Modeling: Here’s looking at you, CH 2020

Did you catch last month’s Special Topic presentation on Modeling? Be sure to come out for the next Chapel Hill Town Hall feature, scheduled for noon Wednesday, Aug. 15.  The topic is “Student Housing” and the presenters are Winston Crisp, vice chancellor for student affairs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and co-presenters Christopher Payne, associate vice chancellor for student affairs, and Larry Hicks, director of housing and residential education. They will provide an overview of the current on-campus student housing options provided by the University and plans for future renovation and construction.

Guest Column from Chapel Hill News
By Garrett Davis
Chapel Hill 2020, a guide to decision-making in Chapel Hill adopted this June, reflects the community input from Future Focus work sessions and the South 15-501 Discussion Group. These public sessions captured ideas about connectivity, where change is likely to occur, and how we can proceed with focused reviews of certain parts of town.
People were interested in comparing the cumulative impacts of different development scenarios. What if more families in apartments have children in school? How much do new buildings cost us? Pay us? This is where CommunityViz, a software program that combines interactive land-use mapping with detailed statistical analysis, comes into play.
How can planning models and analysis help inform decision-making? The Future Focus process involved gathering community input on land use, development, and transportation for Chapel Hill’s future. Another part of the process involved hypothetical land-use maps for different areas that were developed collaboratively with a consultant to the Town of Chapel Hill, Urban Collage Inc. The maps represented different potential growth scenarios.
The visioning process also employed a computer model developed by Seven Hills Planning Group using the CommunityViz platform. This model estimated community impacts related to scenarios developed for each future focus area. The model analyzed each scenario within five broad categories, including build-out potential, public facilities and services, mobility, natural environment and fiscal responsibility. The model also assessed the cumulative impacts on the larger community for each scenario.Community participants provided comments on various scenarios for different areas. The scenarios focused on areas that include the town’s major retail, office, and entertainment districts along major transportation corridors.

By applying CommunityViz, the same software program used in the development of the Triangle Region’s 2040 Long Range Transportation Plans, a set of scenarios may be generated for Chapel Hill’s visioning process that shows what happens if land uses, community data, and other variables are changed. The program applies computer mapping and statistical analysis to analyze the impacts. The variables – impervious surface, demand for parks and taxes, for example – that were put into the scenarios were factors that people said were important to their future in 2020 Theme Groups discussions and public outreach.

Although they have limitations, planning models help us see what the future might look like. The initial results of the Future Focus analysis were compiled in a report that provides an assessment for the entire community, including the identified growth areas and the remainder of the town. Detailed evaluations for each sub-area and the remainder of the Town were also provided.

Information about the Future Focus process and analysis can be found at Maps associated with this analysis are available at

Garrett Davis is a long-range planner for the Town of Chapel Hill. A video presentation is available at

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