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Training on Scenario Planning and Smart Growth for Superstorm Sandy Recovery on Long Island

In January of 2015, Placeways, PlaceMatters, and CH2M HILL developed a training on Scenario Planning and Smart Growth for Superstorm Sandy Recovery on Long Island. This effort was made possible through a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) managed task order funded by an interagency agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The training was a five-day workshop for over 20 attendees from local agencies in the region, with information and hands-on training on high-tech engagement tools, low-tech/on-the-ground engagement techniques, scenario planning, CommunityViz, and other tools to use for recovery planning.

Since Hurricane Sandy made landfall in the New York-New Jersey region in October 2012, the need for better knowledge about using scenario planning tools for hazard mitigation and disaster recovery planning within the region has become apparent. This five-day training on Long Island introduced participants to integrating various tools within the recovery planning process – including tools to support scenario planning, help increase engagement and provide critical analysis and communication of complex issues. The training also helped to build local capacity on strategies to incorporate scenario planning with public engagement, smart growth concepts, equitable development issues, and hazard mitigation.

The first full day of the five-day training brought together 30 participants for presentations and demonstrations of how to incorporate both high-tech and low-tech tools – including scenario planning – into the planning process. This first day was designed to include a broader group of stakeholders than would attend for the remainder of the training and therefore included a general overview of scenario planning and other tools to help provide some context and guidance on ways to inform the recovery planning process.

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Over the next four days, a subset of the participants spent a significant amount of time learning about and using tools to support recovery planning and resiliency. The first two days were spent in hands-on training using CommunityViz – a powerful, GIS-based scenario planning tool – and various models and data sources that can integrate with CommunityViz to help inform recovery planning. These included FEMA’s Hazus-MH, EPA’s EJ Screen, and NOAA’s Digital Coast. During the final two days, the group split into teams to build on the skills gained during the hands on training. These teams worked together to define projects that interested them and used the tools presented during the first three days to perform an actual analysis. At the end of the final day, the four teams presented their projects to the rest of the class and to over a dozen local and regional agency officials attending via screencast. These presentations can be viewed below or here.

The projects included:

  • Coastal Re-Development – Making the Case for Evolution in Suburban Zoning,
  • CommunityViz and FEMA’s Environmental Benefits Calculator for Evaluating Open Space
    Restoration and Property Acquisition,
  • Identifying Suitable Locations for Secondary Sewage Treatment Plant, and
  • Elevating Structures in Barnum Island/Harbor Isle/Island Park.

As communities work to create more robust and informed resiliency plans, it is often difficult to determine which tools and techniques to use. This includes trying to determine the best way to integrate these tools and techniques to maximize public engagement, increase local capacity, and encourage long-term resilience. As part of this training, attendees were introduced to a number of important tools and resources to help inform this process – including an introduction on how best to maximize the use of particular tools during the planning process. Available for download below is the full final report on this training, including a list of many of the tools and techniques presented to the attendees during the training, along with links and information to support successful implementation of these tools.

Download Final Report: Scenario Planning & Smart Growth for Superstorm Sandy Recovery


PlaceMatters HUD work includes planning for resiliency

Over the past several months, PlaceMatters has been working extensively with EPA and HUD grantees providing one-to-one assistance to disaster-impacted communities helping them incorporate resiliency into recovery efforts. This has been a major part of our Connecting Planning with Water and Energy Initiative, and our efforts include workshops in Colorado and New Jersey.


In partnership with the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, PlaceMatters hosted a training workshop on Tools for Effective Community Engagement for communities in Colorado impacted by the severe rainstorms and flooding in September 2013. The May 22nd workshop was attended by local government staff and elected officials, and community-based partner organizations.  The training covered tools and techniques appropriate for different levels of public engagement and special considerations for community engagement during disaster recovery.  Materials and a video recording from the training are available on the PlaceMatters website.

Little Ferry, New Jersey

This week, PlaceMatters has partnered with the Regional Plan Association and the Consensus Building Institute to host a scenario planning workshop in Little Ferry, New Jersey. The project brings together a mix of stakeholders and agency staff to demonstrate how GIS-based tools like CommunityViz can be used for recovery planning efforts. Scenario planning exercises were set up to help understand the different costs of different redevelopment strategies and site-scale interventions and how combinations track against the various evaluation criteria. The goal at the end of the exercise is that participants have a better sense of the fiscal and other tradeoffs of different mitigation options. The workshop incorporates the use of the PlaceMatters’ Touchtable, which makes it possible for people to experiment with scenarios on a large map projected down onto a table with infrared pens.

New Funding Available for Communities on Resiliency

On June 14, President Obama announced the National Disaster Resilience Competition, responding to demand from state, local, and tribal leaders who are working to increase the safety and security of their communities. Nearly $1 billion through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds has been identified for the competition, inviting communities that have experienced natural disasters to compete for funds to help them rebuild and increase their resilience to future disasters. More information can be found on the White House website.

Any communities interested in working with PlaceMatters on a project should contact Ken Snyder ( or Kayla Gilbert ( or at 303-964-0903.

Our Region, Our Plan wins NADO Innovation Award

SC-CRCPicTonyWinnThe Our Region, Our Plan process, which outlines the future for the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester, South Carolina region, recently won a NADO Innovation award for 2013. PlaceMatters’ project Creating Resilient Communities produced some valuable analyses, maps, and datasets that were then incorporated into the Our Region, Our Plan process. The Creating Resilient Communities work was part of a set of demonstration projects recently published in the Journal of Conservation Biology.

We congratulate the BCDCOG and the team that worked to develop this innovative plan, and we are thrilled that our work was useful for this award-winning project. We will watch the implementation of the plan with interest!


PlaceMatters work in Chula Vista published in best practices in modeling text book

The Future of Cities and Regions

The Future of Cities and Regions

A case study of PlaceMatters’ work in Chula Vista was published this year in The Future of Cities and Regions: Simulation, Scenario and Visioning, Governance, and Scale. The book features best practices in urban and regional simulation with nine case studies from around the world. The chapter was researched by our 2010 PlaceMatters’ Fellow, Elise Novak, in collaboration with Ken Snyder and Doug Newman (project leads) highlighting the project’s innovative integration of sophisticated building energy analysis and VMT modeling with planning at the neighborhood scale. The integrated use of land use, transportation, and building energy technologies was shown to reduce aggregate energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions of a large-scale development project by as much as 45% when compared with the Title-24-compliant project. The book is available in hardcover and as an ebook.

Escher demonstrates the importance of perspective

While in Holland last year, one of my favorite museums was the M.C. Escher Museum in The Hague. This is a video I created using a SketchUp model posted by Torch and available within Google’s 3D warehouse library. It’s a recreation of Escher’s famous Waterfall (1961). I dissected the model into key components so that the transformation from a descending canal to a perpetual motion waterfall is more pronounced. Kudos to to Torch for creating this excellent SketchUp model.

Waterfall and other drawings like his equally famous Ascending and Descending, in which lines of people ascend and descend stairs in an infinite loop, highlight Escher’s incredible ability to take advantage of quirks of perception and perspective. The fact that this drawing can be converted into a workable 3D model is a tribute how incredibly precise he was.

A great example of how different viewpoints can change perspective hugely. I can imagine using this model in a warm up exercise to get people thinking about complex issues from multiple perspectives.