Project Title

GIS Story Maps: A Tool to Empower and Engage Stakeholders in Planning Sustainable Places

Collaborating Universities

Marshall University
One John Marshall Drive
Huntington, WV 25755

University of Delaware
Newark, DE 19716

Principal Investigator(s)

Marcia Scott (UD) - Email:
Mingxin Li (UD) - Email:
Sinaya Dayan (MU) - Email:

Funding Source(s) and Amounts Provided (by each agency or organization)

USDOT: $128,199
UD: $128,270

Total Project Costs

$128,199 Federal/$128,270 Match

Agency ID or Contract Number


Start Date


Completion Date



A growing movement recognizes that patterns of land use and development have long-term environmental, social, and economic consequences. Sustainable land use planning, or Smart Growth, can shape vibrant communities, build strong economies, and foster a healthy environment. The American Planning Association (APA) advocates the integration of Smart Growth principles into local government planning practices to “…promote efficient and sustainable land development, incorporate redevelopment patterns that optimize prior infrastructure investments, and consume less land that is otherwise available for agriculture, open space, natural systems, and rural lifestyles.” While there is no universal approach to Smart Growth, APA asserts that comprehensive plans (or Land Use Master Plans) should serve as a foundation for Smart Growth. Comprehensive plans set forth a community vision for growth and development. They should also provide a planning framework for the implementation of local government policies/regulations that achieve a sustainable community (as defined by the Institute for Sustainable Communities)—one that is economically, environmentally, and socially healthy and resilient.

In addition to comprehensive plans, many state and local governments have developed Smart Growth scorecards or assessment tools to help decision-makers evaluate the extent to which land use plans and policies meet their criteria for Smart Growth. These scorecards can help local jurisdictions evaluate the effectiveness of their land use planning and development goals and establish a policy agenda or framework for sustainability.  While the Office of Sustainable Communities at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has collected and organized a wide variety of municipal-level and project-specific scorecards, developed by a number of state and local governments, there has not been an evaluation of Smart Growth scorecards. An evaluation of Smart Growth scorecards is needed to determine best practices that can help jurisdictions of all sizes establish a policy agenda or framework for sustainability.

The MATS UTC research team, led by the University of Delaware (UD), proposes to help fill this gap in the literature with exploratory research on of the use of Smart Growth scorecards as the basis of evaluating community sustainability goals that are set forth in comprehensive plans. A review and assessment of “best practice” smart growth scorecards will be conducted for states and select urban, suburban, and rural local government jurisdictions with the UTC Region 3 area. This approach broadly reflects smart growth principles and represents a significant advancement in the field of the implementation of smart growth techniques and tools. These innovations have great potential impact on designing and testing a scorecard tool for citizens and decision makers to determine whether or not a community is growing smart and implementing policy changes based on scorecard responses.

Contribution of each PI/university?

Researchers from UD and Marshall University (MU) will conduct research from a multi-disciplinary perspective. Scott, a public policy scientist with UD’s Institute for Public Administration (IPA), and Li, a civil engineer with the Delaware Center for Transportation, will focus their applied research efforts by analyzing Smart Growth planning and assessment tools that support community sustainability and drafting case studies. Dayan, the geospatial sciences program manager with MU’s Rahall Transportation Institute, has worked to develop strategic approaches to foster sustainability of rural communities. She will assist by analyzing the applicability of Smart Growth assessment tool criteria to rural communities and drafting rural community Smart Growth case studies.


Potential implementation of project outcomes

Project outcomes will be implemented and disseminated in several ways.  First, a literature review will be conducted to provide a critical examination of state and local government-level scorecards being utilized in the UTC Region 3 area. The literature review will identify scorecard “best practices”—in terms of 1) assessment processes 2) criteria being used to evaluate community sustainability, and 3) the extent to which scorecards are applicable to urban, suburban, or rural communities. A matrix will be prepared to summarize aspects of best practice scorecards being used by states and a sampling of urban, suburban and rural local governments in the Region 3 area.  Finally, case studies will be prepared that highlight practical application of Smart Growth scorecards at state and local government levels.  Outcomes of the research will be summarized in a whitepaper that will be available for dissemination electronically.

Second, an analysis of best practice scorecards will be conducted to develop a framework for an assessment tool/scorecard that can be used for sustainable land use planning in the State of Delaware. A scorecard/assessment tool will be developed that will be a synthesis of identified best practices and be adjusted to reflect the policies and regulatory landscape of the State. Communities outside of Delaware will benefit from the basic strategy outlined in the scorecard, but will be tailored for use by Delaware local governments. The proposed scorecard approach will be evaluated before it becomes widely available for use to ensure its quality. The evaluation will make sure that the approach is useful to the community and achieves its intended objectives. Once tested, the scorecard will be available online via IPA’s Delaware Complete Communities Planning Toolbox and training will be provided via IPA’s Planning Education Training program.

Finally, the broader impact of the project will be further expanded to reach audiences ranging from university educators to land use/transportation/environmental planning practitioners, to students. Educational goals of the project will be achieved by 1) enhancing students’ knowledge and competence in the area of environmental sustainability and 2) providing local government professionals and decision makers with a simple and easy-to-use broad assessment tool for community sustainability. This project is a viable subject for a webinar, which will provide a better understanding of how these research results can be implemented such as 1) the challenges and opportunities of planning for “environmentally sustainable” land uses; 2) the current state of knowledge related to smart growth and development; and 3) the effectiveness of using scorecards to assess proposed smart growth project/policies. The audience for this webinar includes: planning professionals, land use managers/consultants, transportation planners and engineers, elected officials and local government leaders, members of the media, and academics.

A variety of tools are used by IPA ( and, Delaware Center for Transportation (, and Marshall University ( to help disseminate research results to researchers and practitioners from the public and private sectors (e.g., respective websites, E-mail lists, newsletters, and social media).

Final products of this project will be 1) a whitepaper that summarizes outcomes of the literature review and assessment of “best practice” Smart Growth Scorecards in Region 3, 2) development of a scorecard tool for the State of Delaware, which will be tested prior to use and designed to be broadly applied to other jurisdictions, and 3) guidelines for using the scorecard tool as a framework to help communities assess their sustainable land use planning and smart growth practices.


Expected benefits and impacts

A key issue for community sustainability is the relationship between land use, transportation, and environmental planning.  Conventionally, transportation planning has been conducted at a state or regional level while land use planning and decision-making has been made at the local level.  The evaluation smart growth scorecards being used at the state and local levels will identify examples of “best practices” in terms of both the assessment tool and criteria being used to evaluate sustainable policies and practices.  In addition, identifying aspects of/criteria for “best practice” Smart Growth scorecards can provide a framework for local jurisdictions that seek to develop their own assessment tools. The benefit of this approach is that the scorecard is a simple, efficient, and easy-to-use broad assessment tool that allows communities to collaboratively assess whether they have the right tools in place to handle projected smart growth and future development. This approach encourages a collaborative dialogue and active engagement among local citizens and community stakeholders who wish to provide input on public policy decisions that may lead to smart growth practices.

Web Links to Reports and to the Project website