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Project Introduction

Planning the way we use space should be viewed both holistically and as a dynamic process, where increasing intensity of use forces us to adapt our systems of land use given a finite land base, increasing knowledge of the impacts of land use, and the changing attitudes of both land users, and regulators of land use. The one observed constant is the ever-intensifying and evolving conditions of land use.

Over the past two decades geographic information systems (GIS) have emerged from the research lab into mainstream planning, and land suitability analysis has become a tool of choice for identifying potential sites for development (Carr & Zwick, 2007), particularly since McHarg's (1969) popularization of the technique in his book Design with Nature. However, while many large scale simulation models (see Klosterman, 1994) for planning metropolitan areas have since been developed, they have tended to remain within research labs (Drumond & French, 2008). It has also been argued that GIS do not support tasks performed by planners (Harris, 1989; Harris & Batty, 1993) in that GIS is really a data management tool. Vonk, Geertman, and Schot (2005) have also identified a number of impediments to the broader adoption of GIS-based planning support systems, namely a lack of awareness of such systems, a lack of experience with them, and a lack of recognition of their value. We believe these impediments arise as a result of insufficient knowledge regarding the use of GIS for analyzing and evaluating planning proposals, and a paucity of easy to use tools that are readily available for public consumption. In response to these issues our proposed research plan addresses these impediments through the adoption of a user-centered design approach (Norman, 2002; Roth, 2008) that brings together planning tools founded on practical, academically sound principles that are designed to educate and stimulate interest in the development of future communities. We propose a rich web-based resource for community planning, education and collaboration, that blends spatial information, planning theory, and case-based stories from multiple world views into a seamless, immersive experience delivered over the Internet.

This project proposes to move beyond forecasting the amount and location of urban growth to also focus on the effects of growth and change. We believe that this will move GIS towards a more robust planning support system that allows planners and stakeholders to better understand the consequences of alternative courses of action, and to use GIS as a tool for effecting positive change in the urban environment. As such, this research proposes to address these issues through the development of a geospatial cyber-infrastructure (Yang, 2010) for planning. This is a cross cutting infrastructure that can support geospatial data processing (Yang, 2010) and visualization within the planning domain. PlanYourPlace will focus on three specific types of users: (i) government administrators, who might use the system to interpret planning proposals as they reconcile the many competing demands of citizens; (ii) domain experts from planning, transportation, and the environment who may wish to present relevant information and analyses, or develop methods for design and assessment of proposals; and (iii) the public who wish to advocate for their community, or expand their understanding of the impacts of development.

Teitz's (1974) broad definition of planning describes three fundamental perspectives: i) analysis – observation, data collection, and data manipulation; ii) design – creativity, invention of new forms, generation of new ideas; and iii) process – development of procedures to achieve a specified form. To be effective, GIS must address each of these perspectives. GIS does analysis well, but struggles to aid the design and process themes. Additionally, typical participatory planning approaches are limited because once the experts disappear, the public is unable to develop its own ideas as it no longer has access to necessary data, nor systems that enable them to develop their ideas. The cyber-infrastructure proposed plans to address these perspectives in three ways: (i) through development of a rich web-based tool to help citizens, developers and elected officials visualize possible scenarios and their anticipated effects (analysis focus); (ii) by developing sketch friendly tools to create alternative plans and then estimate the fiscal, environmental, and social impacts, etc. (design focus); and (iii) extend participatory GIS to support a two way dialog between citizens and planners about communities and their future.