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Urban Planning in Charlotte: From Engagement to Equity with ArcGIS

Planners in Charlotte, North Carolina are using ArcGIS to visualize plans and incorporate equity metrics into scenario planning as well as inform and engage with stakeholders and the public. 

Making it easy for stakeholders to better understand urban development

For those of us that live in cities and towns, urban planning is all around us. Yet it can be difficult for non-planners, including stakeholders and the wider public, to visualize and understand planning proposals and scenarios.  

Planners need to consider multiple interrelating factors, develop scenarios and settle on a path that resolves on some set of goals, ultimately resulting in specific configurations of the built environment in which we live, work and play. Translating all these factors and potential plans into an intuitive and visual medium can quickly become costly and time-consuming. Indeed, professionally designed 3D renderings and physical models often require third-party consultation and contracting, introducing additional cycles and costs that are not always justifiable or practical for each proposal—even more so when plans need to be iteratively adjusted over the course of a project.

For the reasons discussed above, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department looked to Esri’s ArcGIS Urban to develop and visualize proposals in 3D and in context, allowing these proposals to be easily understood by key stakeholders. You can read more about this work in the UNC Charlotte Urban article What Will Charlotte Look Like? This New Tool Makes It Easier To Visualize.

Using maps to inform and engage the public

Public engagement is an important part of the planning process. After all, it’s the public that will live within the environments that planners design. However, it can be difficult to facilitate broad public engagement using traditional means. Planning meetings take place during set hours, often in the evening, in physical spaces like schools and community centers. For this reason, it can be challenging for many people, such as those that work during the evening or have multiple jobs, to participate. Digital means of public engagement help make the process more accessible for such people and the public in general.  

As seen below, the City of Charlotte’s Draft Charlotte Future 2040 Policy Map is an example of using digital media – in this case, an ArcGIS Online map – to inform the public of city plans. The map is intended to provide users with clarity and predictability regarding development plans within the city. Moreover, it facilitates feedback by enabling the public to provide and review comments. You can view the map in its entirety here.

Visualizing future developments
In addition to the Draft Future 2040 Policy Map, the City of Charlotte is also using ArcGIS  StoryMaps to provide a more visually rich means of conveying what future development should look like and how they should function. You can view that story here.

City of Charlotte Place Types Story

Putting policy and data into practice

Moving beyond the conceptual to putting plans into action, planners in Charlotte are using ArcGIS solutions to help realize their 2040 Comprehensive Plan. As explained in Esri’s StoryMaps story Equity in Urban Planning, equity is a central pillar of this plan. The City has established an Equitable Growth Framework to ensure alignment with this principle and help inform the decision-making process. To operationalize their drive towards more equitable outcomes, Charlotte planners developed the following metrics:

  • Access to amenities, goods and services
  • Vulnerability to displacement
  • Access to housing opportunity
  • Access to employment opportunity
  • Environmental justice

Esri is collaborating with the City of Charlotte to develop a workflow that integrates data related to the above metrics as informed by the Equitable Growth Framework, with the specific objectives of:

  • Developing an understanding of equity metrics at neighbourhood level using Neighborhood Summaries
  • Conducting suitability analyses and creating development scenarios based on neighbourhood needs

Neighbourhood Summaries

Neighbourhood Summaries allow planners in Charlotte to visualize equity metrics using layers at the neighbourhood level and understand how these metrics compare to other neighbourhoods or the city in general. Essentially, summaries give planners a snapshot of an area, enabling them to understand where access to essential services might be missing and who is impacted by various equity measures. For example, planners can select a Neighbourhood Profile Area and see values such as travel behaviour within an area and visualize layers such as Access to Housing Opportunity.

Housing categories in Charlotte

To learn more about equity in Charlotte’s urban planning, you can view the story.


Planners are called upon to do a lot. They need to develop scenarios that incorporate a multitude of real-world considerations, including and increasingly those related to equity, into their scenarios and ultimately justify their plans based on these considerations. Planners have always had to consult with stakeholders and the public. The historical methods for doing so, however, involve challenges that can make it difficult for planners to facilitate and members of the public to participate. New methods, such as those afforded by tools like ArcGIS Urban, are helping planners overcome these challenges and conduct their work more efficiently and effectively. Indeed, the above examples illustrate how Charlotte planners are using ArcGIS to:

  • Build indicators and metrics
  • Visualize plans and develop scenarios
  • Engage with stakeholders and the public

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.