Research and Tools

PlanSmart NJ undertakes original, in-depth research grounded in reliable data to support changes to New Jersey’s land use patterns and policies. We prepare reports, studies, and maps to educate and inform policymakers and practitioners with the goal of effecting changes to land use systems to improve the quality of life for all New Jersey residents. We have expertise in land use, transportation, infrastructure, economic development, and housing, among other areas. PlanSmart NJ also creates new planning tools, strategies and conceptual frameworks to be used by policymakers, planners, and the public to better inform land-use decision-making. Our focus is on applied research that leads to implementation.

PlanSmart NJ’s Regional Target Calculators

Too many statewide targets have been missed because the goal is too broad or too large to be easily connected to the millions of individual decisions made by the local officials and private citizens. PlanSmart NJ has been working on new ways to break down these goals into manageable, measurable regional targets that address issues affected by local land use planning and infrastructure decision-making.

Greenhouse Gas Calculator: When it comes to reducing greenhouse gases, the task can seem too big and the demands too many. But PlanSmart NJ has developed Greenhouse Gas Calculator to help communities find real and manageable ways to reduce auto-dependency on a regional basis.Currently, most of the regulatory attention is focused on smokestacks and other “point” sources because government officials often feel helpless to address the portion of emissions that comes from cars and trucks – even though transportation actually represents NJ’s largest source of carbon dioxide emissions.

PlanSmart NJ’s Greenhouse Gas Calculator helps municipalities to determine just what their clear air responsibility is, by breaking down statewide goals into targets for each county, and then offering a menu of land use planning suggestions on how to achieve these goals. Such information is critical, because it quite clear that NJ needs to do more in the transportation sector than just reduce tailpipe emissions. The number and length of trips people take must also be reduced as well.

Mercer County, for example, based on the most recent data available, would need to eliminate approximately 25 million car and truck trips – only about seven percent of the current trips – by 2020 if the county is to meet its share of the state clean air goals.

Transit villages and other center-based developments are some ideal planning choices that can get cars off the road. Changing land use patterns results in multiple benefits. Clustered development increases access to jobs for more residents and improves water quality because more open land is preserved. A more efficient transportation system leads to fewer vehicles and shorter trip lengths. Clearly, NJ, and the nation at large, needs to spend more time creating transit options for zero-car households – in addition to developing zero-emission vehicles.

Workforce Housing Calculator: The tool takes job targets by economic sector and calculates the number, type, and price of workforce housing units needed to accommodate the expected workforce. This calculation uses an industry sector analysis of the workforce, an inventory of the current housing stock, and estimates of real estate and rental costs.

Jobs-Commutershed Calculator: This calculator helps to identify where new transit should go, based on the state’s workforce needs. It identifies where NJ’s job centers are and determines the areas included in a reasonable commute: 15 or 30 minutes. Then it calculates worker income levels, compares various commute times, and determines whether adequate transit is in place to get workers from their homes to their jobs.

Impervious Cover Calculator: 
This tool helps communities identify areas that have less that 10 percent impervious cover (buildings, roads, etc.), to ensure that growth is directed away from these areas and instead towards places that are already developed. This calculator will help communities grow in ways that can prevent flooding and preserve water quality and natural habitat.

Open Space Opportunities Calculator: This tool can provide important information about who has access to what open space. It shows exactly how much open space needs to be preserved in urban areas to enhance redevelopment efforts and ensure equal access for low-income workers as well as city-dwellers.

Regional Action Plans (RAPs): Having the right data is critical for good planning, but a strategy for implementation is essential to ensure that the information is used to bring about real change. PlanSmart NJ has developed the Regional Action Plan©, or RAP, to fulfill this need. It is the first public involvement process that is not based on asking open-ended questions such as, “What do you want?” since this usually results in vague goal statements and fragmented decision-making. Instead, the RAP promotes the development of comprehensive plans that coordinate state, regional, and local actions toward the implementation of already adopted policy targets – for housing, jobs, transportation and greenhouse gas reduction, for example. The RAP encourages communities to find the answer to the question, “What can we do together to reach our joint goals?”

The RAP contains a list of measurable objectives and actions to be taken by the parties to the agreement, e.g., amending plans, passing ordinances, adopting best management practices and developing a capital program to meet the objectives of the Regional Action Plan. The goals include the following:

  • reduce land and resource consumption,
  • reduce auto-dependency,
  • improve environmental quality,
  • expand choices in transportation and housing,
  • balance jobs and housing,
  • promote a sustainable economy,
  • make the use of public resources more efficient, and
  • make the distribution of the costs and benefits of growth more equitable.

GOZ® ModelThe GOZ® Model is a GIS-based program that calculates zoning yield (build-out) and associated development impacts for existing zoning and alternative zoning scenarios. GOZ® uses land use / land cover mapping and environmental features to determine the amount of land available for development, and based upon the zoning classifications for that land, it calculates build-out in terms of residential units and non-residential space. Then, based upon the projected type and amount of development, it calculates impacts upon traffic and air pollution, water and sewer demand, water pollution, and public costs.

The model has several distinctive features, including the following:

  • Calculates the impacts of different types and forms of development
  • Calculates relative development impacts in different categories, e.g., water quality and transportation
  • Allows revising assumptions to zoning classifications, densities, and impact multipliers, and enables one to compare the results of new scenarios with other zoning scenarios
  • Enables users to draw new zoning scenarios for testing

PlanSmart NJ has designed the GOZ® model to encourage sound and integrated planning at the local and regional level. GOZ® is an excellent tool enabling planning stakeholders to easily and quickly compare the impacts of alternative development scenarios. The model provides the ability to prepare a future development scenario that accommodates new development while minimizing environmental impacts and maximizing the effectiveness of infrastructure investments.

4-E Planning: PlanSmart NJ’s 4-E Planning stresses the interconnectedness between the economy, the environment, regional equity, or social justice issues, and resource efficiency to reduce the cost of government – what we have dubbed the 4-Es. 4-E Planning can help decision-makers better evaluate where to grow and where to preserve land.

Using GIS and other technology, PlanSmart NJ has developed new planning tools to show how to make the most efficient use possible of all available resources, including existing infrastructure. Equity issues, often overlooked, are also addressed under the 4-E Planning framework, since problems such as concentrated poverty are costly financial burdens for all taxpayers that can be avoided with better planning.

PlanSmart NJ’s tools are unique because they are designed to work with New Jersey’s often challenging Home Rule system, not against it. The tools can help communities determine for the first time where and how to grow jobs, where and how to build workforce housing, and where and how to create or improve public transportation options – all with the goal of fostering continued prosperity in our state.

Mapping/GIS: PlanSmart NJ has available extensive information and data that we can use to produce maps and conduct analysis with geographic information system (GIS) software. GIS combines mapped features with data attributes, enabling the user to conduct various types of mapping and spatial analysis. As described under the section on 3-Systems Planning©, GIS is the analytical core of our Smart Growth planning approach.

PlanSmart NJ is currently using both ArcGIS and ArcView to prepare maps and other GIS products, and we have two computers available to use for this work.

Achievements

We have authored or co-authored several studies and well-received reports, including:

PlanSmart NJ Remembers Outstanding Board Member Melvin R. Lehr

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