Missoulians are a vocal bunch in general. This town is known for speaking its mind, whether it's at city council meetings, in peaceful protest, or online. Lately, it feels like there's no shortage of issues that are weighing on Missoulians' minds.

  • finding affordable housing
  • managing urban wildlife
  • increasing property taxes
  • labor shortages
  • increased traffic congestion and traffic accidents
  • increased crime

Could AI Be the Answer to Solving Missoula's Problems?

A recent study reviewed in sciencealert.com showed that when it comes to urban planning, for many tasks AI, creates better plans in a shorter amount of time than humans do, particularly if it has to do with creating a spatial layout.

Missoula might benefit from some AI-generated urban planning, but what other recommendations might AI have for improving Missoula?

Related: If You Really Want to be Heard in Missoula, Check Out This Site

What We Asked

The question we posed to ChatGPT-3.5 went like this:

You're a city planner working for the City of Missoula in Montana. Residents are frustrated with things like the street layouts, the high cost of housing, and the presence of urban wildlife. What would you recommend to improve the city of Missoula?

The AI tool then put together an 8-point plan with multiple recommendations under each section. But are the recommendations anything new? Maybe, maybe not.

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What AI Recommends for Missoula Montana

AI's 8 areas for improvement included:

  1. Street Layouts and Transportation
  2. Housing Affordability
  3. Urban Wildlife Management
  4. Community Engagement
  5. Environmental Sustainability
  6. Economic Development
  7. Long-Term Planning
  8. Infrastructure Improvement

Within these 8 categories were recommendations and surprisingly, Missoula is already employing many of them.


Recommendation: Complete Streets

According to Climate Smart Missoula, that's already happening. "Missoula is focusing on land use planning that reflects Smart Growth and Complete Streets principles to achieve those goals," they say on the Land Use Planning section of their website. And if you aren't familiar with the term "Complete Streets" it refers to creating streets that cater to more the just cars, meaning cyclists, public transportation, and pedestrians.

Dennis Bragg, Canva
Dennis Bragg, Canva

Recommendation: Public Transportation

Not only does Missoula have public transportation but it's electric, and in the next five years, its operation center will be electric too. 

Chris Wolfe, Canva
Chris Wolfe, Canva

Recommendation: Wildlife Corridors

While there is certainly interest and resources being dedicated to wildlife crossings and animal bridges, the idea of dedicated wildlife spaces in the city might be helpful.


Recommendation: Zoning Reform

Already being looked into. Both at a state and local level.

Related: An Article in The Atlantic Highlights the Issue Montanans Can Agree On  


Recommendation: Green Infrastructure

I'd love to see more of this--green roofs, native plant landscaping--and did you know the University of Montana has an arboretum that covers the entire campus with "250 species and 2,150 trees"?


Recommendation: Utilities

Specifically, AI recommended, "Upgrade and expand utility infrastructure to accommodate the growing population and ensure reliable services." The power outage this past weekend, when squirrels appeared to be the culprit, is a timely reminder that this might be an area worth looking at. And maybe in this particular instance, a solution for utilities would also be a solution for urban wildlife.

Overall, maybe Missoula really does have a lot of initiatives in place to help with our city's most challenging issues. Maybe we are doing the things that help our city improve. Maybe we need to remember that positive change takes time.

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