Communicating future scenarios: Developing an interactive, participatory internet based tool for ecological planning


Sprawl development in the United States is linked to a variety of environmental issues, including impacts to water, soil and air quality; loss of prime agricultural farmland; and indirectly to climate change. What legacy are these development patterns leaving on the landscape? New design standards and planning techniques such as urban growth boundaries, ecological planning, and New Urbanism/LEED-Neighborhood Development are increasingly being used to decrease sprawl and plan sustainable communities. In addition, new technologies have helped to research, analyze, and design these communities. Yet sprawl remains a significant issue in the United States. I believe that part of the problem is that while the tools, techniques, and principles have changed regarding the plan and design of residential communities, the way in which we communicate these changes has not transformed in equal measure. People are willing to choose alternatives to sprawl if given the choice and provided with accurate and understandable information about their communities. Current learning theory provides numerous genres of research that can provide a theoretical framework for landscape architectural communication to enhance the communication of ecological planning principles.

Certain genres within learning theory advocate for a more collaborative and interactive approach, which can be built by modern technology to delve deeper into complex issues through ‘real-world’ simulations. The majority of landscape architects, local governments, and planners continue to present or communicate designs with static boards, reports, websites, and presentations. Some municipalities and researchers have begun to incorporate new technologies in order to apply a more “learning theory”- centered approach to planning, but the applications of these efforts are limited and often result in new complications to the process.

This research reports on and reviews an adaptive approach to community design and planning emphasizing clear communication of ecological design and planning issues in rural communities. Moreover, this approach relies on interactive internet-based technologies. Considering the quantity of information on the Internet, it is important to understand what types of content are necessary to provide the best value in comprehending the complex issues that face these communities.

The primary purpose of this thesis is twofold:

  • To create an interactive, three-dimensional Web 2.0 tool based on ecological planning principles; and
  • To document the benefits and drawbacks of each step of the process so that future research can refine the process and create tools for user group testing. Ultimately, this thesis is designed to start the discussion about how landscape architects can better communicate the principles of ecological planning in an effort to minimize sprawl in a rural context. To put this in context, I focus on the Big Hollow Drainage-way.


  • Timothy Murtha, Jr, PhD (Advisor)
  • Brian Orland (Committee Member)
  • Ken Tamminga (Committee Member)
  • Douglas Miller, PhD (Committee Member)

Thesis and Research Website


  • Client

    The Pennsylvania State University

  • Skills

    • Sustainability
    • Land Use Change
    • Web 2.0
    • Design Visualization
    • Land Planning
    • Html
    • Javascript
    • CSS
    • PHP
    • Google Earth API