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CommunityViz®

CommunityViz® software enables users to see what different land use and development scenarios would look like if they were to actually occur. It allows users to create hypothetical scenarios and assess the economic, environmental, social, and visual impacts of those scenarios.

Introduction

CommunityViz® is a GIS-based planning tool supported and distributed by Placeways, LLC. It is an extension to the Environmental Systems Research Institute’s ArcGIS® software. 

CommunityViz enables users to visualize and analyze the environmental, social, and economic consequences of potential land use scenarios. Users can create three-dimensional models of existing or proposed land uses, and present this information to others involved in the planning process. 

Once existing spatial and tabular data (roads, buildings, etc.) is mapped, users can construct hypothetical scenarios with various land use planning choices, growth rates, and other variables to explore the series of impacts these scenarios would have on their community. For example, users can envision how zoning an area residential and a 3% annual growth rate would affect the physical form of the community in the coming years and decades.

While some features of CommunityViz are accessible to users with limited GIS familiarity, tapping the software’s full potential requires GIS skills and planning knowledge. Organizations that do not have the in-house expertise to fully utilize the power of the software would need to work with professional consultants to effectively take advantage of the software.

Municipalities, private consultants, nonprofits, government agencies, and universities across Pennsylvania and in more than 40 countries use CommunityViz.

Planning Benefits

CommunityViz allows users to:

  • Construct future land use scenarios and visualize their real-world impacts on the environment, local economy, and community character. With this analysis, planners and officials can make more informed decisions as they implement land use planning strategies in the short and long term.
  • Generate reports, which present complex information in accessible, easy-to-read formats. Reports can serve as educational tools that help decision makers and the public understand the potential consequences of land development in their communities. They can also inform citizens of the long-term consequences of alternative government decisions regarding zoning and other land use regulations.

Challenges

To benefit from CommunityViz, an organization or government must first be able to:

  • Provide accurate geographic data in order to produce high-quality, useful analysis.
  • Devote staff time (whether or not a consultant is hired) to identify the issues and situations that will be explored.

In addition, an organization or government must have the means to:

  • Hire an experienced consultant, or
  • Invest considerable resources in staff training and purchase CommunityViz software, as well as the basic GIS program, ArcGIS (if it isn’t already owned). See purchasing information on the CommunityViz website.

Key Components

CommunityViz includes two major components: Scenario 360 and Scenario 3D. Each has a variety of features applicable to conservation-specific efforts as well as planning and land use in general.

Scenario 360

Scenario 360 helps users design and experiment with hypothetical scenarios, view the impacts of proposed changes, and connect to three-dimensional visualization tools like Google Earth.

Common uses of Scenario 360 include comprehensive planning, build-out analysis, site selection and evaluation, and visual impact analysis. Scenario 360 can also help with forest management planning, natural hazard risk assessment, habitat fragmentation evaluation, and water quality management.

To learn more, see the Scenario 360 page on the CommunityViz website.

Scenario 3D

Scenario 3D displays potential land use changes and scenarios in an interactive three-dimensional format, making it a useful visual tool for communicating the potential impacts of land use decisions. In Scenario 3D, users can walk through or fly over an area, click on objects to learn more, and follow links to multimedia content. The scenes can be explored by anyone through a free viewer.

To learn more, see the Scenario 3D page on the CommunityViz website.

Case Studies

The following case studies show how various Pennsylvania communities used CommunityViz to study land use options and inform future planning.

Monroe Township (Central Pennsylvania Conservancy, 2009)

Central Pennsylvania Conservancy created a visioning presentation for the Monroe Township Supervisors to help them envision the future of their community and the impacts of land use decisions. The presentation shows a community build-out analysis for the Conservation Zone located within Monroe Township.

View/Download Case Study

Cumberland, Dauphin, and Perry Counties (Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, 2011)

In an effort to update both its Regional Growth Management Plan and Regional Transportation Plan, the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission implemented scenario build-outs throughout its entire service region, which includes 103 municipalities in Cumberland, Dauphin, and Perry counties. The study includes a discussion of the merits and challenges of using CommunityViz for the project.

View/Download Case Study

Allegheny County (Placeways LLC, 2008)

Allegheny Places, Allegheny County’s first comprehensive plan, establishes an overall vision for their future and a road map to get there. The comprehensive plan sets policies for development, conservation, and economic initiatives. The plan provides a framework for the strategic use of public resources to improve the quality of life for all residents.

View/Download Case Study

Milford Township (Center for Sustainable Communities, Temple University, 2004)

This study describes the GIS techniques and methods used to develop and design a growth management plan for Milford Township in Bucks County. It analyzes Milford’s existing zoning and land use plan and discusses a buildout scenario based on that plan, as well as alternative development scenarios, using 3D visualizations.

View/Download Case Study

Additional case studies from around the globe are available online at http://placeways.com/communityviz/gallery/casestudies.php

Additional Information

Visit the CommunityViz website for more information about the software. The website includes detailed descriptions of program features, video tutorials, product support, system requirements, purchasing information, and more.

http://placeways.com/communityviz/index.html

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Case Studies

In response to the interest that the Monroe Township Supervisors expressed in finding a new way of visioning the future of their community and the impacts of their land use decisions, the Central PA Conservancy created a visioning presentation that shows a “community build-out analysis” for the Con…
In an effort to update both its Regional Growth Management Plan and Regional Transportation Plan, the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission implemented scenario build-outs throughout its entire service region, which includes 103 municipalities in the counties of Cumberland, Dauphin and Perry.
Allegheny Places, Allegheny County’s first comprehensive plan, establishes an overall vision for their future and a roadmap to get there. The comprehensive plan sets policies for development, redevelopment, conservation and economic initiatives. The plan provides a framework for the strategic use …
The paper describes the GIS techniques and methods used to help develop and design a growth management plan for Milford Township, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. It analyzes Milford Township's existing zoning and land use plan and discusses a future projection buildout scenario, following existing pla…

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This report discusses a first attempt to use Scenario 360 to set up an application that would report a set of development impacts associated with a sample development to a planning board.
Short presentation on CommunityViz Build-out Analysis
A build-out analysis projects the development that could occur in an area under current law. It enables a community to test the reality of its development regulations against its vision for its future.

Acknowledgements

Nate Lotze is the primary author. Andrew M. Loza is the contributing author and editor. The guide was largely rewritten for the 2017 edition.

Disclaimer

Nothing contained in this or any other document available at ConservationTools.org is intended to be relied upon as legal advice. The authors disclaim any attorney-client relationship with anyone to whom this document is furnished. Nothing contained in this document is intended to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to any person any transaction or matter addressed in this document.
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