Ellen Perlman was a GOVERNING staff writer and technology columnist.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sometimes life imitates art. Sometimes it imitates video games.
The latter is the case in Massachusetts, where a new program allows players in some 350 communities to virtually rebuild their cities and learn the economic, fiscal and political ramifications of their choices.
The Community Preservation Initiative "is a tool designed to help people make informed decisions," says Priscilla Geigis, director of the initiative. The "build-out" maps and analyses are geared toward communities that rely on volunteer rather than professional planners. Users download maps from the Web and look at the development potential for individual communities or whole regions. Residents of a community can see, for instance, what the effect would be of building a multimillion-dollar industrial complex on a neighbor's border. They can also determine whether they have the facilities to support such development or whether they would need to build new schools or take other steps. "Decisions are based on knowledge instead of speculation," says Doug Pizzi, a spokesman for the program.
A fiscal program is also available. Users plug in the costs for, say, an extra firefighter or wider road to determine what the price to the community will be of a particular development. Right now, the two tools don't work together, but Massachusetts hopes to have them in sync by this spring.