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CCRL California Center for Regional Leadership
Connecting California's Regions to the State and Each Other

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Volume V, Issue 2 - April, 2004

Regional Growth Visioning: Engaging the Public in Planning for the Future


I. What Are Regional Growth Visioning Projects?

Regional growth visioning represents a new generation of planning and growth management, both as a means of engaging citizens to strengthen the institution of democracy and also as a way to achieve better planning and public policy. In the last several years these projects have emerged around the nation [Section IV], using innovative computer technologies and workshop techniques to bring new levels of public participation to planning processes and to secure community support for the difficult decisions necessary to implement a new planning paradigm.

Growth visioning projects strive to achieve regional agreements on future residential, commercial, and industrial development; building and operation of highway and transit facilities; and conservation of sensitive lands, all validated by local perspectives and interests.

"Going beyond traditional planning approaches, [regional growth visioning] has been used effectively to help metropolitan areas plan for a future which by definition is unpredictable. Scenarios essentially are stories about what might be. They are not forecasts, and they are not predictions. They are possible futures based on what already exists, on trends that are evident, on the value and preferences of a region, and on decisions that might actually shape future outcomes.
--John Fregonese, 2004

Basic characteristics of regional growth visioning projects include:

  1. Regional scope: Projects reflect the regional nature of the impacts of growth and thus the need to create a vision across jurisdictional boundaries. This also means that these efforts must cross bureaucratic and sectoral boundaries; government, business leaders, and neighborhood groups have been project partners.

  2. Bottom-up process: Projects enable community understanding of the impacts of current and alternative growth patterns on future quality of life and economic prosperity, inform and engage residents directly in imagining their region's future, and bring ground-level input into more conventional computer "modeling" of land-use and transportation choices and outcomes.

  3. Long-term perspective: The Envision Utah visioning project in the Salt Lake City region, which began in 1997, was based on growth projections through the year 2020. The Southern California Compass Project looks out to 2030. This time horizon a) enables agreements about an imagined future that often are not possible when addressing specific near-term development projects, and b) enables implementation strategies that are more pragmatic because the development process (and changes in the process) take a long time.

  4. New options for growth: The draft Growth Vision of the Compass Project presents an alternative framework for the future development of the region, based in part on data about the preferences of the community. Participants in county-level workshops for the Sacramento Area Blueprint Project evaluated four different "scenarios" for housing and job growth in their areas.

  5. Integrating land use, transportation, and the economy: Despite their indisputable impacts on each other, transportation, land-use, and economic planning functions are often separated by institutional culture, funding streams, and bureaucratic "silos." One innovation of regional growth visioning projects is to consider these decisions as parts of a whole. In fact, many projects have also raised the need to incorporate in the planning process other areas as well, including schools, water, sanitation, and public health.

  6. New technologies to engage the public: The Sacramento Area Blueprint Project used interactive GIS software to give participants instant feedback in response to their development preferences. Participants reported being impressed by the ability to see the problems that came from their choices and to respond with new ones. This is a vast improvement on conventional "community input" processes, such as testifying at planning commission meetings that are all too often dominated by planning experts and hard to access for most community residents.

Because California's Regional Collaboratives operate at the regional scale, are community-driven, foster civic engagement and collaboration, and bridge the gap between government and the private and nonprofit sectors, they are ideal partners for helping regional public agencies to organize and implement visioning projects. Below, we highlight two current projects in very different California regions that brought residents together to plan for a shared future.

II. The Southern California Compass Project - Can a Vision Unite 23 Million People?

The jurisdiction of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) covers six counties - Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ventura - an enormous and extremely diverse region that includes almost 17 million people (more than all but three states) and has the 12th largest economy in the world. It is estimated that by 2030 there will be 6.3 million more people in the region (for a total of 23 million) and a doubling of traffic congestion. How can a region this massive and with such a variety of communities, yet which is interconnected in innumerable ways, come together to deal with growth and plan for the future?

The Southern California Compass Project was conceived as a way for the Southland to accommodate expected growth while improving the quality of life in its communities and supporting a world-class economy. Through this process, SCAG's transportation and land-use units worked together to understand the region's preferences for future development and preservation and to inform the community about new, more sustainable ways to grow. The Compass draft Growth Vision that has emerged from the Compass Project (released in March 2004) imagines more compact urban development in existing and new town centers, development coordinated with transportation corridors and transit stations, jobs located near housing, mixed-use development, preservation of open space, and increased urban parkland.

