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Transportation: Public Participation

Project Region Recognized as a Regional Visioning Best Practice with Four National Excellence Awards

Project Region, the unprecedented community engagement process created by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC) to develop the region’s long range plan, has been honored as a Best Practice in Regional Visioning with four national excellence awards:

“The Project Region outreach process has been, and continues to be, among the most aggressive, inclusive and innovative public participation efforts ever undertaken by a regional planning agency,” said Jim Hassinger, Executive Director of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission.

“To be recognized as a leader in regional visioning at the national level by the American Planning Association, the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration, and the U.S. Economic Development Administration is a tremendous honor,” said Hassinger. “It’s an honor that belongs not just to the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, but also to our partners in state and local government, non-profit organizations, and the business and philanthropic communities. As we advance projects that are consistent with our Region’s Plan and the vision for our shared future, we look forward to our continued partnerships and working together in innovative ways to make Southwestern Pennsylvania one of the best places to live, work, play and invest.”

Project Region was led by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, conducted in a highly inclusive partnership with a range of public, private and non-profit organizations involving people from every county in the region.
The Project Region process was a set of organized activities to help the 10 counties of Southwestern Pennsylvania work together using technology and cost-effective public involvement techniques, rather than expensive traditional marketing, to develop consensus on plans by combining GIS tools, forecasting and scenario methods, electronic kiosk surveys and web facilitated simultaneous public planning meetings.

American Planning Association 2008 National Planning Excellence Award for Public Outreach

Accepting the National Planning Excellence Award for Public Outreach for Pittsburgh’s Project Region are (starting from second left) Chuck DiPietro, Shannon O’Connell, Kirk Brethauer and Lew Villotti. Pictured far left: Carol Rhea, AICP, chair of the 2008 National Planning Awards Jury. Pictured far right: APA President Robert Hunter, FAICP. The American Planning Association announced that Project Region, developed by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, is the recipient of their 2008 national award for Public Outreach in the planning process.  The American Planning Association is the largest organization of its kind in the world with approximately 25,000 members working to advance best practices in urban and regional planning. This award recognizes the innovative methods used to organize planning partners, volunteers, and the public, in meetings enhanced with electronic polling, geographic information system technology and internet web-based conferencing.

It Takes a Region
Source: APA Planning Magazine, April 2008

Project Region, the process to create a 30-year transportation plan for the 10-county region of Southwestern Pennsylvania, is a document created by some 3,000 people. Planners set the stage, but it’s the residents, organizers say, who created the vision for a diverse region that covers 7,112 square miles and is home to 2.6 million people.

For its success in collaborating with residents—in Pittsburgh, in tiny Appalachian Mountain communities, and everywhere in between—Project Region receives APA’s 2008 Public Outreach Award.

The process was lead by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, the metropolitan planning organization. SPC started by surveying residents online and in civic meetings, where it used electronic polling technology and touch-screen kiosks. Users worked with an interactive map and answered questions about travel, values, and issues of local and regional public policy.

Both during meetings and back in the office, SPC married that information with traditional transportation, economic development, and demographic data—as well as data from a recent inventory of the region’s natural infrastructure—to sketch development scenarios, creating a “continuous interaction of data development and exposition,” says Jim Hassinger, AICP, SPC’s executive director.

The culmination of Project Region was a web-based regional town meeting. SPC held 11 simultaneous meetings throughout the area, using video and specialized software to present a draft of the plan and get input. Most important, Hassinger says, is that the web format allowed some 600 attendees to interact with each other. “The whole region was able to understand what various parts of it were saying. They didn’t have to read about what happened in the newspaper later.”

“Our Region's Plan,” as the final document is known, was approved last summer.

Read a PDF version of this article by Meghan Stromberg in APA’s April 2008 Planning Magazine here.

