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A publication of the American Planning Association, California Chapter, Northern Section

Making great communities happen

Updated Bay Area Greenprint supports climate resilience and Pathways to 30×30 objectives

by Elizabeth Adam, May 24, 2023


Planners are by definition optimists. If we didn’t care how things played out, we wouldn’t bother to craft plans. General plans, regional plans, transit plans, conservation plans, and specific plans exist because planners want to make things better for a site, a city, a region, or a population. Planners are tasked with meeting the hopes and expectations of communities by creatively applying best practices while managing competing interests and solving unforeseen and complex problems.

View of Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve landscape
Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve
Photo Credit: Evan DiGiorgio

New realities need new tools

We all experience the consequences of climate change in California – prolonged drought, extreme wildfires, warming air and water temperatures, and increased deaths due to heat. Transportation plans become obsolete when wildfire evacuation strategies are needed. Site plans become obsolete when increased temperatures cause widespread power outages that compromise critical infrastructure. In the face of climate change, resilience is the key to keeping thoughtful, well-crafted plans from becoming prematurely obsolete.

Pathways to 30 x 30 Initiative seeks to increase resilience

An integrated picture makes the difference

“The Bay Area Greenprint carried us over the finish line by visualizing the complex range of data we needed while updating our policy on Spheres of Influence,” said Brendon Freeman of Napa LAFCO. He and Dawn Mittleman Longoria turned to the Greenprint to access information representing the multiple resource values in the landscape. Useful data they were able to attain included the CA Storie Index, a soil rating using soil characteristics that govern the land’s potential uses and agricultural capacity, as well as Napa County landscapes’ irrigation capability and watershed designations. Their Greenprint reports helped them through difficult discussions and over barriers of misinformation, finally allowing their task force to find alignment about the values of lands which helped them draft guidelines related to natural assets in their communities. They were able to use GIS as a tool to illustrate visually to stakeholders the resources and values of their land and how existing and proposed policies may impact them. “A picture really is worth a thousand words,” said Dawn, referring to how Greenprint’s maps and dashboards could easily depict local reality to stakeholders and proved invaluable in bringing everyone together around a shared view of the actual data.

Napa Valley landscape viewed from Calistoga
Calistoga in Napa County
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Adam, 2023

The importance of data integrity

Photo of View of Coyote Valley landscape
Coyote Valley from Coyote Ridge
Photo Credit: Cait Hutnik

Bay Area planning looks to the future

Planning today is more data driven than ever, and data visualization is an important component of the planning process. Through data visualization, planners can explore scenarios, options, and potential impacts ahead of a major outlay of resources and more effectively communicate such information to decision makers and community members. Greenprint’s land-use decision-support tool provides Planners with visualized data on a wide range of resource values, policies, and opportunities, thereby empowering them to prioritize scenarios that maximize benefits and minimize conflicts. Using the Greenprint tool in the first stages of a planning project can also minimize the need for complex mitigation scenarios after the fact.

Shared planning goals

Powerful, accessible GIS tool

Is this something I could use?

If there is a site you are considering, a corridor you want to connect, or a resource you want to protect, Greenprint can be a valuable resource. After drawing a polygon, entering an address, or selecting a municipal boundary, you can run reports that tap into the extensive GIS data sourced from local jurisdictions, the Conservation Lands Network, the California State Geoportal, and more than 40 others. The available data comprises over 20 million records in 80 different categories to help you understand your site’s resource values in context. You can map urban heat islands in San Jose, liquefaction susceptibility in Solano County, or Water Trail sites in San Francisco. Finding out where in a city Williamson Act lands overlay Critical Habitat Streams Policy corridors and Agricultural Lands (as seen below) may save you time and money.

Screenshot of Greenprint Analyze & Report tool with metadata Caption:
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Adam, 2023
Screenshot of Greenprint Analyze and Report feature
One of a kind analysis and reporting on combined community and biodiversity risks/resilience
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Adam, 2023
City of Richmond Community Risk and Resilience Report from Greenprint
Caption: None
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Adams, 2023

By turning on map layers within the report, Planners can see in more detail where risks and opportunities lie. With layers from Carbon Storage Potential to Tree Planting Need and Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems, gaining a deep understanding of a site and its surrounding and connecting ecosystems is easy. Many agency staff and elected leaders are motivated to incorporate conservation into infrastructure and land use planning and decision-making but lack access to data or a framework to interpret outcomes.

Planning scenarios are more complex

Increased climate risks, more complex community needs, regional housing targets, and decreasing biodiversity make planning more complex now than in the past. To stay relevant, planning projects must be examined from a variety of perspectives and consider a broader range of impacts. Serving data up easily and with strong visual components helps planners engage in more meaningful scenario planning, and potential impacts can be more efficiently considered, and more comprehensive solutions can be proposed. Alignment of Greenprint with California’s Pathways to 30×30 initiative creates an even more powerful resource for planners.

California is home to globally important biodiversity and the time is now to consider its preservation and restoration. Planning projects today set the stage for resilience and revitalization. At a minimum, a Greenprint analysis that includes multiple values allows interested stakeholders to understand and communicate across boundaries. Similarly, a Greenprint analysis can help local officials develop a coordinated strategy for guiding development to the most appropriate locations to avoid conflicts, while protecting important natural resources. Using the Greenprint will make the barrier to comparing options lower than it has ever been.

  • Are you thinking about working across disciplines? How would you go about starting that conversation?
  • Are there projects that you think could benefit from analysis developed using Greenprint?
  • Would reviewing data through Greenprint’s new lens shape your thinking differently? If so, how?
View towards the valley and the Loma Prieta peak from the hills of Coyote Ridge, San Jose, south San Francisco bay, California
View towards the valley and the Loma Prieta peak from the hills of Coyote Ridge, San Jose, south San Francisco bay, California
Photo credit: AdobeStock by Sundry Photography

About the Author

Elizabeth Adam holds a Bachelor’s degree in City Planning from the University of Virginia and a Master’s degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Washington. She continues to explore the intersections of planning, design, communication, connection, and conservation. Her work at Greenbelt Alliance, the Bay Area Open Space Council, and as a consultant has helped her understand the importance of maintaining an exchange of ideas across disciplines in the meaningful work of creating healthy systems and vibrant places.

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