In more than 40 countries around the world, thousands of people are using CommunityViz.
They represent the smallest towns and largest cities, private consultants, NGOs, federal and state agencies, counties and regional planning authorities, local and national consultancies, Native American tribes, and the countries' leading universities.
CommunityViz is a leader of what has become a new class of tools and a new way of doing planning: GIS-based decision support, sometimes called geodesign. CommunityViz is a favorite among planners, resource managers, and GIS professionals alike because of its unmatched combination of powerful analytics and easy-to-understand visual presentation. The software that started as just an audacious idea over ten years ago is now a very real, very powerful part of planning projects and planning practice all over the world.
CommunityViz began as an idea in the late 1990s when Noel Fritzinger and his friend Lyman Orton, proprietor of the Vermont Country Store and long-term member of his town's local planning board, first envisioned a software tool that would make the planning process more accessible to ordinary citizens.
After forming the Orton Family Foundation, they joined forces with the visionary software developer Brenda Faber and a team of experts chosen from all over the country to make their vision a reality. One of their first hires was William Roper, who would go on to become the Foundation's president and CEO in 2006.
By 2001 they had achieved the beginnings of success: their new tool had completed extensive trials in limited release and, under the new leadership of software veteran Doug Walker, it went on the market for the first time. The "CommunityViz Suite Version 1.2" included three separate ArcView 3.x extensions: Scenario Constructor for interactive analysis, SiteBuilder 3D for 3D visualization, and Policy Simulator for agent-based modeling of future outcomes resulting from present-day policy decisions. The price for the suite was approximately $5000.
The new software caused something of a sensation in the planning community, whose members were still accustomed to planning with "markers and mylar." But initial adoption was not instantaneous, and planners only gradually adjusted to more collaborative planning and "radical" new concepts like real-time interactive analysis and realistic 3D fly-throughs.
The CommunityViz creators did not sit still, though, and even as the new tool was making its way into leading-edge practice they were hard at work on improvements and additions to the original design. Versions 1.3 and 1.4 followed, and by 2003 there was enough real-world experience and research to guide a complete redevelopment that resulted in CommunityViz Version 2. The new version was built for the new architecture of ArcGIS 8.x. It changed Scenario Constructor to Scenario 360 and gave it a new, intuitive interface. SiteBuilder 3D was updated, but Policy Simulator was reluctantly dropped from the package. The new design made CommunityViz more accessible to a much wider audience, and it quickly gained popularity.
By the end of 2004 CommunityViz was well established at the forefront of modern planning practice, and the Foundation decided to make two big changes: a.) CommunityViz development and operations were spun off into a new company called Placeways LLC, and b.) the price of the software was greatly reduced to make it affordable to almost everyone. With continuing guidance and financial support from the Foundation, Placeways continued the vigorous CommunityViz R&D program, introducing Version 3 and its powerful decision tool architecture in the fall of 2005. By 2009, the software was becoming part of standard planning practice, and rapid advances in technology allowed the introduction of an all-new 3D component, Scenario 3D and other advances incorporated into Version 4.
In 2011, the American Planning Association's Planners Press published The Planners Guide to CommunityViz: The Essential Tool for a New Generation of Planning by Doug Walker and Tom Daniels. Drawing on the collective experience of years of CommunityViz projects around the world, the book serves as both a milestone in the growing history of CommunityViz and a guide for the new generation of planners who use this powerful tool.
In 2016, Placeways, LLC was purchased by City Explained, Inc.
Never content that CommunityViz is perfected, we at City Explained, Inc. are constantly working to improve to the tool.
We take our inspiration from how people use -- or want to use -- the software in their work. In addition to selling the software and supporting its users, we also use it ourselves in our own planning projects. We work closely with a network of independent CommunityViz practitioners and professionals as well. In formal and informal ways, we listen to the stories and the lessons that real-world CommunityViz practice can tell us: how the software works or doesn't; what land-use issues and problems people are facing; what new science or innovative processes people are developing that we can help to use or support.
Luckily, our job is made easier by today's rapid advances in GIS and 3D technology, which we take advantage of, build upon, and contribute to ourselves. We are not so much interested in technology for technology's sake, but for the sake of what it can do for people. Sometimes tools have to be more advanced to be easier to use, and we are happy to take advantage of progress in areas like processor speed, broadband networks, and satellite imagery to present a richer, yet easier, experience to the users of CommunityViz.
We are also pressing hard on the boundaries of traditional "planning and resource management" and trying to help people address larger questions about the future of their communities and their land. We're asking ourselves whether CommunityViz can do more to help people articulate important qualities of their community that are not captured by traditional indicators: things like stories, memories, and quirky customs that make a place a community and give it its "heart and soul." We're always looking for other tools that can do things CommunityViz fundamentally can't, and whether we can make our tools work together for mutual benefit. And we're looking beyond planning and resource management and into related fields like transportation, engineering, architecture, and energy.
We can't make CommunityViz do everything, but we know our future will be guided by our passion for making CommunityViz a tool that makes a difference.