Applications of geographic information systems (GIS) for livability.
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Applications of geographic information systems (GIS) for livability.

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    • Abstract:
      “Livability” is the idea that transportation, land use, housing, energy, and environmental considerations can be integrated to protect the environment, promote equitable development, and help to address the challenges of climate change. Geographic information systems (GIS) can support livability efforts by helping to convey complex transportation information to non-technical audiences, thereby allowing individuals to become more informed about their interaction with the built environment and ultimately make better transportation decisions.

      This report synthesizes the findings from four case studies that assess how select organizations (the City of Boulder, Colorado’s Transportation Division, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, the University of Oregon and the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium, and the Southern California Association of Governments) are developing and applying GIS tools to support livability goals from a transportation point of view. The report identifies important trends and factors that encourage the use of these tools and provides examples of additional tools beyond those referenced in the case studies. Finally, it describes successes and challenges experienced in developing and utilizing the tools as well as factors that transportation organizations might consider as they engage in similar efforts.

      While livability can be conceptualized in different ways, this report uses the definition that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the U. S. Department of Transportation (DOT) have promoted. According to the partnership, livability involves providing transportation and housing choices, economic competitiveness, quality of life, and enhancing the unique characteristics of communities and neighborhoods by investing in healthy, safe, and walkable neighborhoods. The livability principles of particular relevance to transportation, and thus examined most closely in this report, include promoting transportation choices and enhancing communities and neighborhoods.

      Key findings from case studies are summarized below.

      GIS tools can support livability in several ways, but generally have fallen into three broad categories: (1) decision-making; (2) highlighting connections; and (3) consensus building.


      Decision-making GIS tools typically provide information to users that allow them to make more informed transportation decisions, including what mode to choose to reach a specified destination most efficiently or cost-effectively.


      Tools that highlight connections focus on helping users comprehend intersections between transportation, the built environment, and other factors.


      Tools that support consensus building focus on collecting and sharing information among users to promote agreement on complex issues.

      Organizations developing GIS tools for livability might not frame their efforts as livability initiatives. Case study organizations reported that they did not explicitly label GIS applications as tools to support livability; rather, most organizations aimed more broadly to support livability-related concepts such as multimodalism or sustainability. Additionally, organizations articulated different definitions of livability, indicating the specific needs and characteristics of a community, neighborhood, or region strongly influence interpretations of livability.

      Few formal evaluations have assessed GIS tools for livability. While some organizations have field tested the tools or collected statistics on their use, these evaluations have generally occurred on an ad hoc basis. Most organizations have relied on informal or anecdotal measures to evaluate the success of GIS tools. More formal measures could be created by conducting evaluations on a regularly scheduled basis or documenting an evaluation scheme.

      GIS tools for livability provide an array of benefits, while only few challenges are experienced in their development. Case study organizations believed that the tools helped to make.

      Findings compiled from the case studies generally show that GIS is an important tool that can support many livability goals in a transportation context, even as organizations are defining and interpreting livability in different ways. Newer geospatial technologies, such as those that allow spatial information to be more easily packaged, manipulated, analyzed, and disseminated to an end-user, have made it possible to develop these types of GIS tools. It is likely that GIS tools for livability will become more prevalent in both the public and private sectors as spatial technologies evolve and as livability and related concepts continue to become more commonplace in transportation planning practice.

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