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What Makes a City Business-Friendly?

A High-Powered Tool for Investing in Your Community's Future

By: John Lavey

Date: Jan, 21 2013

[caption id="attachment_376" align="alignright" width="382"]Planning software screenshot The Envision Tomorrow application can calculate the economic impact of various planning efforts, so communities can properly plan for the future.[/caption] One of the last projects I worked on as planning director in Ravalli County Montana, was a comprehensive overhaul to the county's outdated subdivision regulations. I heard a lot from the development community throughout this process imploring us as planners to do a better job understanding the financial impact the regulations could have on subdivision development. I left for a job with the Sonoran Institute and the Community Builders network before I got to dig into this question, but the question remained bright. I knew of few, accessible tools planners could use to gauge the financial impact of their policies. Enter Envision Tomorrow. Developed by the fine folks at Portland, OR based Fregonese Associates, ET is a high-powered scenario planning tool that allows users to customize building and development types based on a number of different metrics. Then, using GIS (Geographic Information Systems), users "paint" the landscape to see how various development patterns affects those indicators. Most of the grunt work happens in two macro-enabled spreadsheets, which share a dynamic link with GIS, so becoming proficient in the inner-workings of ET will probably take new users some time. But the Return on Investment model (what Fregonese calls a 'pro forma lite') can help planners like my former self better understand how planning proposals affect developers decisions. This is not the only consideration a modern planner must contend with, but it certainly is one that more planners would do well by investing some time in. From time-to-time you'll see us here at the Community Builders network talk about projects we're working on using Envision Tomorrow. ET is a part of the growing open-source movement, and its developers encourage its improvement by innovation.

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By: John Lavey

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