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Creating Livable Communities

Chapter 2: Regional Vision and Community Goals

Key Strategies for Addressing Livability Objectives in Visioning

  • Vision is required.
  • Engage new partners in the visioning process.
  • Develop words and images that reflect the values, culture and desired character of a given place.
  • Create livability indicators tied to community goals.
  • Explore different scenarios to help refine the Vision.

Vision statements or goals are often expressed as desired future conditions such as:

"I want safer places for my kids to play outdoors and safer access to recreation areas."

"I'd like better access to parks and public lands."

"I'd like a reliable transportation system to get to work, school, and health care facilities."

"Housing and transportation costs are too high. We can change that."

"I don't want to spend so much on gasoline each week."

"I wish I could afford to live closer to my job or take transit to get there."

"I want to be able to travel independently using my wheelchair."

What do we want our community to look like in twenty or fifty years? Where will all those new people live and work? How can we maintain a strong economy and encourage job growth? How do we reinvest in our declining commercial corridor or Main Street? Will my kids be able to afford a home here when they grow up? Will I be able to stay in my own home and travel to my daily destinations when I get older or have health issues that limit my mobility? Every person has different expectations and words to describe what it means to have a livable or sustainable community. For some, it means having more time to do the things they want to do (spending less time traveling), and to others it might mean having the financial security that comes from a good job, a diverse local economy and affordable living. Visions describe a desired quality of life. They often include words and images that reflect the values, culture and character of a given place – or the aspirations of a community. For example, an "age-friendly community" describes one where it is easy for people of all ages and abilities to get around.

Visioning is essential in identifying the full range of plans and projects needed to support livable community goals. Without a sense of what is really important to the community, fully integrated planning is not really possible. Supporting livable communities through transportation planning requires getting clarity on the vision and priorities early in the process. This allows for the development of transportation concepts that support local land use, housing, economic development, and environmental goals. Transportation agencies can facilitate this by including a visioning or scenario planning step as part of (or before) the transportation plan update. MPOs, RPOs and State DOTs can also provide technical assistance to support visioning exercises that seek to incorporate livability principles into local plans. Visioning can be as simple as a group brainstorming exercise using phrases written on post-it notes; developed by using community surveys and focus groups; or evaluated and compared using more complex scenario planning techniques.

What If… The Region Grew Differently

The Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments recognized that transportation congestion, carbon footprint, and air quality challenges stem in part from the location of jobs relative to housing affordability in the greater Washington, DC region. In a sense, the region is divided into east and west; the western suburbs have a disproportionate share of total jobs and most of the affordable housing is located in the eastern suburbs. The MPO engaged in a "What If"… scenario planning exercise that allowed planners to test alternative scenarios for locating more jobs closer to affordable workforce housing. The results of this effort are being used by member jurisdictions in updating local planning and zoning policies to encourage more job growth in strategic locations, and in some cases more aggressively implement affordable housing programs in job-rich jurisdictions.

Scenario Planning

Scenario planning is an effective approach to explore different alternatives or scenarios to achieve a particular vision. Typically developed with a long planning horizon (20, 30 or 50 years), scenarios often focus on specific community goals, such as "I want more transit options in our community." Scenarios can help the public visualize potential future change, and demonstrate how different transportation and development approaches stack up against livability principles and community goals. Scenarios can also help decisionmakers to focus on the relative cost and funding of different alternatives. Scenario planning can utilize sophisticated GIS land use modeling and travel demand forecasting software, or it can be as simple as placing color coded sticky dots (representing various types of development patterns) in different configurations on a map and testing those concepts with sketch planning tools.

Scenario development and evaluation is an effective outreach and educational tool to support livable communities. It provides a forum for helping the public, elected officials and cross-disciplinary agency planners better understand how development patterns, transportation strategies, housing choices, and environmental impacts are linked. Scenario planning can broaden people's understanding of various community issues not traditionally addressed through transportation planning. The scenario process ultimately helps communities pinpoint the values that are most important to them and develop a path forward to reach those desired values with buy-in from all involved.

While most scenario-based visions have been conducted at the regional, sub-area, or corridor level, it can also be effective at the State level. States like Maryland and Rhode Island have used scenarios to develop State land use plans. California has funded Blueprint scenario planning efforts for all of the State's MPOs and rural regions. FHWA's Scenario Planning Guidebook, website and peer review resources provide readily available tools in this area (see Resources section).

The Metro Vision scenario planning process for the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) involved the development of different land use and transportation investment strategies. Scenario A represents a compact urban footprint for the region, which assumes that development stays within much of the existing urbanized area, closer geographically to the city center.