Compass has had an immediate impact: even before the final Growth Vision has been adopted, SCAG incorporated its land-use principles into the 2004 Regional Transportation Plan. Half the expected reduction in traffic (vehicle miles traveled) over 25 years is anticipated to come from better land-use decisions - an essential factor in improving the region's mobility and air quality.

" Southern California Compass is the most exciting project that I have ever been a part of in my professional life."
-- Lynn Harris, Manager of Community Development, Southern California Association of Governments

A. The Compass Process: People, Principles, and Policy

In the first stage of the project, SCAG's Growth Visioning Committee (the Compass Project's governing group) adopted a set of principles as a "working hypothesis" about how the region might grow differently in the future. As part of its outreach program, Compass then conducted opinion surveys to gauge the future development preferences of Southland residents.

Next, maps were constructed that show the existing land use and transportation across the region and specific sub-regions. These maps were used to conduct a series of thirteen workshops in which hundreds of people worked with each other to imagine where future job and housing growth should be directed. Sub-regional Councils of Government and Regional Collaboratives were key partners in hosting these map-based workshops.

Cutting-edge software was used to combine these community preferences into scenarios for future development. These were tested against sophisticated economic, land-use, and transportation computer models to produce a preferred alternative (the draft Growth Vision). Following technical review with local planning officials, the draft Vision was brought to the Growth Visioning Committee for review and adoption, and subsequently released as the Growth Vision Interim Report. The Vision was then taken back out to the sub-regions for review and discussion of implementation strategies through the Southland Policy Dialogues (see below [Section II, B]).

The Southern California Compass Growth Vision Principles:

  1. Improve Mobility for All Residents
  2. Foster Livability in All Communities
  3. Enable Prosperity for All People
  4. Promote Sustainability for Future Generations

B. The Southland Policy Dialogues

CCRL organized the Southland Policy Dialogues during March 2004. With participation from nearly 200 diverse civic leaders, and held in five sub-regions across the Southland, the Dialogues were intended to validate the draft Growth Vision, lift up the issues most relevant to each sub-region, and identify the highest-priority local and regional implementation strategies [NOTE: There are also two sessions being convened by Compass during April for Latino community leaders, given that the Latino population will be the region's largest ethnic group over the period being planned.] The Dialogues identified barriers to effective implementation of the Vision and strategies for turning its main ideas into practical action on the ground.

The key themes emerging from the Dialogues present lessons not only for implementing the Growth Vision in Southern California, but for regions elsewhere. A full set of notes from each Dialogue are available on the Compass website. Overall recommendations include:

  1. Plan from the bottom up, and recognize and value the particular needs of sub-regions and localities. The Southland is composed of connected but profoundly diverse places, and planning should advance different models of development that fit these differences.
  2. Foster collaborative planning across and among all public sector agencies making land-use and infrastructure investment decisions, including local governments but also transit agencies, school districts, and water districts.
  3. Promote viable infill development projects by removing the regulatory barriers and supporting local public officials who make tough decisions.
  4. Protect the environment. The commitment to this value runs deeply and broadly across the region and among all kinds of groups.
  5. Create more effective means of influencing business-location decisions to achieve a better "jobs-housing balance."
  6. Make the state government a full partner in achieving the Growth Vision, through major reforms in fiscal policy, state agency planning decisions, and infrastructure investments.

C. What Comes Next?

The SCAG Regional Council is scheduled to consider the adoption of the Growth Vision in June 2004. But beyond the "legal" status of the document, the Growth Vision is intended to be a "living" document that will evolve over time, as thousands of decision-makers in the public and private sectors attempt to achieve its goals.

The most important effect of the Compass Project may be in the culture of how things get done in the region. The integration of land-use concerns into SCAG's transportation planning is one noteworthy sign of this shift. Equally as significant may be a new relationship between SCAG, sub-regions, cities, and community residents. Participants in each of the Southland Policy Dialogues spoke about successful examples of collaboration in their areas between neighboring cities or between community groups and local government, and about the crucial need for more cooperation. Perhaps the Southern California Compass Project is only the first stage of a shared vision for the future that can unite all six counties and 23 million people into an interconnected, sustainable region.


III. "A New Ethic in Our Community" - The Sacramento Region Blueprint Project

What will ensure that a regional growth visioning process extends beyond community meetings and visually appealing maps? Crisis? Star power? No one can say for sure, but an age-old motivator - money - can't hurt.

