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Preparing for a Vibrant Future in the Township of Langley

Highlights

  • To effectively plan new buildings and communities, the township uses ArcGIS for Desktop to view and analyze large datasets in three dimensions.
  • Viewshed and line-of-sight analyses with GIS aid in picturing how new development might impact the skyline or views to landmarks.
  • GIS visualization of shadow that a new building might cast on adjacent properties aids in understanding heating costs for impacted properties.

Located in the heart of British Columbia's (BC) Lower Mainland, the Township of Langley is 45 minutes east of Vancouver and offers access to major transportation routes as well as the US border. Its central location, affordable land, young labor force, and diverse job opportunities make the township appealing to families and businesses. As one of the fastest-growing municipalities in BC, the township expects its population of more than 100,000 people to double in the next 30 years. To support this growth, it is implementing the principles of geodesign to plan sustainable community development and provide efficient services to residents.

3D modeling allows planners to visualize the impact of new buildings on the landscape.

3D modeling allows planners to visualize the impact of new buildings on the landscape.

Rich in fertile soil, 75 percent of the township's land is designated as provincial Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). An ALR is a tract of land in British Columbia where agriculture is recognized as the priority use, and anything other than farming or leaving the fertile soil forested or vacant is not allowed.

Since most of Langley's land is designated as ALR, Langley Township staff face unique challenges to effectively developing the land that is available. While farming and agriculture remain important local industries, Langley has seen a steady rise in industrial and commercial development. In 2010 alone, the municipality issued nearly 1,000 building permits.

For a community that is used to a landscape of farmland and single-family housing, new proposed pockets of urban growth that include higher-density apartments and condominiums can be a bit jarring.

Since 1995, the township has used Esri technology to manage land information across its enterprise and enable geographic applications in various departments, including planning, finance, engineering, and protective services. It maintains GeoSource, a web-based GIS interactive mapping system that provides staff and the public with access to maps, land data, and aerial photography of the township. To stay at the forefront of GIS technology, the township upgraded recently to ArcGIS 10. The ability to create an interactive, shareable 3D model for the township that can be used for current and future needs was a major driver when adopting the technology.

Designing Tomorrow's Communities

To effectively plan new buildings and communities, the township uses ArcGIS with the ArcGIS 3D Analyst extension to view and analyze large datasets in three dimensions. This includes remotely sensed lidar data that provides highly accurate geographic positions of properties and assets whether they be buildings, utility poles, or trees. This data is being used to create a 3D model that will provide a current baseline against which the township can visualize alternative growth scenarios beginning with the Willoughby community, a growing, suburban area that is the new home of the civic facility.

An important characteristic of geodesign is the ability to measure the impact of a proposed change in a virtual world while in the design or planning stage. GIS allows township departments to conduct viewshed and line-of-sight analyses to see how new development—multifamily housing structures and mixed-use buildings, which are taller than single-family houses predominant in the township—might impact the current skyline or special views to landmarks. Taller buildings can also mean more shadow. GIS supports the visualization and estimation of the total amount of shadow that a new building might cast on adjacent properties, which could result in greater heating costs for the impacted property.

"Our planning department had always used print maps and traditional architectural scale models to envision how new communities would look," says Derik Woo, manager, Geomatic Services, Township of Langley. "Now, they're able to model a 3D virtual city that more accurately represents township properties and combine numerous data to visualize and analyze the impact of proposed projects. This helps them present evidence-based plans to council officials and makes it easier to communicate new development projects to residents."

Using the geodesign concept, township staff also conduct population and employment modeling to create projections by combining various data—including provincial land parcels (cadastral fabric) and land use, township neighborhoods, population, and employment values. Taking a holistic or cross-disciplinary approach to view all this data, along with the physical building model of the city, provides a powerful planning tool that can create, evaluate, and compare the cumulative impact of different alternatives, allowing decision makers to make the wisest decision possible given a projected growth scenario.

Managing Municipal Assets

For an integrated approach, the township also uses ArcGIS to obtain a clear picture of its infrastructure and assets. Recently, it completed digitizing videos of sewer inspections, which staff can access through the internal version of GeoSource. This has significantly increased efficiency and reduced costs. Previously, engineers needed to look up a proprietary database that lists all available recordings of the township's sewer pipes, then they had to manually find the disk or tape media to view the footage.

"In just a few clicks, our engineers can now easily view videos, photos, and documents related to our underground infrastructure through GeoSource," says Chad Huntington, GIS coordinator, Township of Langley. "This enables them to plan timely maintenance schedules and respond to requests for repairs more quickly."

The GIS also contains data about the township's infrastructure projects, thereby assisting in meeting Public Sector Accounting Board requirements.

Increasing Community Engagement Through Open Data

The township recently opened its data to the public to conduct their own research or develop commercial applications. In addition to providing an open data catalog on its website, the township contributes geographic content that is integrated into a free, national web basemap through the Esri Canada Limited (Esri's distributor) Community Maps Program.

The township was also selected to participate in the Community Maps Exchange, a pilot project that tested two-way data exchange between the township's database and ArcGIS Online, where the community basemap is hosted. This allows data to be automatically updated and helps ensure that information on the basemap is always up-to-date.

"This program reduces costs for people who regularly use township information," says Woo. "In the past, they had to pay a fee to obtain the township's topographical, infrastructure, and neighborhood data. Now, businesses planning to open a site here can access the data for free through the community basemap. The program also reduces our costs by allowing us to leverage outside resources to distribute information and encourage current and future residents to participate in improving our community."

In embracing GIS technology and the geodesign process as part of its corporate strategy, the township is well positioned to meet the needs of its growing population.

"GIS is an integral part of our information technology strategy," says Steve Scheepmaker, information technology manager, Township of Langley. "We've been using the technology for more than 15 years to increase efficiency in our business processes."

For more information, contact Derik Woo, manager, Geomatic Services, Township of Langley (e-mail: dwoo@tol.ca).
 
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