Community Planning Tools that Prioritize Place Based Decisions

Tamara Manik-Perlman from Azavea presents "Community Planning Tools that Prioritize Place Based Decisions" at the 2011 GeoDesign Summit.

Jan 7th, 2011

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00:01I would like to introduce the first of our Lightning Talk speakers for today.

00:03It's going to be Tamara Mamik Perlman from Azavea. Hi.

00:10Hi. I just want to say that it's a pleasure to be here.

00:13I have a background in anthropology and geography, but I currently work for a software development firm.

00:20And I didn't actually...I wasn't aware of geodesign as such until we saw the announcement for the summit and agreed to come.

00:27So what I'm going to be talking about today is a fairly narrow slice of what the geodesign picture is...

00:32...which is the importance of web-based applications for collaborative design decisions.

00:41So I'm just going to back up a bit before I get into the technical details and talk about a classic problem which is... do you identify an area that matches your priorities?

00:50And this is a problem that many planners have faced, but it's also one that we face in our personal lives...

00:55...searching for a house, for instance.

00:57So as an urban resident in Philadelphia, I have a set of priorities that matter to me.

01:02So going to a grocery store, for instance, I consider to be absolutely vital and being able to walk there is really important.

01:11Although I like public transit, I tend to bike to work.

01:14So that's another important factor for me.

01:16I'm also a big eater so it's pretty important to be close to nice restaurants...

01:20...and one of my New Year's resolutions is to buy fewer books on Amazon, so it would be great to be near a library.

01:27So these are abstract values that I have, but they can be concretized in the form of a geospatial model.

01:34So we can take each of those factors that I'm looking at and create a geographical representation of each one...

01:40...assign a weight to it corresponding to its importance to me...

01:44...and then combine those to form a composite picture that reflects my aggregate priorities.

01:51So in this case, for instance, the areas in red best match all of my priorities, whereas the areas in orange match them fairly well...

01:58...and so on until we get to the blue areas which probably wouldn't really be of interest to me.

02:04Now this isn't a new idea.

02:05We've heard over and over again that a lot of what we're talking about here are not new concepts...

02:09...and so Ian McHarg, a landscape architect, talked a bit about this process in his book Design with Nature in the '60s...

02:16...and he did this in a pretty low-fi way which was with transparencies.

02:20He was representing things like slope, soil, bedrock...

02:24...and he could combine those different transparencies to come up with an image much like the one on the right.

02:31There's a little formatting problem here.

02:33But Dana Tomlin in the 1990s, also a landscape architect, pioneered the use of math algebra... representing digital data and then being able to add those digital layers together... produce the same kinds of composites that we're talking about.

02:47Now Michael Goodchild referred a bit to small Deed design in one of the opening speeches yesterday.

02:52And I think a lot of the kind of modeling we're talking about still occurs if you're a GIS analyst or maybe a planner on the desktop.

02:58And Esri has some great tools for doing this kinds of modeling.

03:02A lot of you probably are familiar with ModelBuilder...

03:04...but ultimately this is something that in many cases is still happening in back rooms and back offices.

03:10And only the products of that analysis are taken to the public for feedback.

03:14Now there has been some movement.

03:15A lot of these tools are now available online.

03:18So you can publish tasks and models with ArcGIS Server.

03:23Unfortunately, when we're talking about really actively engaging the public in this kind of process...

03:27...we really need to speed things up.

03:29Time is of the essence.

03:31So the kinds of calculations we've been talking and have seen typically take 10 to 60 seconds.

03:37Now, that's great. That seems really fast.

03:40But, in fact, most of us are probably web users or even mobile web users...

03:45...and we know that one second seems like a long time for something to load.

03:49And so if we're talking about reaching out to the public, they're not going to want to wait 10 seconds or a minute.

03:53They're going to want to have things in subsecond times.

03:55If they're performing an analysis, those results need to be returned right to them.

04:00Additionally, if we're talking about not just modeling with a small group of people in a design charette.

04:05If we're actually talking about moving this to the web...

04:07...we're going to have multiple simultaneous users hitting these kinds of applications...

04:10...and they're all going to be impatient, and they're not necessarily going to be familiar with these tools.

04:15So it's really of the essence to change the way that we're doing this modeling, the way that we're representing it...

04:22...both in terms of user interfaces but also technologically in order to support the public running these analyses themselves.

