Geodesign in Theory and Practice

This week, as it has done for the past four years, Esri is hosting the Geodesign Summit in Redlands, California. The event gathers the theorists and practitioners of geodesign which has its roots in many spatial disciplines. The goal is to further define as well as propose paths to success using the theories and expose them as best practices in urban planning, landscape architecture, civil engineering and even geotechnical challenges.

What is geodesign (see Wikipedia definition)? As a relatively new discipline, the conference organizers offer suggested definitions from those that are leading the call to employ geodesign throughout the disciplines mentioned above, for example:
Carl Steinitz, recognized "father of geodesign" says, "Geodesign changes geography by design." Bill Miller, Director of Esri's geodesign services says, "Geodesign is design in geographic space." Jack Dangermond, president of Esri says,  "Geodesign is a vision focusing geographic knowledge to actively and thoughtfully design." And Bran Ferren, the conference keynoter this year and co-founder of Applied Minds, a company that prototypes high tech products says, "Geodesign is a form of story telling that combines geography and databases that are geotemporally available in the world, and visualization so we can look at and understand the consequences of actions."
It's necessary to have these definitions because from the standpoint of a 35 year veteran of GIS I might be inclined to say that we've been doing geodesign all along but now have the data, software and hardware that are available at a fair cost. That is, it is now possible to think spatially more cheaply. 
Steinitz in a pre-conference lecture on "Making the Argument for Education in Geodesign" feels the time is now for reorganizing the teaching methods of those engaged in instructing architecture, landscape design, etc.  He said "increased social and environmental risk, ubiquitous technology and demands for democracy and participation will increasingly influence the education and practice of the design professions and geographically oriented sciences and the ways in which those activities are organized and carried out. I think what he is saying is that there is some inevitability that geospatial technology will influence more design disciplines that must incorporate an awareness of the bigger picture and not just the building or park on which they are asked to render a design.
Ferren, in his keynote said that "Geodesign allows you the ability to look into the future and show people the future changes … [it] lets you tell the story. He advocates for a long time horizon on which to think about the impact individuals have on any given design. "Having a 250 year plan enabled by geodesign would give people a different framework … Just have the discipline to sit down for a day it will change your whole thought process," he said. This was Ferren's way of complaining about the short attention span of people, such as politicians and corporate CEO's who are either too focused on re-election or quarterly profits, respectively.
Ferren wants geodesigners to think about a "Bill of Rights for the Planet" … a way to protect basic rights of earth-bound things but which is self-correcting over a long time horizon to adjust for demographic or technological changes. In conclusion, he offered a few guiding principals.  He describes geodesign as an organizing principle that has the tool kit to share ideas. He encouraged designers to take the time to build a long term plan and have the courage to take them on even when it might mean change and sacrifice. "People will make sacrifices so long as you tell the story about how it affects them," he said. "Lead by geodesign. [Use it as] a tool to educate our educators; our politicians and our media leadership."

Published Friday, January 25th, 2013

Written by Joe Francica

Published in

Esri Technology

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