Crossing the Divide: Penetration of Spatial Information Technologies in Middle America

Crossing the Divide: Penetration of Spatial Information Technologies in Middle America

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Steve Ventura
Steve Ventura
University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA

INTRODUCTION
Dane County was selected by the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) and Vice President Al Gore as the site of one of six national Community Demonstration Projects in the Fall of 1998. The project, known as “Shaping Dane’s Future,” was a collaboration of the Land Information and Computer Graphics Facility (University of Wisconsin-Madison), the Dane County Department of Planning and Development and the Dane County Land Information Office, the FGDC, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and ESRI, Inc.

The City and Town of Verona (two local units of government, adjacent to the city of Madison) were selected as the project site because of significant land use issues and interest from local officials in helping to evaluate information technologies. The Town of Verona had recently begun an effort to update an outdated local land use plan. In the decade since the last revision to its land use plan, the town had experienced nearly unchecked rural residential development, primarily on former agricultural land. Its area had been reduced considerably by annexations from the cities of Verona and Madison. Large development proposals, including an aggregate quarry and a golf course, were perceived as threats to the quality of life in the community.

The land use planning effort was led by a citizen-based land use planning task force, appointed by the land use committee of the elected Town Board. The task force was comprised of a cross section of Town residents – farmers, retired teachers, rural-residing commuters and so forth. It was led by the Town Board chair, an elected position with essentially no remuneration. None of the task force were trained in planning. They were provided a modicum of guidance from Dane County planning staff and had hired a professional facilitator to help run meetings, particularly for goal-setting and process management.

When they were approached about participating in the Shaping Dane’s Future project, the land use planning task force had been meeting for about a year. By their own admission, they had made little progress and were just starting to grapple with some of the more difficult issues such as farmland protection and rural residential development. The town board chair and at least a few members immediately recognized the value of geographic information systems and related spatial technologies for their effort, and were enthused about participating in the project.

University collaborators involvement in Verona’s land use activities took many forms. We were interested in developing and providing GIS and Internet-based tools and information products that would more effectively engage citizens in the planning process and that would support visual and analytic requirements of their planning. A “Planning Resource Center” Website provided graphic and statistical descriptions of town conditions and issues, Web-GIS for citizens to create their own maps and scenarios, planning process guidance, and links for supporting information (Ventura et al., 2002a). The site linked to an electronic “town hall” for registering opinions and straw polls. Planning meetings were supported with technicians and interactive GIS; some were simultaneously Web-cast and carried on local cable television. Tools and resources included a step-by-step procedure for plan development, resource and infrastructure maps including land use-related spatial analyses, land use allocation and impact assessment software tools. As reported herein, we conducted a mail survey to ascertain town citizens’ beliefs and aspirations on land use related issues, and a follow up mail survey a little over a year later that asked questions about one particular land use protection strategy (purchase of development rights) that was being considered.