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ODU to Host 'Reality Check Hampton Roads,' an Exercise in Collaborative Planning for Regional Growth

Census predictions suggest Hampton Roads will add another 350,000 residents over the next 25 years.

Where will those people live? Where will they work? How will they get around the region?

Those are vexing questions for citizens and planners in every Hampton Roads community, as the existing infrastructure is already stretched, and communities compete to grow their residential and commercial tax base.

An innovative exercise hosted at Old Dominion University on Thursday, May 17, will allow community and business leaders with a giant stake in the region's future - from developers, to nonprofit organizations, to academics, to environmentalists - to work together and create a "plan" for the region's expected growth.

It's called Reality Check Hampton Roads. Sponsored by the Urban Land Institute (ULI), the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, the Hampton Roads Partnership and ODU's E.V. Williams Center for Real Estate and Economic Development (CREED), Reality Check will be a real-time simulation where stakeholders will have to work together to find a shared solution to managed growth for the region.

"The idea is to come up with a set of guiding principles to inform everybody in the general region, where we're suggesting that growth is going to take place," said CREED director John Lombard, chair of the urban studies and public administration department in ODU's College of Business and Public Administration.

Here's how the exercise will work:

From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., 300 local decision-makers will gather around tables and be given, of all things, Lego bricks, signifying new population and commercial development. After an explanation from game organizers, the participants (broken into groups of 10) will debate where, in an already crowded region, new developments should be constructed.

Think it's tough to get across the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel now? Imagine a few hundred thousand more cars trying to make that trip every day. That's just one of many dilemmas the Reality Check participants will wrestle with. Each table of decision-makers will include experts with decidedly different points of view, such as environmentalists and developers.

"The real beauty of this exercise is there are very few rules," said George McLeod, GIS coordinator of high performance computing with ODU's Office of Computing and Communications Services (OCCS). "Each of the tables is free to make their own decisions, so people can be creative, and put five crossings (between the Peninsula and South Hampton Roads) if they want."

After all the Lego bricks have been placed, the technical support team behind Reality Check, led by McLeod and Sara Kidd, senior regional planner with the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, will compile an "average" plan for growth, based on the decisions made at each of the 30 tables.

Other ODU officials participating in Reality Check include Rusty Waterfield, assistant vice president for computing and communications services; Deborah Bauman, assistant dean of the College of Health Sciences; and a number of researchers from the university's Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative, including director Larry Atkinson, Slover Professor of Oceanography.

The "game day" results and analysis will be presented by Lombard, McLeod and Kidd at the Esri International GIS Users' Conference in San Diego in July, to more than 15,000 GIS experts from around the world.

ULI has conducted Reality Check events in more than a dozen regions across the country, including Washington, D.C., and Tampa-St. Petersburg.

A number of community organizations have leant their support to the event at ODU, including the Elizabeth River Project, Hampton Roads Association of Commercial Real Estate, and the Chambers of Commerce of Hampton Roads and the Virginia Peninsula.

The shared intelligence about the region's future will be compiled in presentable form, analyzed and offered as a possible perspective on how future growth should be planned to decision-makers at every level. The guiding land-use principles adopted at Reality Check Hampton Roads and the actual concepts for how to absorb more people and jobs into the area will be the genesis for the Partnership for Principled Planning (PPP).

Housed within ODU's E.V. Williams Center for Real Estate and Economic Development, in collaboration with ULI and other regional partners, the PPP will be:

  • A forum where the public can address regional land-use issues.
  • An advocate for shared goals that promote sustainability.
  • A resource for technical assistance for localities and private interests to understand and achieve regional goals.

"ULI will be a long-term sustainer for the new organization," said John Peterson III, Hampton Roads district chair for ULI, "and we will work in collaboration with CREED and other organizations in the public and private sectors to ensure that it has the people and other resources it needs to advance the results of Reality Check."

ULI will have a role in the oversight of the PPP along with ODU faculty members and others in the community. The PPP will be able to draw upon the talents and services of ULI experts across the country as well as ODU's Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center.

"Every region needs a voice for sensible growth and a place they can go for credible information and even verification of their plans and ideas. We intend to be that address for Hampton Roads," Lombard said.

For more information about Reality Check Hampton Roads and the PPP, contact Lombard at jlombard@odu.edu.