Defining the future

Organization hosts communities from rural America

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— The Orton Family Foundation will play host to leaders from seven diverse communities stretching from Texas to Washington this week at the Lodge at Steamboat.

The foundation's Tammie Bowes Delaney said the group will be here to undergo a week of training working with the Foundation's new CommunityViz! software.

The community planning software is intended to provide new tools for visualizing and understanding master planning efforts.

Among the participants will be people from Story County, Iowa; the Liberty Prairie Foundation in Grayslake, Ill.; the city of Lockhart, Texas; the city of Logan, Utah; and the city of Tacoma, Wash. Also taking part, Delaney said, will be representatives of two Colorado communities Eagle County and the city of Glendale, working with the Denver Regional Council of Governments.

Townsend Anderson, regional program director for the foundation in Steamboat, said working with the representatives of the seven communities is a first step in helping them begin to use the software to make real planning decisions.

The seven communities are among 21 nationwide who were chosen from among a large number of applicants to be among the first exposed to the software. Already, nine beta test communities, including the city of Steamboat and Routt County, are well into training programs, which began last summer.

CommunityViz! is a software suite developed by the Orton Foundation, a private not-for-profit. The software is an extension of ArcView Geographic Information System (GIS) software. It is intended to analyze planning information in new and powerful ways, Delaney said.

CommunityViz! will allow users to create and manipulate a virtual representation of a town and then visualize the results of implementing different land use scenarios.

Anderson has often told local government leaders that the foundation has no interest in influencing local policy decisions. Instead, the software is meant to allow communities to visualize and evaluate different land use patterns, and make informed decisions on the issues that are most important to their own neighborhoods.

The stated mission of the foundation is to help citizens of rural America define the future, shape the growth and retain the character of their communities.

Anderson said the foundation is continuing to work with local government to develop a "citizens resource center" in Centennial Hall.

The intent is to create computer kiosks where people with only limited understanding of the software could use touch screens to navigate through three-dimensional representations of proposed developments.

The Orton Family Foundation was founded in 1995 and is funded by profits generated by The Vermont Country Store mail order catalog.

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