Urban planning departments direct growth in their cities. Through regulations and permit approvals, they evaluate land use and manage development. Cities are dynamic, and so are the regulations they use to constrain or open new development opportunities. Naturally, changes in regulations cause land use conflicts, which developers are likely to challenge. Planning departments trace historic changes in planned land use and zoning codes for specific parcels along with supporting documents that verify regulations were applied correctly.
The City of Los Angeles Department of City Planning has simplified this process with Esri’s job tracking system, ArcGIS Workflow Manager. For more than ten years, the planning department has used Workflow Manager to simplify database editing and ensure data quality.
The system’s versioning manager traces edits and links to parcel documentation so that the department retrieves crucial metadata about edits in more detail than traditional geodatabase archiving alone. Because Workflow Manager is an ArcGIS extension, staff interacts with land data via the normal ArcMap interface. By selecting an area of interest, they see all the job tracking identifiers associated with that location area. They can then dive deeper into the data to see documentation, scanned maps, ordinances, history, and why changes were made.
The path to greater productivity
The planning department keeps track of over 880,000 parcels within 58,000 zoning polygons and 53,000 general plan land use polygons. Managing the database was overwhelming due to the need to keep temporal records and the enormous number of edits made across a large date range. Members of the department’s implementation team described what data management was like prior to the digitized job tracking system.
Work assignments were based on the tiled coverages—a total of 1,916 citywide. But a supervisor could not tell what changes were made or trace the transaction edits. Most of the changes were marked on paper. If someone had to take over someone else’s assignment, that person had to follow a trail of paper notes to find clues about work already done.
Department leaders decided to modernize the data management system by implementing a GIS digital job tracking system. Their expectations were that the technology would improve editing, ensure healthy data, quickly trace past transactions, and have the agility to evolve and grow long into the future. The department’s leadership team drove the initiative, scrapping paper workflows in favor of digital ones. It also reorganized the department’s staff to improve data flow. Leadership’s willingness to restructure positions and work processes and recognize skill requirements drove the department’s successful job tracking implementation.
Early in the implementation phase, Esri and NorthSouth GIS consultants worked with the department’s GIS team to configure Workflow Manager to match editing requirements. The team planned and created automated workflow standards to ensure data continuity, including the addition of custom tools made possible by Workflow Manager’s robust API that are specifically tailored to the department’s needs. Soon, editors had more than doubled their productivity.
Automated workflows fast-track editing tasks. Since the department fully deployed the Workflow Manager system in 2007, editors have executed 287,000 transactions in the department’s various datasets. As technology capabilities have advanced throughout the years, Los Angeles has continued to work with Esri to improve editing performance. They have set up automated workflows for editing tasks, version management, geoprocessing, and archiving. The workflows create a version for each job or user, clean up versions, and reconcile and post changes. The centralized system streamlines transactional work processes and tracks feature edits.
In 2009, each editor performed between 700-800 edits to the three tracked layers. Today, they each perform about 2,000 edits per year. Five dedicated editors keep the land management database current. They use Workflow Manager tools to edit, balance their workloads, and track changes. Each edit job takes editors between five to ten minutes, on average.
Data is healthy
The planning department maintains 68 datasets. Workflow Manager tracks data for the three most critical layers: zoning, planned land use, and centerlines. The information in these layers is important to public interest, so it must be accurate. The department makes zoning and property information available to the public and interested parties via the public facing website ZIMAS.
Workflow Manager establishes repeatable workflows that ensure data standardization and consistency, for instance, the system-standardized visual review processes that editors and supervisors use to document, correct, and verify the overall quality of spatial data. In addition, a support group provides quality control as well as oversees applications, the system, and databases. The planning department reported that quality control management has become significantly easier because formalized workflows have made data entry more accurate.
Transactions are traceable
The department tracks about 10,000 transactions per year. The GIS team uses Workflow Manager to create weekly status reports for the IT directors. The tool aggregates the number of edits (zoning, land use, etc.), tracks types of edits (annotation, line work, etc.) and creates a history of actions by automatically recording each job over time. It also provides a detailed account of how the job was completed. Managers can see performance statistics for any period.
ArcGIS Workflow Manager has provided the department with the ability to respond in a responsible manner to legal matters when requested. This is especially true when it concerns regulatory-based GIS data such as zoning. Workflow Manager’s ability to account for each and every change occurring within the geodatabase has minimized the department's time and effort needed to research these matters for the all concerned parties. Workflow Manager has allowed the Department to confidently provide sworn declarations (in-lieu of appearances) to demonstrate the competency of how the data is handled and the effectiveness of the audit trail to account for a database record's change over time.
Staff want to make the best data possible because these datasets are critical to city planners that interact with the public daily. Using familiar GIS tools, planners easily access data by area of interest or attributes and use it for land use and development problem solving. Maps are inherently the most effective method of understanding spatial issues.
The future is promising
The success of this implementation has been vital to the department’s data architecture and will continue well into the future. Recently, the department launched the Re:CodeLA initiative, a comprehensive reworking of the city’s existing zoning code system, replacing the original framework in use since 1947. The initiative will engender greater flexibility for urban areas to evolve and change. Since the planning department intends to rezone every parcel, the GIS team anticipates that the new zoning code will triple the number of zones in the database. To maintain the continuity of zoning and land use tracking processes, the department will use Workflow Manager to accomplish its migration process.
“ArcGIS Workflow Manager helps us respond to the most important people we serve, our citizens,” said James VanGerpen, director of the Los Angeles Department of City Planning Information Technologies Division. “The system allows us to research a parcel and its history across multiple edits and understand when and why certain actions took place. With Workflow Manager, we reliably answer citizens’ questions about parcels within an appropriate timeframe and reliably inform the decision-making process.”