Community Development

Planning for the Future: A Geographic Approach to the National Planning Conference

The 2023 National Planning Conference is just around the corner. From April 1-4, planners from across the nation will be in Philadelphia to share their stories (both good and bad), learn from experts and colleagues, catch up with long-time friends, and make new ones, as well. And as we have for nearly three decades, Esri will be there, too, and we’re happy to be a Gold Sponsor of NPC.

Esri in The Hub

First of all, we will be exhibiting in The Hub on Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 10:00 – 5:00 each day in booth 601. This year, we’ll have our ArcGIS Urban product manager, Silvia Casas, and two of our most talented Professional Services team members, Christine Ma and Sydney Rich, to demonstrate how ArcGIS Urban has been a cornerstone in cutting-edge planning projects in cities across the country.  They are also eager to learn about your goals and challenges to see how a geographic approach can drive your projects to success. In addition, Caitlin Smith from our Professional Services team will be in the booth to show how we’ve helped regional governments work with their member municipalities and how cities can better work with their regional planning commission or MPO (and vice-versa).

I’ve said this to many of our users. Esri does not run a planning department on the side. We need to hear from the planning community. While we bring a great deal of planning experience to the table and visit dozens of departments each year, we never tire of learning what planners are wrestling with and what proven or new approaches we can take to solving problems. 

I will be there to demonstrate how GIS can access and analyze demographic and socio-economic data, how to generate more value from your permitting system (whatever that system may be), and how GIS is an integral part of civic inclusion. We’ll also have an obnoxiously large touchscreen display where you can generate demographic and other reports for your city, county, or project area.

Must-See Projects and Sessions for the Modern Planner

Second, Esri will be involved in several sessions with our users and partners. I wanted to highlight a few of them:


1. How a Digital Twin Empowered Civic Inclusion – Sunday, April 2 at 11:30 – This is a very relatable story about State College, PA and how they took a geographic approach to their development constraints and challenges to produce a modern platform that effectively engages and informs the public, while providing a data-driven approach to development review. Speaking of which…


2. Data-Driven Approach to Meet Community Housing Needs – Sunday, April 2 at 3:00. – This is a learning lab where participants work in groups to identify housing opportunity sites for a fictional community using web-based GIS. No GIS experience necessary.


3. Geodesign Tools are Changing the Community Planning Process – Monday, April 3 at 9:30. – Join Dan Meehan from Penn State, Christine Ma from Esri, and Robert Kain from Houseal-Lavigne to assess how GIS-based support tools are changing the ways planners effectively design and engage the community.


4. Using Impact Models for Long-Range Planning – Monday, April 3 at 3:00. – Last and certainly not least is the story of how Boulder, CO leveraged GIS to conduct scenario planning to project and analyze different futures and communicate their impacts to the public. I love this story!

And, finally…

We are supporting a very worthwhile initiative driven by APA’s Advocacy Team in Innovation Alley in The Hub. I don’t want to spoil it.  You need to see it for yourself.  If you think advocating for your community is something for someone else to do, this team will change your point of view. I genuinely appreciate and enjoy working with this group. They accomplish so much for the planning community…probably more than you realize…and you should get to know them and find out how you can support each other’s efforts.

Our team is looking forward to seeing you and hearing from you at NPC in a couple of weeks.  See you in Philadelphia!

About the author

Keith Cooke is the Global Industry Manager for Planning & Community Development at Esri. A graduate of Auburn University, he has been a GIS professional since 1994 and has worked for planning and community development agencies at the regional and municipal level. Prior to this role, he was an account executive at Esri for 15 years working with over 100 local governments. He is a frequent speaker at GIS, community planning, and economic development events and is an active member in the American Planning Association, where he has conducted nearly 100 hands-on GIS workshops for planners since 2004 at the National Planning Conference and state chapter conferences.

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