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"Univer-city" partnership brings people, technology together.

Urban planning in the 1990s requires a creative approach to projects and problems. This is especially true in a fast-growing small city. Many planning agencies in emerging communities face limited staff sizes and modest budgets, making it a challenge to plan for the future. Nevertheless, current and future residents require services and infrastructure. City officials need data on anticipated development to program expensive public facilities, such as sewer lines, parks and street improvements, years in advance. Planners projecting growth and associated infrastructure needs require reliable data to substantiate recommendations. Economic development, environmental protection and numerous other issues have to be considered as plans are prepared, policies are formulated and programs are implemented. The task is enormous, but help is available, and costs need not be prohibitive.

A University-City Approach

A small city in North Carolina formed a partnership with a nearby university to take advantage of geographic information system (GIS) technology to plan for the future without paying the usual up-front costs of hardware, software and training. The innovative joint effort between the City of Concord, whose population is 31,000, and the University of North-Carolina at Charlotte (UNC-C) fostered new ways to meet urban growth challenges.

Concord and UNC-C teamed up to integrate known GIS capabilities into city operations and to research new ones. During the past seven years, the Concord planning staff and the UNC-C geography faculty have cooperated on a variety of efforts. In 1990, UNC-C agreed to let Concord use the university's state-of-the-art GIS to assist the city with its planning efforts.

Concord faced two primary tasks. The first involved incorporating GIS into planning for the future of this rapidly growing community. Concord is located northeast of Charlotte in the southern piedmont of the state. The seven-country Charlotte metropolitan area has a population of more than 1.2 million people. From center to center the two cities are 22 miles apart, but only 1.5 miles separate their city limits. UNC-C and the University Research Park are located on the edge of Charlotte nearest Concord. With this catalyst for development between them, the two communities grew together from both directions. Rapid urbanization and annexation made it critical for Concord to employ fundamentally sound tools to plan for the future. Long-range growth plans and policies had been adopted by Charlotte, but such efforts essentially were nonexistent in Concord. The city and its surrounding growth areas needed a long-range development plan based on a thorough assessment of environmental conditions refined with input from the public.

The second task concerned creating an integrated citywide interdepartmental GIS, diagrammed in Exhibit 1. The technology's potential complexity and cost compelled city staff members to move cautiously. A team approach was employed from the outset. The city engineer, already a computer-aided design user, joined the planning director in formulating initial steps toward obtaining a GIS. Private consultants were to be hired to guide city staff members through the labyrinth of information that confronts any aspiring GIS user, but budget cuts dictated otherwise. Lacking funding to hire consultants, the city manager appointed a GIS study committee comprised of staff members from eight city departments: engineering, finance, fire, information systems, planning, police, public works and utilities. The study-committee members agreed that the GIS would have to be an integrated system with all departments networked as effectively as possible.

The Partnership and the Project

After a series of meetings to discuss possibilities, it was determined that the joint project could be undertaken. The city and the university formed a contractual partnership to address Concord's growth-plan needs. It was decided that the growth planning project should be the pilot effort toward building the interdepartmental citywide GIS. The city committed funding and personnel; the university provided hardware, software, expertise and training for three city staff members. Funding was obtained from Concord's general fund for three fiscal years. Six graduate students who have worked on the project team have benefited from the funds. One UNC-C faculty member and the Concord planning director jointly directed the project team, which was composed of city planning staff members and UNC-C graduate students. Further development of the partnership involved inviting the Cabarrus County planning staff to participate, because two-thirds of the study area was located outside the Concord city limits. This provided an opportunity to initiate joint planning between the city and the county.

Although GIS appeared to offer great potential for the growth planning project, more was needed than a database. Capabilities were required for data handling and management, analysis and modeling, and generating and evaluating alternative plans. A holistic approach, regional in scope, was needed to develop an efficient, effective mechanism to support planning, decision-making and budgetary programming for Concord and the surrounding 100-square-mile area.

The project team sought to enhance the urban planning process by integrating it with GIS technology. The goals were to:

* compile a comprehensive database;

* create related programming that would benefit both current planning and long-range planning activities;

* customize the system for ease of use by staff members who would receive GIS training, as well as those who would have virtually no GIS training;

* use the computing power of the GIS to assess the development suitability of land and to generate alternate development scenarios; and

* integrate GIS into the preparation of a new long-range development plan (or comprehensive plan) for the city.

