Environmental report praises role of technology in county planning process

At a Nov. 20 board meeting, county supervisors were presented the annual report on the state of the environment in Fairfax.

The report, which is created by the Environmental Quality Advisory Council, is meant to assist the board of supervisors in “evaluating ongoing environmental programs,” and “aids public agencies in coordinating programs that jointly address environmental issues.”

Planimetric Information – Fairfax County Government Center (Source: Annual Report on the Environment)

In particular, the report praised the county’s use of technology in its land use planning process, and recommends development of tools that help analysts make land use decisions.

“Over the past several years, there has been a concerted effort to improve how the county plans for development and redevelopment,” read the study. “This culminated in 2012 with the Fairfax Forward project to modernize the planning process.”

Fairfax Forward, a new planning process by which the county updates its comprehensive plan, makes use of mapping technology to show how certain land use and transportation decisions would impact communities.

The report specifically pointed out the usefullness of this technology while planning for Tysons redevelopment.

“Technology was incorporated throughout the process with models and digital mockups that showed massing and expected growth projections,” read the study. “Fairfax Forward is a much needed program to address the transition from build-out to revitalization.”

Virtual Fairfax – Tysons Corner Area (Source: Annual Report on the Environment)

Additionally, the report said that tools like Virtual Fairfax, which allow users to look at aerial renderings of the county, are also critical in the planning process.

“The Virtual Fairfax 3-D application is a wonderful example of the power of digital technology,” read the study. “Besides being fascinating to fly through our neighborhoods, it is very practical for boards and commissions to visualize proposed changes and make more informed decisions and recommendations.”


The report stated that there are three characteristics that need to be in place for technology to be useful in land use planning:

1. The Global Information System and Integrated Parcel Lifecycle System capability – these are the technical systems that gather, move, manipulate and display information based on geographic location

2. Data that are geographically located, also called spatial data – this is an expensive component that needs to be constantly updated as the county changes. There are many sources of data, from aerial imagery to U.S. census data to county records, which need to be transformed into useable information.

3. Models and applications that can use the data to prepare for future scenarios and advanced visualization tools to help with decision making. The Visual Fairfax application is an example that leverages the GIS and data to help make informed decisions.

The report also recommended that the county continue to invest in technologies that help planners measure the impact of land use policies, and predict issues that may rise in the future.