04:29Azavea was very fortunate to get some funding from US Department of Agriculture to work on rural agricultural development...

04:37...rural economic development.

04:39And we had the opportunity to create a solution that we called DecisionTree.

04:44And it does a couple things for the techies in the audience.

04:46Those of you whose eyes are glazing over, this will be over soon.

04:49Basically, a user with a web browser will construct their model or will weight their preferences.

04:55That set of preferences will be sent by a REST API which sends it to a calculation engine.

05:02That calculation engine is going to break that up into lots of tiny pieces and send those out to distributed worker agents.

05:08They're each going to do their own piece, reassemble them, and then send them back to the user.

05:14And that analytical layer is going to be combined with a visualization layer, a basemap or something of that sort... that they understand the context via analysis that they've just done.

05:24Now you are very fortunate also to have a great client early on in the process in Asheville, North Carolina.

05:31And they had a big store of planning and economic development data that they had...

05:37...and they wanted to leverage and make available to the public.

05:40And so they worked with us.

05:41They saw a little piece about Decision Maps, which was an early incarnation in the city of Philadelphia...

05:46...and approached us about building an application for them.

05:53...and the workflow was pretty similar to what we just talked about, but it runs on the web.

05:57So the first step is for a user to select a set of decision factors.

06:02Now you may not be able to see those, but they're grouped into types.

06:04So there may be proximity to amenities like rivers or interstate exits.

06:09There may be tax incentives, so while an individual business might prioritize something like proximity to an interstate exit...

06:16...Asheville and the state of North Carolina generally also have priorities and opportunities that they'd like people to be aware of.

06:22So state development incentive areas or low tax value areas needing investment...

06:28...are also put in the model to encourage people to take those into consideration in their analysis.

06:33So this is really...this definitely represents a convergence of values.

06:38Asheville also, there's a tab up there that says Scenarios.

06:41Some users might find this interface a bit daunting, you know, picking all these different factors...

06:45...what do I care about, what don't I.

06:47So they've prepackaged some scenarios of selected factors with selected weights so users can just hit Go...

06:53...and then play around and proceed from there.

06:55But any other case, once a set of factors is selected, users will assign relative weights.

07:01So these could be positive if it's a factor that they care about a lot, or it could be negative.

07:07So, for instance, if there's like an environmental hazard or if you're, you know...

07:11...if you're engaging in a form of industry that requires you to be at a certain distance from rivers...

07:15...perhaps you'd weight that negatively in your analysis.

07:20And then finally, user simply hits Create Priority Map...

07:24...and they're returned to a result pretty similar to what we were looking at before.

07:26And this is all on the web.

07:27This is all in a map in seconds.

07:29And this is an interactive map.

07:31So not only are users able to see this visualization, but they're actually able to zoom in, zoom in even farther...

07:41...and up at the top you can see that they're able to change the appearance of the map as well.

07:45So there are different sets of class breaks, different color schemes.

07:49They can adjust the opacity of this decision layer.

07:51They also have the opportunity to add additional layers like zoning information.

07:56And then they can export that map or print it so that they can share it with others.

08:03Additionally, because this is a map that's linked to the City of Asheville's database... can get additional information by clicking on a particular parcel...

08:10...and that's going to retrieve information about that specific location...

08:13...and that's linked up both to Asheville's Development Mapper and Crime Mapper.

08:18So what you see is the integration of multiple different kinds of spatial data in order to inform decision making.

08:24And they've also chosen to integrate that with Esri's Business Analyst Online... they can create a demographic report for the location that they've selected...

08:32...and say, okay, you know, according to my selected criteria, this looks like a great location...

08:38...but let's take a look at the market profile or the housing profile.

08:40So this is really geographic information informing an individual decision-making process.

08:45But it's really in the service of the City of Asheville's overall goals for economic development in the region.

08:51Now Asheville is just one case in which this has been implemented.

08:55In Philadelphia, there's actually an organization we worked with called the Sustainable Business Network.

09:00And we heard a little bit about the triple bottom line yesterday.

09:03They're an organization that's oriented specifically toward people, planet, and profit.

09:08And so they wanted to provide a service for their members that would allow them to make siting decisions as well...

09:13...and in their case, the factors that they were taking into account were a bit different...

09:16...and they reflected these alternate priorities so things like, you know, recycling participation that we had data for...

09:23...served as a proxy for things like interest in the environment.