The Metro Vision scenario planning process for the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) involved the development of different land use and transportation investment strategies. Scenario B represents a dispersed urban footprint for the region, which assumes that development expands further out geographically from the existing city center.

Regional scenario images from Metro Vision for the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) illustrating different land use and transportation investment strategies.


Community Values, Visions and Plans

The Wasatch Front Regional Council (WFRC) partnered with other public, private and non-profit entities in a visioning process for growth and development called the Wasatch Choices 2040 Vision. The MPO's effort followed Envision Utah, a statewide visioning effort. The Wasatch Choices 2040 vision established guiding principles and community goals that served as the basis for development of the regional long range transportation plan. The visioning included a study to identify the unique values of Utahans, and how those values influenced attitudes towards growth and development. The study was based on the premise that deeply held personal values are the ‘end,’ and the attributes associated with a person's daily quality of life are the ‘means’ that either support or detract from fulfillment of that end. This approach helped create the common language for policymakers to link specific livability policies with community values. Through extensive community surveys and small group interviews, planners identified top personal values and how those values linked to different community issues such as accessibility and housing diversity.

Livability Indicators

During the visioning stage, it is helpful to develop a set of indicators or performance measures to track progress toward achieving community goals. For example, in response to a community goal to provide more transportation choices, a key indicator could be the percent of people and jobs within the region located within one-half mile of a transit stop. Another indicator could be the percent of households within walking distance of a community amenity such as a park, school, library or local retail. Developing basic livability indicators during the visioning stage can provide some clarity on the range of transportation strategies or options that should be pursued in subsequent phases of the planning process.

Livability Principle Indicator
Provide more transportation choices Percent of jobs and housing located within one-half mile of transit
Promote equitable, affordable housing Percent of household income spent on housing and transportation
Enhance economic competitiveness Percent of workforce living within a 30 minute or less commute from primary job centers
Support existing communities Percent of transportation investments dedicated to enhancing accessibility of existing transportation system
Coordinate policies and leverage investment Percent of transportation projects where more than one federal funding source is utilized
Value communities and neighborhoods Percent of housing located in walkable neighborhoods with mixed use destinations located nearby

Public Outreach and Livability

Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation steering committee meeting which included participants representing transportation interests as well as individuals representing economic development, land use, health and human services agency, and housing interests.

In 2011, The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation assembled a multi-disciplinary steering committee to support the development of multimodal and public space design guidelines for the Commonwealth. Representatives included traditional transportation interests as well as individuals representing economic development, land use, health and human services agencies, and housing planners.

Considering livability principles during the visioning and goal setting stage requires engaging non-traditional partners in the transportation planning process. This could include people representing different interest areas or specialties unique to the specific community context. Housing planners, developers, economic development professionals, environmental resource agencies, rural development interests, stormwater engineers, utility providers, public health officials, council on aging staff members, disability advocacy groups, real estate professionals, and property owners are examples of the interdisciplinary perspectives needed.

Getting multiple partners to the table helps to develop a broader understanding of what the community wants and why. It also facilitates information sharing across disciplines to address community needs, and ultimately identify more holistic solutions. Effective public outreach processes can lay the groundwork for broad-based future funding strategies such as leveraging public and private resources. The process can also provide information that can be used to establish goals and livability indicators that drive the development of alternatives and plans. Effective public outreach during visioning also supports environmental justice goals for engaging low-income and minority populations in transportation decisionmaking, to ensure that decisions do not disproportionately burden these populations.

Approaches to Public Involvement and Communications

Engaging multiple partners and the public at every step of the transportation decisionmaking process requires tailoring the approach to the specific community context and the issues being addressed. Strategies to identify a community vision will differ from techniques to prioritize specific projects, or resolve conflict between decisionmakers. Regardless of the strategy, it is important to create a setting where participants can clearly see the links between different policy or project options and broader community goals. This can include a range of meeting formats or communication methods such as: public workshops, surveys, focus groups, one-on-one and small group interviews, newsletters, websites, social media and many more. Social media and Web 2.0 technologies provide an exciting opportunity to generate grassroots enthusiasm and input from younger, tech-oriented, or just plain busy people that may not typically attend workshops. Minority and low-income populations remain disproportionately uninvolved in many transportation decisionmaking processes. Guidance on engaging these populations, emerging trends on environmental justice and other public outreach best practices is available from FHWA (see the resources section).

Updated: 01/03/2014
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