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Scenario Planning Peer Workshop Report - Orlando, Florida

III. Panelist Planning Practices and Observations

A. Envision Utah

Ted Knowlton, Planning Director, Envision Utah


Envision Utah is a non-profit formed in 1997 to evaluate growth issues in Utah. Eighty-five percent of its funding comes from private sources. Envision Utah's initial process in 1997 created a clear civic view of transportation and growth in the area. Some of the agencies that they worked with on this effort included Utah Department of Transportation and Utah Transit Authority. The plan that they created focused on sub-areas within the valley, and each local government adopted the plan as an addendum to their general plans. Their effort also won the American Planning Association's Daniel Burnham Award and the Urban Land Institute's Award for Excellence.

Planning Process

In Utah, there is no regional government, state land-use planning was rejected by a public vote, and a culture of local control and private property rights is engrained in the political culture. Many other states are similar to Utah in these regards. In response to this situation, Envision Utah created a public involvement methodology with the following principles:

Envision Utah's communication pyramid: Base layer = general public; followed above by active citizens; then followed by local stakeholders; topped by regional stakeholders.

Envision Utah considers the following four groups as part of the "Communication Pyramid" (Figure 2) that should be involved in the planning process: regional stakeholders, local stakeholders (e.g., mayors, councilors), active citizens (people who sometimes come to meetings and always vote and take surveys), and the general public. Regional stakeholders should be people like large landowners who are affected by and can implement the plan. This group should also be as diverse as possible. Business leaders are very valuable; they want to see the big picture - quality of life issues - and if they are sold on any given scenario, then the politicians will agree with them. Do not settle for getting the number two person in the local government involved; the mayor needs to be involved so that the media will pay attention and so that people will become interested in the process. Envision Utah's 1997 effort involved the Governor, the owner of the Utah Jazz, the President and COO of Geneva Steel, the CPO for American Stores, the Sandy City Mayor, and Utah County Commissioners. To get active citizens and the general public involved, personalized, hand-signed invitations from the mayor of the citizens' home towns to attend scenario planning workshops proved highly effective, even more so than regular advertising.

Over 2,000 people were involved in workshops that were held throughout the 10-county region. The workshop exercise consisted of:

  1. Purposely grouping people so that there was a random mix of people in each group,
  2. Shading out areas on a map where the group does not want to see the region grow into,
  3. Choosing a starter set of chips that represents various density possibilities (a compact and walkable set, a hybrid set with high infill, a set that represents the current trend with some compact development, and a low density set that represents the current trend - participants are shown images to represent what each type of chip would look like) to accommodate the growth that the region will see over the next couple of decades,
  4. Trading these chips,
  5. Arranging the chips on the map, and
  6. Drawing in roads and transit needed to serve the areas where the chips are placed (once again, participants are shown images to represent the different types of transportation options).

Each group's map was then put into GIS to create layers of density for maps of the region. These maps were then grouped to represent four different visions of growth for the region. Images and maps of these visions of growth were then generated and brought back to the public for their input via videos, mailings, inserts, and polling. Presented with this information, most people liked the scenarios that represented more infill, redevelopment, and growth on new land focused into walkable, transit-oriented communities.

Conclusions and Observations

This process had a number of advantages. In the workshops, Envision Utah found that the big geography represented by the large map and a long timeframe brings people and the random mix of people in each group together. Envision Utah also found that by having to choose where to put chips but not being able to put them on shaded areas, people had to reconcile in their own minds their desire for low-density housing and open spaces. Once this civic view became clear, local officials were able to see what their citizens wanted. Through their work with the region as a whole and sub-areas within the region, Envision Utah found that scenario planning is scalable to whatever size. Planning agencies that decide on a plan through analysis and research, educate the public about the solution, and then announce the plan to the public usually find that they have to then defend the plan and the agency itself. Because the scenario planning approach gathers up the vision from the grassroots and refines it, it is not necessary to defend it because it should already have broad-based support.

Several lessons were learned by Envision Utah throughout the process. The scenario planning process needs to be transparent with trustworthy models as the backbone. Getting people to become emotionally involved is important to get them to buy in to the process and its outcome. To accomplish this, Knowlton suggests that visuals should be used whenever possible and tricky words such as "dense" should be avoided; instead, use words such as "compact" and "walkable." Also, communicate to stakeholders and the public based on values. Last, the sheer number of supporters who are part of a process like this will overcome a small but loud opposition.

