Indicators are conceptual tools to measure progress toward (or away from) a goal or objective. Their role is to ‘indicate’ performance and provide a basis for setting targets or comparing alternative means to achieve a target. In community design, indicators play a crucial translation role between aspirations and concepts (“big picture visioning”) and implementable actions, including the design and spatial arrangement of infrastructure, buildings and open space.
Sustainability performance indicators are frequently applied to built communities to measure performance achieved against policy goals, targets and benchmarks. However, sustainability indicators useful in community planning and design are necessarily different. These must reveal progress toward sustainability goals in ways that measure and compare sustainability potential as urban form options are considered and before choices are made. Such “enabling” indicators might be differentiated from “performance” indicators for the degree to which they are able use the spatial attributes of sustainability potential or capacity to assess contemplated alternatives when opportunity is far greater to modify direction or approach.
Sustainability Indicators for Computer-based Tools in Community Design is a project about enabling indicators. It developed a set of design-centred sustainability indicators for GIS-based modeling and visualization tools in ways useful to, and supportive of, charrette-based community design processes. Selected indicators and metrics were applied and tested at three community design scales — region, district and neighbourhood — in a three year long range planning case study, Plan | It Calgary. Project results include a framework and methodology for indicator design and many indicator examples. The case studies demonstrate that GIS-based indicators are feasible and effective in charrette-based community design processes and could be more widely applied with modest additional research and refinement.