A Sustainability Evaluation and Dynamic Modeling Tool for Landscape and Urban Planning Policy Scenarios



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Incorporating sustainability principles into urban development is often complex involving strong interaction between ecosystem components and development goals. As identified in the Brundtland Commissions report (UN, 1987), sustainability has gained much attention in planning aimed at balancing current needs without depleting resources and ecological services available for future generations. While the decision-making process is embedded in a social framework, political sustainability depends on collective decisions and citizens’ preferences related to public policies (Munda, 2006; Webster, 1998). In recent decade, the sustainability concept has been adopted in landscape and urban planning. Specific approaches include assessing abiotic, biotic, and cultural (ABC) resources in the landscapes for goals setting, defining and resolving spatial conflicts, developing and evaluating alternative scenarios, selecting a landscape plan, employing adaptive management, and closing the planning process loop by continuous interdisciplinary and public involvement (Ahern, 1999). There is a need for a simple and effective tool to model interaction among landscape components, to facilitate the decision-making process in the planning framework, and to evaluate alternative scenarios for sustainability.

Urban policies are often path-dependent with past decisions having consequences that constrain allocation of resources in later times. In addition, the policies are selfreinforcing (Woodlief, 1998) and interacting with ecosystem services of ABC resources over time. For example, when cities implemented urban renewal policy in the 1940s, hundreds of low-income neighborhood blocks were cleared and thousands of acres of wetlands were filled for building housing and highway systems. The consequences of past decisions as observed today include inequitable distribution affecting low income and minority communities and extensive degradation of the environment. The varying impacts of a policy decision are not only dynamic over time but also involving interplay between the landscape and society. To develop and assess landscape and urban plans with sustainability criteria, there is a critical need for policy evaluation under alternative planning scenarios. Assessment of the state of resources over time can inform planners on shifts in ecosystem conditions in landscapes under a particular planning scenario. This will also enable planners to anticipate changes in the ecosystem health and mitigate negative impacts on resource allocation.

Balancing multiple goals, incorporating constraints facing communities, and including public participation are essential for developing effective sustainable plans. A dynamic modelling and participatory approach can inform the public on landscape interactions, the nature of trade-offs between scenarios, and long-term trends in sustainability criteria. For example, modeling could reveal that sustainability may be decreasing over time as one resource is rapidly depleted under a planning scenario and negatively impact on other resources. In order to assess and incorporate trade-off relationships into the planning process with continuous public participation, we propose a dynamic ecosystem and policy evaluation framework for landscape and urban planning.