B. Wasatch Front Regional Council

George Ramjoue, Planning Manager, Wasatch Front Regional Council (Salt Lake City Region's MPO)


Population growth in Salt Lake City is physically constrained by Utah Lake, the Great Salt Lake, two mountain ranges, and the desert (Figure 3). While desert conditions exist in the area, some sections of the mountains occasionally receive more than 500" of snow a year. Despite these extremes, the area's population is growing 2 to 2$fract12; percent annually and vehicle miles traveled are increasing at two to three times that rate. Currently, a substantial amount of money must be spent on the infrastructure of the transportation system to keep up with demand. Because the region cannot afford this, they are trying to link transportation and land use planning to alleviate the pressure for growth.

Map showing the Wasatch Front georgraphy(mountains to the east, the Great Salt Lake to the west, encompassing the Salt Lake City metroppolitan area) in relationship to urban boundaries and roadway infrastructure.

Planning Process

For many years, Wasatch Front Regional Council (WFRC) has followed a traditional model for planning, piecing together the local land use plans and developing a transportation plan within that framework. Recently, WFRC decided to be proactive by getting local governments to buy into developing a regional plan that links land use and transportation. Accordingly, WFRC has partnered with Envision Utah to employ a visioning approach to transportation planning in the region. Visioning is a component of the scenario planning process that helps the public identify what it wants to see in the region's future. WFRC decided to approach Envision Utah because they wanted to make their long range transportation plan better, and they identified Envision Utah as a valuable local resource. Their partnership started in a group setting with a number of other agencies in the area. After raising some funds, they created a memorandum of agreement and started working together.

WFRC wants to undertake an Envision Utah-type effort with respect to transportation planning. This effort is projected to take two and a half years. For the first time, WFRC is partnering with the MPO to the south, the Mountainland Association of Governments (MAG), in this effort in order to be more regional in its focus. Because there will be a higher public turn out and involvement if local governments become sold on the process and get involved, this coalition of WFRC, MAG, and Envision Utah has been visiting mayors and city councils to get them to identify stakeholders and invite them to the meetings. Leaders of groups that may have specific interests and are large landowners in the area, particularly leaders of the Mormon Church, have been similarly involved in the process.

When selecting a transportation-based scenario during the visioning process, the advantages and disadvantages of each scenario need to be clear so that the stakeholders can make informed decisions. Envision Utah will use a model to process the input from the public to create maps and information that will show the public the impact of each transportation-based scenario on land use. By following this process, people will hopefully see and be sold on the merits of the preferred scenario.

Conclusions and Observations

The biggest asset of visioning is that it expands public involvement tremendously: while few people may show up to discuss a 30-year plan, visioning can involve hundreds and even thousands of citizens. As part of the visioning process, WFRC and Envision Utah hope that people will become aware of problems in the region and will know what they can do to address them. Though the selected vision will form the WFRC's long range transportation plan, implementation of the vision will be difficult unless each of the local governments implement their respective parts of the plan. Denver's MPO, the Denver Regional Council of Governments, came up with a compact, signed by all local governments, that said that each local governmental will conform to the regional plan (available at If needed, a similar compact may be created for the Salt Lake City region.

C. Idaho Transportation Department

Matt Moore, Co-Manager, Idaho Transportation Department

"Idaho's Transportation Future: Getting There Together"

Planning Process

In 2000, Idaho's Transportation Partners (ITP), a partnership that includes the Idaho Transportation Department and other transportation stakeholder groups, wanted to determine the long-term needs of Idaho's transportation system. The Partners created goals, principles, priorities, and a focus on performance to guide their development of a strategy that would enable them to make this determination and address the transportation needs of the state (Table 1). In sum, the focus was on performance; Idaho wanted to be sure its transportation system would move people, move goods and services, and share information while providing accessibility, convenience and choices, affordability, flexibility, safety and security, predictability, and connectivity.

Table 1: ITP's Long-Term Planning Goals, Principles, and Priorities
Goals Principles Priorities
Develop the process equally with Idaho's transportation partners Meet the mobility need Integrate the transportation system so that it is multimodal
Have a 30-year timeline that is unhindered by politics and economics Be flexible and responsive Support the quality of life
Support choices for all individuals
Use technology Be compatible with the environment Provide flexible funding
Meet planning requirements while doing something different (may take longer, but is worth it) Be an asset to the community Integrate transport and land use planning

ITP's strategy to identify the future needs of Idaho's transportation system included:

The town hall polling style of scenario planning, where people are able to vote for different possibilities and see the results right in front of them on a computer-generated image, was particularly helpful because the immediate visual changes that this approach yields really helps people understand things they did not understand before. It also helps that the voting is anonymous, so no one is swayed by the opinion of their peers. Based on this strategy, Idaho then created its Vision of Idaho's Transportation Future.

