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Analysis of Scenario and Visualization Tools for Transit‐Corridor and Station‐Area Planning

The Metropolitan Council and a broad consortium of policymakers, foundations, community organizations, and leaders are engaged in the Corridors of Opportunity initiative, which will promote sustainable, vibrant, and healthy communities using the Twin Cities metropolitan region’s emerging transitway system as a development focus. The project includes a Scenario and Visualization Tools component intended to equip and prepare transit corridor initiatives to better use planning support systems technology in community engagement and participatory urban design. An advisory team to the project questioned whether there was a need for such planning tools for engagement and outreach in this instance and whether current technologies are truly viable for use in public meeting settings or by community-based organizations.

The research team of Mike Greco (CURA), Dr. David Pitt (College of Design), and Todd Graham (Metropolitan Council) studied the perceptions of local planners and community organizers toward potential use of three “off-the-shelf” planning support systems (CityCAD, CommunityViz, and Envision Tomorrow) in station-area planning. Through a series of focus groups and surveys, a group of community-based organizations, land-use planners, and technical assistance providers were shown 20-minute demonstrations of each planning support system. Through facilitated conversation, they evaluated the system’s capacity to engage stakeholders in the development of neighborhood plans, present believable visualizations of station development, and evaluate performance implications of station construction on neighborhood environmental quality.

The team found that community organizers expect project sponsors in the public sector to take responsibility for visualization of development possibilities; that both community organizers and planners are skeptical that urban design exploration can or should be done in public meetings or workshops; and that both groups saw little value in putting scenario and visualization tools directly in the hands of individuals and organizations conducting community engagement. As a result, Corridors of Opportunity management decided to suspend the Scenario And Visualization Tools project and reallocate grant resources to advance the overall goals of the Corridors of Opportunity. The results of the project can inform other efforts to use visioning and scenario design tools in public settings.

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