Innovations in Community Resilience for Planners and the Public

More than 70 planners, facilitators, local and regional stormwater professionals, and residents of two Illinois neighborhoods met in series of February workshops to examine how the scenario planning tool CommunityViz could be used to visualize local flooding challenges and offer real-time mitigation solutions.

Aided by a series of custom large format maps, residents of Downers Grove, Illlinois, confirmed many of the findings on the location and severity of local flooding. Live scenario-building exercises helped them to view these challenges in the context of on-site mitigation actions that they might undertake to ease their (and their neighbors') flood risk.

“For years, community planners have used the CommunityViz tool to model options for land use and transportation projects," said Shannon Burke, manager of the American Planning Association’s Hazards Planning Center. "What’s exciting is how it’s been adapted to show on-site or smaller neighborhood solutions that reduce flooding.”

APA's Hazards Planning Center and project partners at UCSD-San Diego, Focused Plan, and the National Charette Institute worked closely with village staff to plan the workshop, using funding from FEMA.

Using the CommunityViz tool, participants and staff were able to “paint” local interventions like rain gardens and see the onsite impact on flooding. Given the village’s Stormwater Improvement Cost-Share Program, which reimburses homeowners for property-based improvements, the tool demonstrated significant value to the village as a technical aid in ongoing discussions with homeowners.

“The value of the model is in demonstrating why larger scale neighborhood solutions, with multiple neighbors putting in smaller infrastructure, could be helpful to the group as a whole,” Downers Grove Stormwater Manager Julie Lomax said.

Officials from DuPage County and other practitioners from the area discussed how the tool could best be put into practice. Attendees highlighted the wide-ranging benefits throughout the planning and implementation process. Perhaps it could be used in one on one consultations with homeowners or developers in the technical review process, or as an aid in the early stages of project scoping before major (and expensive) engineering analyses.

Others noted the potential of the tool during community workshops, visioning exercises, or in local government open house events. A large-scale whiteboard, printed with flooding outputs from the model, could be a valuable recurring feature at community meetings.

Over the coming months, project partners will refine the model, collaborate with village staff on additional outreach events, and further evaluate how the lessons learned in Downers Grove can improve hazard mitigation planning nationwide.

For more details on the project, including a copy of the report developed as part of phase 1, check out Innovations in Planning and Public Engagement.

Top image: Janet Barber identifies mitigation actions she’s willing to take on her Downers Grove, Illinois, property to reduce flooding, including installing rain barrels and native lawn deeper rooted plants and modifying her driveway to reduce the amount of drainage into the roadway or on adjacent properties. Photo by Shannon Burke.

About the Author
Joseph DeAngelis is an APA research associate.

March 27, 2018

By Joseph DeAngelis, AICP