The Sacramento Region Blueprint Project is a comprehensive regional process that will integrate land use and transportation, air quality, and other regional concerns to determine the growth pattern most preferred by residents in the six-county Sacramento region. The effort grew out of a broad frustration that decisions on transportation policy and funding were being made in the absence of a regional consensus on land use. For a region that anticipates over a million additional residents and 600,000 new jobs over the next 25 years, the usual means of doing business is no longer viable. And to show that it is serious about setting new directions, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) set aside $500 million over 25 years to support building projects that embrace "smart growth" as it emerges from Blueprint and similar processes going forward.

SACOG and Valley Vision (a member of CCRL's California Regional Network) were joined in organizing Blueprint by a wide array of community organizations, from businesses and chambers of commerce to community development, environmental, and social equity advocacy groups, as well as state agencies.

One of the most innovative ideas in Blueprint has been its extensive partnership with the media. The regional newspaper The Sacramento Bee has not only covered the developing vision in articles and editorials, but even published a special insert section for readers on the project. Local television stations have also reported on Blueprint - clips are available on the project website.

"We are trying to make this Blueprint such an ethic in our community that there is no choice but to implement it."
-- Susan Frazier, Executive Director, Valley Vision

A. The Blueprint Process: Base Case vs. New Ideas

To launch Blueprint, SACOG and other jurisdictions in the regions conducted in-depth modeling and research on future growth. The product of this work, called the Base Case Future, outlines the effects of current patterns and policies on housing availability, land consumption, the environment, and traffic through the year 2050. It reveals that there is not enough land designated under current general plans to support the forecasted need for homes, jobs, and development. Planners were then able to use state-of-the-art, real-time interactive geographic information systems (GIS) software to create alternative "scenarios" for specific neighborhoods.

The organizers next undertook the massive task of bringing the Base Case and these scenarios to 40 neighborhood and countywide workshops. At the sessions, more than 2,500 participants examined these results and got instant feedback from the software as they made different development decisions. This system let people see the immediate impact of their choices - cutting through the plethora of acronyms and agencies that professionals have constructed. Even the planners in the room expressed surprise at the fresh ideas that came out of workshop discussions among residents.

On April 30, 2004, Blueprint will convene a region-wide workshop titled "TALL Order, Choices for Our Future." An expected 1,300 participants will work in groups to analyze and vote on preferred land-use and transportation scenarios for the entire region, based on the results of the previous workshops. Their feedback will lead to a draft "Preferred Alternative Scenario," which will be presented to a second regional summit and an Electronic Town Hall in the fall. SACOG plans to adopt the Preferred Alternative Scenario by the end of 2004.

A set of "Smart Growth Principles" underlies Blueprint's alternate scenarios:

  1. Housing Diversity
  2. Build on Existing Assets
  3. Mixed-Use Development
  4. Protect Farmland and Natural Resources
  5. Provide Transportation Choices
  6. Encourage Pedestrian-Friendly Communities

B. What Comes Next?

The Sacramento region's new paradigm of tying transportation planning to land use will bear fruit in the next Metropolitan Transportation Plan, which will align with the Preferred Alternative Scenario. More intangibly, the fact that planners from different cities, counties, and agencies worked together to develop the scenarios now provides an expanded frame of reference for their local work.

Reforms of policies at the local, state, regional, and federal levels will be necessary if the Preferred Alternative Scenario is to become reality. The Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce has identified 10 policy initiatives in its "2004 Regional Business Agenda" that would further the implementation of the Blueprint. And while Blueprint will not be binding on local governments, Mike McKeever, Blueprint consultant to SACOG, notes that "Three or four member cities and counties are already using the data and tools that we've developed as an integral part of their General Plan update processes."


IV. Other Regional Visioning Projects

Other regions in the state and across the U.S. have used similar ideas as the Compass Project and Blueprint to develop new patterns for future growth. Below is a selected list of these projects; the Surface Transportation Policy Project has a website ( detailing these efforts and others.

A. In California

B. Across the Nation

V. Remember This? Informed Regional Choices

As a new feature in CalRegions, we will bring to your attention past reports from CCRL and other sources that have continued relevance to our shared work. Released in November 2000, Informed Regional Choices: How California's Regional Organizations are Applying Planning and Decision Tools is a survey of how eight regional organizations in the state have used technology-based tools to improve their effectiveness or to address key regional issues, including growth visioning.