Conclusions and Observations

Based on ITP's experience, Moore related a number of lessons learned and reasons why Florida should do scenario planning. For scenario planning to be successful, it is important to ensure that there is functional diversity, independent advocacy, scenario adventures, decentralization, performance measurement, and good methods for aggregation. Also, it is important to ensure that the finished document is digestible; the Vision of Idaho's Transportation Future ended up being just 15 pages long. Specific to the lead agency's (or agencies') roles and responsibilities, ITP found that it is important to:

Issues specific to Florida that scenario planning can help address include highway safety, sea level rise due to climate change, population growth, and an aging population. Lessons learned from Idaho's scenario planning process that will help address these and other issues include:

D. Scenario Planning Tools

Brian Betlyon, Metropolitan Planning Specialist, FHWA Resource Center

Given that the premise of scenario planning is that it is be tter to "get the future imprecisely right" than to "get the future precisely wrong" when developing transportation plans, tools can help people involved in scenario planning get the future as "imprecisely right" as possible. Scenario planning can also help communities plan by design instead of by default, meaning that they can make informed decisions on how the actions (or inaction) that they take today will affect the future.

A variety of technology tools can help communities consider scenarios and make better decisions. Betlyon provided examples of several different kinds:

Betlyon presented several examples of how scenario planning has been used. The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission is using scenario planning to assist in development of a new long-range plan for the Philadelphia area. In Charlottesville, Virginia the Jefferson Area Eastern Planning Initiative created a modeling tool capable of concurrently evaluating transportation and land use options, known as CorPlan. Using CorPlan Scenarios, they developed a 50-year transportation and land use vision for the five-county region surrounding Charlottesville. Envision Utah, a public-private partnership "working to keep Utah beautiful, prosperous and neighborly for future generations," involved over 100 partners and the general public in a statewide scenario planning effort.

E. MetroQUEST Software

Dave Biggs, Co-Founder, Envision


Started in the late 1980s, MetroQUEST was developed to help decisionmakers involve the public in the decision making process. The idea behind MetroQUEST was to make the process fun and engaging for the public. After ten years of development at the University of British Columbia, developers succeeded in creating a model that could show the future impacts of current decisions and trends on a real city. MetroQUEST then became a tool to get people together in a workshop setting so that they could see the effects of their choices on the future of their hometown.

Topographic maps showing the population of Vancouver, BC at the year 2040 with two development scenarios: top is compact development, bottom is sprawl.

Planning Process

While the tool has been used around the world, Biggs used Vancouver, British Columbia, as an example to show how MetroQUEST works. Vancouver faces significant growth over the next few decades, but is physically constrained by land and water and its citizens want Vancouver to retain its core values. At public workshops, the goal is to use the model to formulate an idea of the type of trends the public wants to see by asking them questions and having them see the impacts of their answers on the future in real-time. As a first step, Vancouver citizens saw on a map of the region and in various quality of life indicators how current growth trends will transform Vancouver over the next 10, 20, 30 and 40 years. Next, citizens were asked what they wanted to see over the same timeframes. After compiling their responses into various scenarios, workshop participants we able to instantly see the impacts of their choices visually over 40 years. The model showed the public the impacts of the decisions they made on the map of the region (Figure 4) and in the indicators about which they most care. Because their choices are linked to consequences, people found that some of their desires were incongruent with each other and they needed to reconcile what was most important to them and what tradeoff needed to be made to achieve success on their highest priorities. By showing people the outcomes of their assumptions in real-time, the process engaged the participants and created public buy-in for both the process and the plan that emerged from the process.

Conclusions and Observations

Biggs noted other benefits of the model as well. Citizens, for example, were able to see the interaction of transportation and land use. The model was able to show how locating higher densities along transportation corridors resulted in better quality of life indicators than if they were located elsewhere. The model is also able to capture other synergies, such as compact housing for seniors along transit routes, to create more win-win situations. To get public buy-in to the process, it is important to show the public that their most important concerns are being considered. By showing the public the list of the factors that are considered by the model and how their decisions impact their concerns, the public quickly becomes engaged in the process. Using the model is also non-partisan: people become involved once they see that their values - whether they are about the environment, the economy, or what they want for their children - will be impacted by their decisions. The more people that become involved, the more media coverage the process attracts, and more people thereby become involved. A web-based version of the model also allowed people to email their preferred scenario to their government representative.

General lessons learned include the fact that some concerns can be included and projected, but some, like crime, cannot. People need to know this up front; however, crime can still be considered independently. For example, you can discuss the impact of the various elements of scenarios on crime, like how higher densities along transportation corridors might impact crime rates. Additionally, it is important to:

Updated: 12/2/2015
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