Magazine article Government Finance Review

"Univer-City" Partnership Brings People, Technology Together

Magazine article Government Finance Review

"Univer-City" Partnership Brings People, Technology Together

Article excerpt

Urban planning in the 1990s requires a creative approach to projects and problems. This is especially true in a fast-growing small city. Many planning agencies in emerging communities face limited staff sizes and modest budgets, making it a challenge to plan for the future. Nevertheless, current and future residents require services and infrastructure. City officials need data on anticipated development to program expensive public facilities, such as sewer lines, parks and street improvements, years in advance. Planners projecting growth and associated infrastructure needs require reliable data to substantiate recommendations. Economic development, environmental protection and numerous other issues have to be considered as plans are prepared, policies are formulated and programs are implemented. The task is enormous, but help is available, and costs need not be prohibitive.

A University-City Approach

A small city in North Carolina formed a partnership with a nearby university to take advantage of geographic information system (GIS) technology to plan for the future without paying the usual up-front costs of hardware, software and training. The innovative joint effort between the City of Concord, whose population is 31,000, and the University of North-Carolina at Charlotte (UNC-C) fostered new ways to meet urban growth challenges.

Concord and UNC-C teamed up to integrate known GIS capabilities into city operations and to research new ones. During the past seven years, the Concord planning staff and the UNC-C geography faculty have cooperated on a variety of efforts. In 1990, UNC-C agreed to let Concord use the university's state-of-the-art GIS to assist the city with its planning efforts.

Concord faced two primary tasks. The first involved incorporating GIS into planning for the future of this rapidly growing community. Concord is located northeast of Charlotte in the southern piedmont of the state. The seven-country Charlotte metropolitan area has a population of more than 1.2 million people. From center to center the two cities are 22 miles apart, but only 1.5 miles separate their city limits. UNC-C and the University Research Park are located on the edge of Charlotte nearest Concord. With this catalyst for development between them, the two communities grew together from both directions. Rapid urbanization and annexation made it critical for Concord to employ fundamentally sound tools to plan for the future. Long-range growth plans and policies had been adopted by Charlotte, but such efforts essentially were nonexistent in Concord. The city and its surrounding growth areas needed a long-range development plan based on a thorough assessment of environmental conditions refined with input from the public.

The second task concerned creating an integrated citywide interdepartmental GIS, diagrammed in Exhibit 1. The technology's potential complexity and cost compelled city staff members to move cautiously. A team approach was employed from the outset. The city engineer, already a computer-aided design user, joined the planning director in formulating initial steps toward obtaining a GIS. Private consultants were to be hired to guide city staff members through the labyrinth of information that confronts any aspiring GIS user, but budget cuts dictated otherwise. Lacking funding to hire consultants, the city manager appointed a GIS study committee comprised of staff members from eight city departments: engineering, finance, fire, information systems, planning, police, public works and utilities. The study-committee members agreed that the GIS would have to be an integrated system with all departments networked as effectively as possible.

The Partnership and the Project

After a series of meetings to discuss possibilities, it was determined that the joint project could be undertaken. The city and the university formed a contractual partnership to address Concord's growth-plan needs. …

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