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Wireframing sustainable Urban Development

A map-based interface to help local governments and developers understand their impact on regional sustainable urban development targets. The Hercules New Town Center proposed in CA was used as a case study for wire framing.

About the Project

California and Oregon have implemented laws requiring regional governments to set targets for sustainable urban development that reduce dependence on the automobile by building denser, transit-oriented, and pedestrian-friendly communities.  Over the last decade, many of these regional governments have made extensive progress and investment into modeling the relationship between urban development patterns and sustainability.  However, these regional entities rely on the local governments (i.e. cities and counties) in their jurisdiction and large scale developers to execute sustainable urban development projects.  Local governments and developers have limited access to sustainable urban development data and limited understanding about the impacts of their urban development decisions on vehicle miles traveled and resulting carbon emissions.  This tool would allow smaller jurisdictions and developers to obtain projected data about the sustainability of their urban development projects.  

My Role

This project arose out of my master's thesis at UC Berkeley, which modeled carbon emissions from vehicle miles traveled (VMT) for the proposed Hercules New Town Center in Hercules, California.  Since that time, regional governments have developed extensive sustainability models for urban development with the help of ambitious urban design and planning firms, such as Calthorpe Analytics.  The proliferation of these models has created a need and opportunity for a web interface that would make sustainability projections accessible to smaller jurisdictions and developers working on local projects.  I developed the concept for such a tool and began prototyping it, utilizing the Hercules case study from my graduate thesis for purposes of illustration.  


The concept focuses on four key urban design characteristics that influence driving patterns.  These characteristics can be mapped electronically and correlated to regional data to produce estimates of the anticipated vehicle miles traveled on a given development project.  GIS mapping is the medium of choice, as land use and urban planning data is commonly stored and analyzed in geographic information systems (GIS).   Data would be inputted at the parcel level, the unit of analysis used by urban planners.  

The initial impetus for this project was very different.  I started modeling the relationship between VMT and urban development factors at a time when California was considering allowing carbon offsets for land use projects.  My intention was to create a viable model that made it possible to quantify the carbon emissions reductions from sustainable land use proposals for purposes of a carbon offset trading scheme.   As California's regulatory policies evolved, so did my concept of this project.   

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Market and customer RESEARCH

The market for sustainability data related to urban development projects has grown significantly over the last decade.  Much of the demand has been driven by land use and climate change laws that require regional governments to coordinate sustainable urban planning and design for local governments in the region, and estimate future driving patterns and resulting carbon emissions.  This has created large-scale planning efforts at the regional level to quantify vehicle miles traveled (VMT) from alternative land use scenarios and model other sustainability metrics, such as water and energy use.  My research into this topic started many years ago at the academic level and continued over time at the professional level.  

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user FLOW

I envisioned the following user flow: the user of the tool would enter project location information, view baseline data for their geographic region, input data for their proposed project, and view the projected sustainability outcomes based on their development proposal.  The underlying regional data would be sourced from regional governments participating in sustainable planning efforts.  

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These low-fidelity prototypes illustrate the primary pages and elements of the tool.  They were created in Sketch.

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case study

I utilized the proposed Hercules New Town Center as a case study to populate my wire frames.  This case study was as part of my master's thesis at UC Berkeley.  As part of that project, I created a model of urban development and vehicle miles traveled for Hercules in 2035.  My work went on to quantify vehicle emissions reductions from the Hercules New Town Center compared to its alternatives.  

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Wireframes with case study

The wire frames below illustrate the concept of my software tool utilizing the sustainable urban development model I generated at UC Berkeley.  My model is similar to those used by regional governments today. 

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After validating the business model, I would further develop the UX and IA while working with a UI designer to create cleaner, more beautiful prototypes.  

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Project Status & LESSONS LEARNED

The concept of modeling sustainability in urban form has developed significantly over a longer period of time thanks to innovative planning and design firms (such as Calthorpe Analytics) and as a result of the work of various researchers in academia, government agencies, and transportation planning.  The market opportunities and regulations surrounding this area have also evolved.  The ideas behind this project are based on these works, as well as my own graduate thesis.  The wireframes above are a starting point for conducting business validation and customer discovery for the proposed .gov/Hercules platform.