Through the multiple phases illustrated in Exhibit 2, the GIS database project evolved directly into a long-range planning project. GIS has become the empirical basis for the analysis, growth projection and future development scenarios prepared by the project's staff members. During the next step, the public will select the desired future scenario synthesized from the GIS database and will help formulate steps needed to achieve it. Finally, elected officials will give the plan validity through formal adoption and, more importantly, through initiating and budgeting programs to implement it.

GIS Overlays and Analysis

Exhaustive effort was devoted to identifying, compiling and digitizing necessary data. Equal effort was invested in data analysis. Through the suitability analysis, areas were identified according to three levels of development suitability: high suitability, moderate suitability and low suitability. Environmentally sensitive areas were identified that may need special protective measures. Through the use of the GIS-based planning support system, policies and decisions can be based on much more factual data and on a more complete characterization of potential impacts than was formerly possible.

Forty-two layers in the database portraying the physical and environmental characteristics of the study area were combined for analytical purposes in a series of overlays. Four primary overlays were created as the first stage of land development suitability analysis. The four overlays were later combined to create a superoverlay of all data. Exhibit 3 illustrates the overlay process and some of the data layers in the database. Within the superoverlay, a variety of analyses can be conducted because the entire database is included. The overlays and analyses help to identify suitable types of development or other uses for undeveloped land. Conversely, the projections and analyses regarding future development provide the city with data it needs to program the budgeting and construction of public facilities to serve areas as they grow.

In addition to database development, analytical programming and user customization were introduced to simplify GIS use. Unique point-and-click menus were developed as part of analytical programs to allow city planning staff members with little or no GIS training to use the system to analyze development proposals. Such analyses can be performed instantaneously with a developer or property owner to guide them through preliminary project planning. Thus, reports on rezoning requests and other matters will be founded on more extensive, reliable data.

Sharing City and County Data

The county tax parcel map, now in digital form, is being integrated into the city GIS. Through overlaying techniques, the regionally prepared data layers can be applied to the site-specific parcel layer. Cabarrus County has a GIS in operation but has limited data in its system. In a cooperative effort, the county and the city are exchanging data freely to integrate GIS into mainstream activities as quickly as possible. The city loaded into hardware and software recently acquired the 42-layer database and customized programming from UNC-C. The city now has a fully functional, customized GIS with three trained staff a total cost of less than $75,000.

The GIS study committee continues to be a benefit. Working cooperatively, and with input from UNC-C partners, the committee formulated a three-year plan for citywide GIS that became component of budget proposals of each of the seven departments involved--planning, engineering, data processing, utilities, public works, police and fire. It facilitated budget review for city management and elected officials by providing documentation of the interdepartmental effort to collectively determine the most efficient and cost-effective way to integrate GIS into city operations.

Any community interested in a thorough computerized, geographically referenced inventory of its physical, environmental and social characteristics can apply the concepts and tools developed during this project. Most important was the partnership that allowed the city and the university to benefit from each other's resources. By sharing resources, graduate students gained valuable experience, while the city gained a GIS and learned how to use it. As an added benefit, new research has been done on GIS applications in urban planning. The North Carolina Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects recognized this project with a Merit Award in 1992.

The public, as well as elected officials and professional staff members, can use the extensive information in the database to establish policies and to make decisions. By using analytical programming and customized simplified menus professional staff members can employ a GIS to evaluate development proposals instantly in meetings with developers, in periodic reports on rezoning requests or in long-range planning.

J. JEFFREY YOUNG, ASLA, AICP is director of the Department of Planning & Community Development of the City of Concord, North Carolina, and a landscape architect WEI-NING XIANG, Ph.D., is with the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where he teaches GIS, land use and environmental planning, spatial analysis and reasoning, and spatial decision support systems. OWEN J. FURUSETH, Ph.D., AICP is professor of geography at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte who, prior to joining academia, worked in urban and regional planning in Florida and Oregon. His particular interests are in land use planning and environmental planning. This article is adapted from the March 1993 issue of GIS World, Copyright GIS World, Inc.; reprinted with permission.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Government Finance Officers Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:public administration techniques
Author:Young, J. Jeffrey; Xiang, Wei-Ning; Furuseth, Owen J.
Publication:Government Finance Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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