Moab builds a future with Geodesign software workshop
by Jacque Garcia
The Times-Independent
Feb 01, 2018 | 855 views | 0 0 comments | 37 37 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Moab City Mayor Emily Niehaus addresses participants of the Geodesign workshop, including Community and Economic Development Director Zacharia Levine and commercial developer JJ Wang.
						     Photo by Jacque Garcia
Moab City Mayor Emily Niehaus addresses participants of the Geodesign workshop, including Community and Economic Development Director Zacharia Levine and commercial developer JJ Wang. Photo by Jacque Garcia

A workshop was held Jan. 16 and 17 at the Utah State University campus in Moab on Geodesign, a free computer program used for city planning. Moab residents from many facets of the community attended to learn about the software and its applications for designing the future of the city amid consistent growth.

“I’m so excited this is happening,” said Moab City Mayor Emily Niehaus. “It’s a dream come true.”

One year ago a similar workshop was organized in which community leaders came together to ask themselves how the Moab and Spanish Valley areas could grow sustainably. This time, the software was used in a similar manner, but is focused entirely on housing. USU master’s student Matthew Starling and professor of bioregional planning Dr. Barty Warren-Kretzschmar led the two-part workshop. At the beginning of the event, participants were placed into one of four teams: equitable housing, environment, commercial/tourism and locals first. Part one focused on teaching the participants how to effectively use the software to design a city layout, and part two was based in negotiation between the teams, using the four respective maps they created.

Claire Spalding of Community Rebuilds is implementing the software into her work at Community Rebuilds. Spalding explained, “At Community Rebuilds, we are looking at using the software to help us map out our past projects and potential developments for the future. There seem to be many useful aspects of the software, from the ability to easily categorize projects and policies by type, to the option of giving the community the opportunity to give input through dating-app like features.”

“I think being hungry for tools and seeing this as an opportunity because it’s free, and because it’s an open source piece of software, and because we’ve got such a resource with USU, it’s very attractive to me,” Niehaus said. “What I also really like about Geodesign is that it’s policy- and project-based.”

Geodesign was built to link science to design in a format that is accessible to everyone. Once a design is created and placed on a grid, maps created by different groups can be compared, easily indicating areas of agreement and disagreement.

Niehaus said she is optimistic that the software will both empower the individual to seek solutions to Moab’s affordable housing issues and present them to the government, and encourage productive negotiation between different interest groups. “It’s not just policy, and it’s not just project, but it’s where they can both exist on one map. So it really lends itself to having a fact-based conversation about what we’re trying to do. It’s a tool that helps us get on the same page.”

The spread of participants at the clinic was diverse. Kaitlyn Myers, an AmeriCorps volunteer working with the county community development office that recently helped develop the “Moab Area Housing Resource Guide,” was in attendance.

“I’m interested in long term development in the Moab area, particularly housing,” Myers explained regarding her interest in Geodesign. Commercial developer JJ Wang also attended the workshop, saying, “I’m glad I have the opportunity to see the big picture here.”

Moab resident Sheree Duncan claimed the workshop caught her eye because of its potential impact on her work with local foods. “I’m interested in the future of Moab,” Duncan remarked.

The city planning maps created during the workshops are experimental and learning-based. But the work done and negotiations initiated may have real impacts on Moab’s development in the future. The software has already been implemented successfully in Cache Valley, Utah, as the town struggles to conserve the rural character of the area while seeing its population grow. City government officials hope to make their designs accessible to residents using the Geodesign software, in order to receive direct feedback from the citizens of Moab.

More information about Geodesign and its uses can be found at

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