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New River Valley Livability Initiative by PlaceMatters

PlaceMatters supported the New River Valley Livability Initiative Consortium, particularly the New River Valley Planning District Commission (NRVPDC), in creating the region’s first Livability Plan. Funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Sustainable Communities Initiative, this project focused on planning to enhance regional prosperity. PlaceMatters worked with the NRVPDC to design and carry out an effective, informative public engagement process that used a range of tools and techniques tailored to the mix of urban and rural communities within the New River Valley, including an interactive website.

Early in the planning process, PlaceMatters assisted with the development of an Interim Livability Report, which summarized major issues and trends in the New River Valley region, including the aging population, agricultural shifts, commuting patterns, housing costs, jobs, education, and community health. The information in the report was gathered by Livability Initiative partners, New River Valley Planning District Commission staff, seven topic area working groups (arts and culture, community health, economic development, energy, housing, natural resources, and transportation), and through numerous outreach events that PlaceMatters helped design and facilitate, in which more than 1,500 residents participated.

PlaceMatters also provided scenario planning technical support, working with New River Valley Planning District Commission staff and various committees to define alternative scenarios for the future of the region, compile and analyze data, visualize scenario outcomes, and integrate the scenario analysis into the final study. We focused on ensuring the scenarios were educational and plausible, while also providing a framework for identifying community preferences among tradeoffs.

Tools and techniques that PlaceMatters deployed to support the New River Valley planning process included:

  • PlaceMatters’ Brainstorm Anywhere tool, which helps meeting participants brainstorm lists of regional strengths, challenges, and issues; sort these lists; and then prioritize ideas using keypad polling.
  • BUILT, a hands-on board game exercise where participants to work together to create a mock community through discussion and compromise.
  • CommunityViz, a GIS-based tool that supports scenario planning, sketch planning, 3-D visualization, suitability analysis, impact assessment, and growth modeling.
  • R, an open-source statistical software package for data visualization and analysis.
  • CrowdGauge, an open-source framework for creating educational online games. It first asks users to rank a set of priorities, and then demonstrates how a series of actions and policies might impact those priorities. The third part of the sequence gives users a limited number of coins, asking them to put that money towards the actions they support most.