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The Future of Planning

As urbanization continues to shape our cities, the imperative of designing sustainable communities is becoming increasingly pronounced. Local authorities are tirelessly working to create environments that blend functionality, aesthetics, and environmental consciousness, all while grappling with the challenges posed by rapid population growth, changing demographics, and alignment with private sector goals and timelines. Truly, the challenge lies in harmonizing these aspirations and facilitating seamless collaboration between our cities and the development community. The task at hand involves bridging this divide and fostering a more synergistic partnership between these stakeholders.

A solution-oriented approach doesn't just tackle isolated challenges, of which there are many—from the use of static, out-of-date design PDFs to communicate current-day reality, to non-illuminating spreadsheets, and the time-consuming search for land, regulatory, and community data across multiple government sites, and more. Rather, the solution needs to revolve around guiding clients on a comprehensive journey that binds all their capabilities, experience, and technologies to the power of geography—the great immovable denominator.

When we prioritize a holistic stance on geography, positioning location data at the heart of our solutions, we achieve solution integration and synergy across all stages of planning and development, with all partners. This is a win for all Canadians.

This is precisely where Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology emerges as a game-changer to reshape the landscape of future planning. Each phase of land and development progression presents its own array of intricacies and complexities. At Esri Canada, we firmly believe that GIS serves as the integrative technology capable of revolutionizing the entire land and development process through a location data-centric approach. When planning data is viewed through a geospatial system, senior managers can make more informed decisions and become better equipped to communicate the progress of building their communities.

An infographic representing some of the jobs in community planning. In the middle is a blue circle for planning surrounded by seven jobs across acquiring data, designing in 3D, monitoring progress and informing the Official Plan.

Generally speaking, there are four major activities that happen in the planning lifecycle, with several more critical tasks under each activity. A quick summary follows.

Creating the Strategic Plan

  1. Plan and Forecast: Identifying suitable areas for development and predicting future growth patterns. GIS allows municipalities to analyze data and trends, enabling them to identify optimal areas for new communities and shaping the region’s long-term plan.
  2. Find and Evaluate: Locating suitable land for development. Lack of detailed information on potential sites can lead to wrong choices and inefficiencies. Municipal data provides detailed insights into potential development sites, but this data could be in many parts, strewn across multiple departments. A system pulls all of it together – a location-based system!

Actioning the Plan

  1. Acquire: The acquisition of land. Lack of clarity on property boundaries, ownership, and zoning can lead to delays and disputes. Tapping into a municipal GIS offers a comprehensive view of property boundaries, ownership information, and zoning regulations.
  2. Design: Designing a community. Design solutions that are integrated with land data help planners perform spatial analysis, integrate rules, optimize their layout of streets, buildings, and green spaces, and create interactive scenarios.

Advancing the development

  1. Revise: When working in a common geographic system, private and public sector organizations can make real-time adjustments to development plans, enabling them to collaborate faster and respond promptly to changing circumstances.
  2. Service: Identifying optimal locations for physical infrastructure like roads and sewers, and social amenities like parks, schools, and healthcare facilities. Municipalities own authoritative data on the locations of these assets in a GIS.
  3. Submit: Presenting development plans for approval. Insufficient visualization can hinder effective communication with stakeholders. GIS provides comprehensive 2D and 3D visualizations that convey the proposed development's impact on the surrounding area, facilitating clear communication with municipalities.
  4. Review and Approve: Municipality review of development plans. Lack of comprehensive insights can result in delays. A common system used by both developers and city planners enables a more efficient and thorough review process, reducing delays and promoting collaboration between stakeholders.

Building the community

  1. Build: Managing contractors, materials, and timelines during the construction phase. Lack of real-time tracking can lead to inefficiencies in building and reporting. Again, a common system provides real-time tracking of construction progress, enabling effective project management and communication across multiple parties.
  2. Inspect: Ensuring construction quality and safety standards are met. Lack of tools for monitoring construction against approved plans can result in substandard construction.  GIS enables inspectors to monitor construction activities against approved plans, identifying and addressing issues promptly. 
  3. Register and Sell: Marketing of homes. Lack of comprehensive data can hinder effective marketing strategies. GIS provides potential buyers with detailed information about amenities, services, and transportation options. 

The advantages of seamlessly integrating data and planning activities in a GIS are profound. Foremost, it nurtures collaboration between local authorities and developers, granting both parties access to the same data and visualizations. This mitigates misunderstandings and engenders more effective communication and transparency that our communities very much need.

Additionally, the system accelerates the decision-making trajectory, providing comprehensive and precise information that culminates in expedited approvals and fewer project delays. Moreover, the geographic approach facilitated by GIS ensures the realization of sustainable community objectives, resulting in developments that are both functional and environmentally attuned.

In essence, GIS technology doesn't just enhance urban planning; it propels it into a new era of data-driven, collaborative, and sustainable development.

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About the Author

Jeff Lamb is the Director of Planning Systems at Esri Canada. He is passionate about data and the power it has for positive change in organizations and society. Jeff cares about making a difference every day and applying data and analytics to real-world problems. Jeff and his team are working to deploy the first Community Planning Map of Canada.

Profile Photo of Jeff Lamb