Planning class participates in RVA ‘Reality Check’

Siegel Center-based event maps out scenarios to show the impact of future Richmond area growth

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A spirited discussion about the Richmond region’s future took place at the Siegel Center on Wednesday when approximately 300 people turned out for RVA Reality Check, an exercise that maps out future growth across the area.

The premise was based on a projection that 435,000 people and 203,000 new jobs would be added to the Richmond region by 2035. RVA Reality Check explored options as to where they would live and work and considered the impact of that growth on the area.

RVA Reality Check was organized by the Urban Land Institute Richmond, a nonpartisan organization that provides objective information on land use. The event was sponsored by VCU and the Timmons Group, a Richmond-based design firm.

“The Urban Land Institute approached us at the beginning of the academic year and asked us to participate in the project,” said I-Shian (Ivan) Suen, planning associate professor and program chair in L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, part of the College of Humanities and Sciences.

In previous RVA Reality Check exercises, participants used Legos to plan new offices and housing developments on a regional map. At this year’s event, the VCU planning program was able to present the material in graphic form through the work of Instructor Michael Kolonay and students in his “GIS Applications in Urban Design” course.

“And we can help to visualize in almost real time what happens if you increase employment in an area,” Suen said. “The model will inform participants on the consequences of development choices.  If you increase employment in an area, you need to think about what happens to traffic and greenhouse gases and other impacts on infrastructure.”

Suen said the experience is valuable for planning students because they can experience the importance of bringing people of different viewpoints together to reach a consensus.

Community and business leaders, planning and nonprofit representatives and residents from across the region participated.

“It’s a good opportunity for people to discuss and exchange ideas about how we want our region to grow, what are the consequences of that growth and can we live with those consequences?” Suen said. “That’s the beauty of this tool to visualize the future and see the consequences of our decisions.”

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