American Planning Association 2008 Technology Division Award for Best Use of Technology for Public Participation

Winner: Project Region, Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Ken Snyder (left), APA Technology Division Chair, presents the 2008 Best Use of Technology for Public Participation Award for Project Region to Kirk Brethauer (center) and Shannon O’Connell (right) of SPC.This award recognizes an organization for the best use of technology to enhance public involvement and participation in planning and decision making processes.  Project Region used a series of new techniques to establish a meaningful discussion with the region on sound planning and its future. SPC created GIS-based electronic surveys that were both web-based and on touch-screen kiosks that were taken out to dozens of community meetings where people could locate their community on a digital map and answer questions generated by the program’s user interface. Wireless keypad voting technology allowed hundreds of stakeholder organizations and the public to learn planning concepts in meetings, build consensus on key issues, and see polling answers summarized and displayed immediately. Over-the-web conferencing was used to reduce costs and conduct simultaneous live meetings across the entire region.  

SPC also produced a high quality video summary of the plan and the Project Region outreach process:

Read a PDF version of an article on the Project Region award from the APA Technology Division’s newsletter, Planning & Technology Today.

Federal Highway Administration & Federal Transit Administration 2008 Transportation Planning Excellence Award

Chuck DiPietro (center) accepting the 2008 Transportation Planning Excellence Award for Project Region. Pictured left to right: Rob Ritter, FHWA; Jim Cheatham, FHWA; Chuck DiPietro, SPC; Charles Goodman, FTA; Rich Lukas, APA.The 2008 Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration Transportation Planning Excellence Awards (TPEA) Program is to recognize outstanding initiatives across the country to develop, plan, and implement innovative transportation planning practices. The TPEA Program is co-sponsored by the American Planning Association.

Awards were granted to projects, processes, and groups that have made outstanding contributions to the field of transportation planning. An independent panel of judges selected the award winners, using the following criteria: innovation; community and public involvement; partnerships and collaboration; multimodalism; equity; sustainability; demonstrated results/effectiveness/replication/transferability; and category-specific considerations.

Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission
Project Region

The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC)’s 2035 Transportation and Development Plan for Southwestern Pennsylvania was developed through an extensive community engagement process called Project Region. SPC took advantage of new technologies and created a set of organized activities to help the 10 counties of Southwestern Pennsylvania work together in a cost-effective and inclusive way.

With diverse rural and urban communities spread over 7,200 square miles, SPC determined that there was a need to use innovative community engagement techniques to develop consensus. Collaborative partnerships were developed with public, private, civic, and philanthropic organizations and a project structure was created, including four work groups, focusing on financial resources, transportation strategies, economic development strategies, and forecasting and modeling.

Project Region engaged over a hundred local organizations to review county, state, and local development plans and draft a unified, consensus-based plan. More than 3,000 participants were directly involved in workshops and sessions; many reviewed regional development “sketch scenarios” and contributed the criteria they believed were important to consider in the process. Outreach and participation tools included: GIS-based electronic surveys, available online and at touch-screen kiosks; wireless keypad voting technology; a project video; and an interactive project website. Over-the-web conferencing was used to reduce costs and conduct simultaneous live meetings across the entire region, culminating with a live Webcast Regional Town Meeting.

The policies developed in the plan articulate how the region will reinforce existing places, economic activities, and connections with a strong emphasis on preservation, maintenance, and operation of existing infrastructure. Based on positive feedback, similar community engagement techniques and themes are underway for public participation in other regional planning activities.

Read a PDF version of the 2008 Transportation Planning Excellence Awards brochure here.

LogoU.S. Economic Development Administration 2008 Planning Performance Award

Project Region, Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission

The EDA issues Planning Performance Awards to those EDA investment recipients whose projects demonstrated outstanding collaboration and effectiveness in the planning phase of a project.       

The 2035 Transportation and Development Plan for Southwestern Pennsylvania was developed through an unprecedented community engagement process called Project Region. SPC collaborated regionally and produced a unified regional plan, promoting economic growth and generating jobs within its ten-county area.  In its collaborative outreach, SPC went well beyond standard public outreach formats, using state of the art technologies to collect feedback across the ten-county region on policy choices.  
“The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission collaborated widely and produced a unified regional plan, promoting economic growth and generating jobs within its ten-county area,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, Sandy K. Baruah.  “I congratulate the Commission on its achievements.”        

For more information, visit the EDA’s website.

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