The environmental consequences of planning decisions are often undervalued. This can result from a number of potential causes: (a) there might be a lack of adequate information to correctly assess environmental consequences; (b) stakeholders might discount the spatial and temporal impacts; (c) a failure to understand the dynamic interactions between socio-ecological systems including secondary and tertiary response mechanisms; or (d) the gravity of the status quo, i.e., blindly following a traditional discourse. In this paper, we argue that a Planning Support System (PSS) that enhances an assessment of environmental impacts and is integral to a community or regional planning process can help reveal the true environmental implications of scenario planning decisions, and thus improve communal planning and decision-making. We demonstrate our ideas through our experiences developing and deploying one such PSS—the Land-use Evolution and impact Assessment Model (LEAM) Planning Support System. University of Illinois researchers have worked directly with government planning officials and community stakeholders to analyze alternate future development scenarios and improve the planning process through a participatory, iterative process of visioning, model tuning, simulation, and discussion. The resulting information enables an evaluation of alternative policy or investment choices and their potential environmental implications that can change the way communities both generate and use plans.
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