Envision Tomorrow Overview

Envision Tomorrow (ET) is an open-access scenario planning package that allows users to analyze how their community's current growth pattern and future decisions impacting growth will impact a range of measures from public health, fiscal resiliency and environmental sustainability.

Envision Tomorrow is a suite of planning tools that includes analysis tools and scenario design tools.  The analysis tools allow users to analyze aspects of their current community using commonly accessible GIS data, such as tax assessor parcel data and Census data.  The scenario painting tool allows users to "paint” alternative future development scenarios on the landscape, and compare scenario outcomes in real time.

ET provides a quick, sketch-level glimpse of the possible impacts of policies, development decisions and current growth trajectories, and can be used by communities to develop a shared vision of a desirable and attainable future. It can be applied at scales from a single parcel to a metropolitan region.  

Scenario comparisons measures include a comprehensive range of indicators relating to land use, housing, demographics, economic growth, development feasibility, fiscal impacts, transportation, environmental factors, and quality of life. 

Envision Tomorrow has been in use and under steady development for over 15 years.  In the last 5 years, the functionality and indicators available in ET has been greatly expanded through research and development funded by a series of HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant awards in the Salt Lake city region, the Austin TX region and in the Kansas City region.  A growing national community of users has established Envision Tomorrow as a national platform for scenario planning and an open source platform to will continue to innovate and evolve.

The original planning tool, Envision Tomorrow, was developed by Fregonese Associates of Portland, Oregon, who are still key users, developers, and innovators.  Recent improvements to the tool are the product of a close collaboration between the Metropolitan Research Center (MRC) and Fregonese Associates. These improvements consist of approximately 20 additional analysis tools and scenario indicators developed and incorporated into the standard Envision Tomorrow tools and indicators as part of the Sustainable Communities grant process.  Most of the additional models are based on cutting-edge empirical research conducted at the MRC lead by Dr. Arthur "Chris" Nelson and Dr. Reid Ewing.

How Envision Tomorrow Works


Envision Tomorrow may seem very complex to the new user. However, understanding a few key elements of its architecture will allow the user to quickly feel comfortable enough to dive into the details.


Planners know spreadsheets, not code. For this reason, Envision Tomorrow has kept most of the calculation elements in a Scenario Spreadsheet that is linked to ArcGIS via an extension. Modifying assumptions – and even adding new indicators – is far easier within a spreadsheet than within lines of code. In addition, the tool has an unparalleled level of transparency since each of the equations are visible and easy to change by the user.  


There are three basic types of spreadsheets involved in the interlinked Envision Tomorrow platform. Each is based on a standard template, accessible from the downloads section of this website. The three spreadsheets include the building-level Prototype Builder Spreadsheets, the scenario-level Scenario Builder spreadsheetand individual modular models that can be dynamically linked to the scenario spreadsheet, such as the Fiscal Impact Model and the Travel Models.  

The smallest unit of analysis in our scenarios are buildings.  Individual buildings are modeled in a template spreadsheet called a Prototype Builder.  This template spreadsheet is a simplified, planning-level pro forma, not unlike one used by a developer to evalulate the financial feasibility of a development project.  The Prototype Builder includes both the physical attributes of buildings, such as height and landscaping, and also the financial attributes, such as rents and construction costs.  

The Prototype Builder is a handy stand-alone tool for evaluating the financial feasibility current or proposed zoning.  It also serves as the template for creating a library of building types to be used in any scenario planning process.  Depending on the scale of the scenario planning effort, a Prototype Library could include only a handful of generic, or "prototypical," building types to a library of 40-50 very specific biulding types.  This library of building spreadsheets are loaded into the Scenario Spreadsheet through the use of a push-button macro within the Scenario Spreadsheet.  Once loaded, each building spreadsheet is dynamically linked to the Scenario Spreadsheet.  This means that if the user edits any of the building spreadsheets, the changes are automatically reflected in the Scenario Srpeadsheet, and thus, the Scenarios themselves.  


The Envision Tomorrow extension for ESRI's ArcGIS is a relatively simple interface that allows users to select and "paint" different land use types, or Development Types, onto the scenario layer.  The extension is also responsible for establishing a dynamic connection to the Scenario Spreadsheet, so as the user paints, information about how much area the user has painted is sent to the Scenario Spreadsheet, which in turn, results in changes in the indicator charts and graphs.  The file menus in the ET extension also contain the various ET Analysis Tools wizards explained further under the Analysis Tools section.

How is Envision Tomorrow Used?

The workflow of Envision Tomorrow is a “linear and iterative” process.  Users of ET typically create anywhere from two to five different "scenarios" which differ fundamentally from one another based on some policy question, environmental variable, or demographic assumption.

Since, at its core, ET is an extension tool of ArcMap, it requires some preparation before users actually use the software. In the first step, users should determine what their geometric scope is and what the basic spatial unit should be used to fit the geographic scope; Will your scenarios focus on a single parcel? Are you planning at a corridor scale? Multiple counties or regions?  Depending on the appropriate geographic scale, a parcel, grid, or hexagonal geometric unit might be appropriate.  More information about this and other project setup steps can be found in the project and setup calibration section of the ET user manual.

When all preparations are done, scenarios can be produced very easily by creating a file geodatabase, painting the areas, and producing scenario outcomes in various ET spreadsheets. Each scenario produces its own outcomes, and users can check the outcomes according to their goals and assumptions of scenario planning. If the scenarios are not satisfied with goals or assumptions, users can go back and adjust their scenarios. The final scenario is determined through comparison of all scenarios, and users can document the final scenario outcomes. 

Above all else, Envision Tomorrow is a flexible planning platform which can be used to examine a range of different planning problems.  Some of the potential applications of Envision Tomorrow include:

  • Regional Visioning
  • Growth Management
  • Zoning Capacity Analysis / Management
  • Corridor / Redevelopment Analysis
  • Site-Level Feasibility / Viability Assessment
  • Downtown Planning
  • Comprehensive Planning
  • Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Planning / Station Area Selection

For a step-by-step guide to setting up a scenario planning process click here.