Future-Proof Your Comprehensive Plan By Making Room For These 4 Technological Game-Changers

Future-Proof Your Comprehensive Plan

August 21, 2017

Don’t get outpaced by innovation in this age of acceleration. Here are four technological trends to include in your comprehensive plan updates. 

1. The rise of the drones

 Brad Hentschel, AICP
Brad Hentschel, AICP is a community planner dedicated to making sure cities step into the future that’s best for them. Contact Brad

As drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), have become smaller and less expensive, they’ve become a much more common sight in our cities.

Expect to see more. The Federal Aviation Administration predicts the number of drones to grow from 2.5 million in 2016 to 7 million by 2020. 

We can predict an increasing number of drones will carry out services hundreds of feet above our streets (see Amazon’s new delivery system). Imagine drones at different heights and speeds, moving through the city. Cities are no longer planned solely on the ground. Navigation aside, there’s still the matter of safety and regulations. The biggest backlog of legal cases in the US is reportedly drone claims over issues including safety, noise, damage, personal intrusion and privacy.

As a result, every city will want to account for limits and restrictions and have a solid understanding of their role in protecting the public realm, says Brad Hentschel, SEH community development expert. 

“You’re going to want to use land and zoning powers to designate when and where UAVs can operate,” Hentschel says. 

Not just in the air, drones are taking to the pavement, too.  In fact, in Wisconsin, there’s a new law making room on the sidewalk for what are called “Personal Delivery Devices.” These 80 pound robots travel the sidewalks to deliver things like groceries and takeout throughout the neighborhood. 

Are you planning for a driverless future?

2. The ascent of autonomous vehicles

Their ubiquity is not a matter of if, but a matter of when. Driverless cars are on their way. What this gear shift will do to cities is unknown (at SEH, we made predictions here). But that doesn’t mean you should wait to find out what happens before planning for their impact on land use and transportation corridors, says Hentschel.  

The important thing will be to keep paying attention to advancement in the technology. This will create the need for additional infrastructure for these vehicles – and being able to properly plan for this when it becomes available will be critical in urban areas. Balancing the infrastructure needs between these technologies and keeping human-scale design will be a challenge. 

From how they‘ll impact traffic speeds to land use, here’s a good primer

3. The advance of telecom

Though it may not directly impact a city's CIP, telecom is an integral part of the community. And it’s important to make considerations for it. Telecommunications technology is constantly evolving as carriers are in the midst of next generation 5G implementation. This will involve, in part, the need for small cell sites impacting an already crowded public right-of-way. Additionally, the FCC has authorized (through FirstNet and AT&T) the build-out of a mandatory first responder network. In advance of this build-out, municipalities should look at the relevancy of their current zoning requirements, permitting processes and the development of associated standards.

4. The swell of social media

Social media is changing the who, what, when and where of the public’s civic engagement. As city input becomes as near as a mobile device, the rules of engagement are changing fast. Simply, with platforms like NextDoor, residents and businesses expect more opportunities to weigh in on activities like comprehensive plans. 

Good news is that social media can amplify your outreach by providing new and valuable channels for getting input for updates to the plan itself. In other words, if you’re not using social media to spread the word, you’re missing out on a major multiplier. At SEH, we’ve had measureable success using social media to foster civic engagement. 

Social media is changing the process. A single social media post asking residents for input on a comprehensive plan created a noticeable increase in traffic to the webpage hosting the survey.

The bottom line? Dialogue

Predictably, these trends will continue to develop, and new ones may come into the picture. Keep talking about them when you can. Being prepared and having preliminary conversations prevents being blindsided by technological innovations when they are rolled out.

About the Expert

Brad Hentschel

Brad Hentschel, AICP, is a community planner dedicated to making sure cities step into the future that’s best for them. Contact Brad

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