The case studies in the report range from 1) the use of a GIS system by the Sierra Business Council to identify individual parcels that were best suited for open space/agricultural land protection to 2) the development of a regional vision and a set of 30 benchmark progress indicators by the Tri-Valley Business Council.

Informed Regional Choices is available on the CCRL website at [206K Adobe Acrobat document]

VI. Regional News and Information

A. Upcoming Events

  • The Gateway Cities Partnership reminded us that it's not too late to register for their upcoming conference, "Revitalizing the Gateway Cities: Formulas for Investment and Development," to be held from 7:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. on April 22 at the Long Beach Convention Center. Full details are available online at

  • In a globalized economy, collaborative relationships between business and labor are more critical than ever. On April 27 from 8:00 - 10:30 a.m. in Van Nuys, the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley will present a forum on "The Changing Face of Labor Relations" to explore common ground between labor and management in the face of challenging economic conditions. Find out more information at

  • The California Urban Water Conservation Council and the California Department of Water Resources are sponsoring workshops through April and May 2004 on water supply planning and meeting the requirements of SB 221 and SB 610. These workshops will be useful to land-use planners, water supply planners, consultants, developers and others interested in learning how to prepare a water supply assessment or verification for large development projects. Dates and registration information are posted at

  • The Great Central Valley is emerging as a region that matters. The implications of the region's emergence will be the focus of the Great Valley Center's annual conference, "Central Valley, On the Map!" which will be held May 5-6 in Sacramento. Keynote speakers include U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona. All the information you need about the conference is available at

  • The next National Forum on Regional Stewardship, organized by the Alliance for Regional Stewardship, is set for May 19-21 in Austin, Texas. It will address the theme, "Propelling the Regional Agenda: The Role of CEOs," and spotlight the Austin community's strategic actions, beginning in the mid-1980s, to diversify its economic base from a center of government and higher education to a region of technological innovation. Find more information and register for the Forum at

B. Recent Events

  • The USC Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy continued its 2003-4 Distinguished Speakers Series by inviting Leslie Lenkowsky, the former CEO of the federal Corporation for Community and National Service and current faculty member of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, to speak on February 19, 2004. His topic was "The Politics of Doing Good: Philanthropic Leadership for the 21st Century." A transcript of Mr. Lenkowsky's remarks is available at
    [PDF document].

  • The Ventura County Civic Alliance tried to peek into the future at its recent one-day conference "The Road Ahead" and found major problems looming for the region in housing, traffic congestion, and population growth. Find the report "Connecting the Dots on Growth and Sustainability" and accompanying presentation at and read an article about the conference's panel on housing at

C. Resources

  • During the first weekend in April, CCRL President Nick Bollman participated in a "Web Salon" hosted by the public broadcasting show "California Connected." He and other invited researchers and activists exchanged messages on the topic of Smart Growth in California, and the results were posted for you to read at

  • A provocative new report from PPIC, In Short Supply? Cycles and Trends in California Housing studies California's housing shortage during the 1990s, and finds that the production of new housing units lagged that of previous business cycles and did not keep pace with demand. It also finds, however, 1) that the actual housing shortfall was much smaller than previous estimates, especially when key demographic and macroeconomic factors are taken into account, and 2) the shortage is concentrated disproportionately in the major coastal metropolitan areas of the state. Read it for yourself at

  • A new study on residential development in the San Gabriel Mountain Foothills, released by the Center for Governmental Studies, reaches past mesmerizing and tragic images of fires and floods to reveal the integral role of taxation and subsidies in supporting home construction on geologically unstable mountainsides. Losing Ground is available online at
    [6.14 MB PDF document].

  • With a redesigned website, the GreenInfo Network now provides even more tools to bring computer-based mapping and GIS services to nonprofits and public agencies. See it for yourself at

D. Projects

  • The fifth annual 2004 Orange County Community Indicators Report has been released. The report -- sponsored by Orange County Business Council, The County of Orange and The Children & Families Commission of Orange County -- is an annual index that tracks Orange County's progress against key economic, social and health measures. Find the 2004 edition and previous reports online at

  • The national Regional Indicators Affinity Group met at the November 2003 National Stewardship Forum in Boston. Read more information about this project and download meeting summaries and the Regional Indicators Survey at

  • Redefining Progress has released an update of the "world's leading indicator of sustainability," the Ecological Footprint Accounts. The 2004 Footprint of Nations concludes that the world's wealthiest nations are mortgaging the future at the expense of today's children, the poor, and the long-term health of the Earth. Find more information about this innovative indicator at