09:26They might be interested in commercial corridor health which was data that is available for the Philadelphia area...

09:31...or they might be interested in, you know, farmer's markets or street network density if they're [unintelligible] something like walkability.

09:40However, those are both applications that are at the local and the regional scale.

09:45The thing with DecisionTree and this calculation engine is it's really just a technology in a tool.

09:50And so there's a site that's going to be launching in February actually that we've collaborated with OMB Watch and Esri... develop which is a site that allows users to explore Recovery Act funding expenditures.

10:03And this is a national-scale application.

10:06So in this case, users are looking at a different set of things.

10:08They're not actually, you know, weighing a personal decision.

10:11What they're doing is assigning a set of criteria weights.

10:15So they say, okay, you know, where do I consider need to be, and they can weigh each of those factors.

10:20And then what they would do is incorporate spending and then they would be returned a map that shows...

10:27...listen, you know, given the priorities that you've set...

10:30...these places are receiving a disproportionately high amount of funding, these places are not.

10:34So this is's really a technology, not simply an interface.

10:39And finally, a developer in our office is really interested in walkability so he created an application called Walkshed...

10:46...which enables users to visualize walkability to different amenities.

10:49I'm not going to talk about that too much, but I encourage you to visit.

10:53We've also been working increasingly on collaborative applications.

10:56So common spaces, our most recent effort using the same calculation engine, users are able to define a starting point... find a transit method and the amount of time they're willing to travel, not necessarily a distance.

11:08And then in real time, they're able to play with this transit shed, so as they change the amount of time on the slider... grows and shrinks.

11:15They can add additional destinations.

11:17They can add people that they want to be meeting.

11:20So if you have a friend, you know, using a different mode of transit and starting at a different spot...'ll see the areas that are common to both of you, and you can search for points within those areas.

11:29This is definitely individually oriented, but it really emphasizes collaboration and speed.

11:37So what's the relationship of the technologies I've talked about to geodesign?

11:42Well, geodesign as a concept is clearly far, far larger than anything we've said...

11:47...and I know that speed is not necessarily always the best thing.

11:52But in terms of engaging a public that is very much oriented toward web and mobile devices...'s one way of reaching people who aren't necessarily in a position to show up for a design charette...

12:03...or who're constrained by their work schedules who can't necessarily come to public meetings.

12:07It's a way for people to do modeling on their own and to solicit feedback and be returning that feedback.

12:12So there are two major implications.

12:14One, it's really important to design for the web, to make sure that these technologies aren't constrained to the desktop.

12:21And the requirements of that, in terms of technology, are performance breakthroughs.

12:26And that's something that we've been spending a lot of time researching.

12:29Secondly, people are increasingly using mobile technologies.

12:33They want to either collect data or even submit data from the place that they are in the field.

12:38And the implication of that is actually a change in the way that we design our user interfaces.

12:42So a lot of us who've used desktop tools think very much like analysts...

12:48...but thinking about mobile devices and designing for mobile devices forces us to think of it in a very different way...

12:54...and think not about the names of the tools or the processes as we conceive of them...

12:59...but the ways that might more intuitive to the public.

13:01And that lesson can actually be applied to the web and anything else.

13:05So I'm going to finish up by talking a little bit about what we do in these two areas.

13:09Currently we're rebuilding DecisionTree from the ground up.

13:11So right now, it's just able to do weighted overlay, but we're actually going to enable it to do a full array of map algebra operations.

13:19So the kinds of models that Carl Steinitz was talking about can actually be built.

13:24It's just a series of tools, and you can assemble the models that you need, create them on your site...

13:30...provide the tools to the public, and allow people to do modeling...

13:32...and it can be technology that's appropriate to your model and your data and your situation.

13:38We've also sped it up so that we're down to 40 milliseconds from what was about a minute just a few years ago.

13:45So it allows this to happen a lot more quickly.

13:48And finally, we're experimenting with GPUs.

13:51So if there are any gamers in the audience, you're probably aware that GPUs are what allow you... play those first-person shooter games, which are not something I'm into, but they render graphics really quickly.

14:00Well actually using that technology to do raster processing because images like raster data are simply raster forms.

14:09You can actually speed things up 10 to 20 times faster than on a CPU.

14:12So increasingly, the technology is there to bring these tools to the public...

14:16...provided that there's the political will...

14:18...and it would create the social structures that can mediate the use of these tools appropriately.

14:23Thanks very much.

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