and participatory public engagement.

A phase two report, GIS Story Maps: A Tool to Empower and Engage Stakeholders in Planning Sustainable Places, was published in October 2016. The study was conducted by IPA’s Marcia Scott and Savannah Edwards (MPA ’17), and RTI’s Sinaya Dayan, Tuan Nguyen, and Jeff Cragle. The research finds that recent changes in geospatial technology offer new opportunities for use in participatory planning processes.  Yet, civic tech as a movement, and public participation geographic information systems (PPGIS) as a discipline, have lagged behind the proliferation of new digital tools that can be leveraged for public engagement purposes.

The IPA and RTI research team used a case-study approach to explore the practical application of GIS Story Maps in planning for sustainable places.  The case-study method provides an overview of each research team’s experience using map-based storytelling, perceived effectiveness of using GIS Story Maps to convey sustainability issues, potential for using this technology to engage planning stakeholders, and lessons learned. While more research is needed, preliminary findings suggests that online, interactive GIS Story Maps are ideal for fostering citizen engagement, providing meaningful context to complex planning topics and concepts, and empowering informed decision making on sustainability issues.

Final reports for both phases of research can found on the MATS UTC website at www.matsutc.org/final-research-project1/. RTI’s GIS Story Map on “Moving Towards Sustainability in Extraction Economies of Appalachia” won third place in ESRI’s 2016 International Storytelling with Maps contest in the Infrastructure, Planning, and Government category.  It may be viewed at: http://goo.gl/BI0cpR.

RTI’s GIS Story Map

IPA created a series of GIS Story Maps to illustrate implementation of complete-communities planning practices in Delaware.  IPA’s GIS Story Map on the Downtown Development District (DDD) program was featured in an August 2016 announcement by Delaware Governor Jack about the expansion of the program and designation of five new DDDs in Delaware. This map and others may be viewed on IPA’s gallery of GIS Story Maps at: http://goo.gl/FSl6fd.

IPA’s Gallery of GIS Story Maps

By Marcia Scott, IPA Policy Scientist