#GeoDesign Summit 2011: Day Two

By the middle of the morning of Day Two of the GeoDesign Summit I was already “lightning talked out.” The day actually started with a few more traditional papers. A pair from AECOM offered one vision of urban land planning that focused on sustainability. More than one person suggested this was the best illustration of geodesign at the event, but I confess it went over my head; my notes literally say “no idea.” If nothing else, I certainly felt their discussion illustrated the complexity of the endeavor.

Stu Rich from PenBay Solutions focused on bring GIS indoors to provide a holistic vision for facilities management. Stats “6 times more floorspace than land area in Manhattan. Need to start mapping the building insides.” “48% of energy use in US is on buildings, only 27% transportation. Greenest building is the one never built…” (Thx @DaleAtSafe for catching those!) He demonstrated how a good, complete model of a building or complex could, like its outdoor sibling, be used for a variety of analyses. Using part of the Esri Redlands campus he explored:
- How a disabled employee could evacuate and if it met ADA requirements
- How to locate a newly hired manager to maximize face time with the team
- How to determine if the fire hoses could reach areas of the structure

Carl Steinitz

If the first presentation was a challenge for me, Carl Steinitz of Harvard challenged me further. Steinitz, as several of us agreed during the break, describes thing so simply, with “cartoon” graphics or just the difference between a “thumbs up” and a “thumbs down, that his words are deceiving. You have to pay extra attention to capture and process even a fraction of it. I realized in trying to keep up, that listening to him was akin to trying to keep up with James Burke (the Connections guy who spoke at the User Conference in 1990s. He said then: “I will speak for one hour. I hope you’ve all been to the toilet.”).

Here are just some of the pearls and big ideas I took from Steinitz discussion, which went about 20 minutes long. (No one seemed to care.)

- Quantity yields lousy designs. Why is that?
- Geodesign is for solving poorly defined problems
- Those doing geodesign are muddling in a complex world pretending it’s simple.
- He cited deGroot (though I found it attributed to Einstein), who said, in paraphrase: Not everything that can be counted counts; some things that can’t be counted, count.
- Visualization is not communication.
- We are losing an understanding of what is sweet and good in life because it is qualitative not quantitative. (I tell my running friends that a lot. A good marathon may not be reflected in your finish time. My best one: Passed TONS of people in the last five miles. One of my slowest marathons EVER.)

The four key players in a design experience are:

- people of the place (they change)
- info tech resources and people
- geographers/scientists
- design professionals

He went on to highlight how the geographers/scientists come at problems from fundamentally different ways than their colleagues in design. That in and of itself is not a bad thing, but getting these group to communicate makes forward motion a challenge. In short, we underestimate the difficulty of communication.

One example of the different perspectives: geographers use the past and present to predict the future. Designers think about the future, but don’t know much about the present and past. Now, Steinitz was quick to point out this was a broad generalization but a valuable starting point in thinking about how to bring these players together.

Much of the rest of the presentation revolved around the use of models and the questions that should be applied to the landscape.

The biggest takeaway from a practical standpoint was Steinitz strong conviction that we should not be “making” geodesigners. Instead, we should be making trained professionals (geographers, designers, scientists, etc.) who can work together.

Lightning Talks

After a much needed break to try to clear some space in our brains, a marathon of lightening talks began.

Of note:

Tamara Manik-Perlam of Azavea showing off some of their end user facing work, with a focus on response times and usability.

Chris Andrews of Autodesk showing off Galileo. While there is much buzz about Galileo in the CAD and design communities, my sense was it was new to many who focus on GIS. And, many got a kick out of an Autodesk staffer speaking at Esri headquarters.

Jim Appleton, President of the University of Redlands shared that institution’s vision for integrating GIS and spatial thinking across the curriculum in addition its already well known GIS programs. He spoke with passion and conviction and clearly spent a lot of time learning from his faculty. Look to Redlands to take a lead in many areas of GIS education.

Tom Fisher of the University of Minnesota outlined that schools vision for a education framework. He argued (and I’m not yet convinced of this) that geodesign is the “moveable type” of our time. That is, it will help disperse knowledge, with the help of the Web.

IdeaLabs 2

We gathered into shortened IdeaLabs to round out the afternoon. I returned to the curriculum one where we looked at some of the different models of making geodesign happen. In some schools it’s being taught, but not named that. In others, the geodesign moniker, with some changes in course contents is popping up. In a third, there is contemplation of a geodesign certificate, something that would serve local employers. I sensed there was no overall agreement or disagreement with Stienitz feeling that we not create geodesigners. That is probably healthy at this point.

The other “big idea” for me was the contention that geodesign may well be parallel to BIM. Right now, in the marketplace, designers and others in the design/construction arena need to be “BIM ready.” That means they need to be able to hit the ground running as part of team working together via BIM. Combine that with requirements from the federal government and others that BIM be part of the design process and there is an educational imperative for trained “BImmers” (I made that up!). Karen Hanna of Cal Poly Pomona, argued the same should and would be true for geodesign. How far away that vision is, is unclear. It certainly could help the educational community begin to define curricula and tease out best practices for teaching it.

The most positive sentiment, for me, from this group discussion, is that many individuals and institutions are already “just doing it,” that is implement geodesign as part of their individual courses or degrees. From their work, we agreed, we’ll begin to learn what works and does not, and spread the word about this new way of thinking.

Wrap Up

We wrapped up the day having a look at the results of Thursday’s BIMStorm. Kimon Onuma’s colleagues had fleshed out some of our buildings, including a several thousand story tower! (It looked pretty cool in Google Earth, but was quickly turned off.) Onuma reminded us that our little one hour session is not really how designers work, but it did give us a taste of process.

Jack Dangermond then took the pulse of the community about the meeting. Some responses:

- Most liked the two day model
- Most were ok with moving the meeting out of Esri and some universities are considering hosting in the future
- Lightening talks need to be shorter (six minutes instead of ten) and should be curated via video pitches
- Most thought it would be ok to turn geodesign to an appropriate professional organization to nurture and grow
- Most thought the number of lightning talks was about right
- There was excitement about a hack day associated with the Summit to tackle a real problem (That’s part of the plan for Redlands GIS Week coming in February.)

Bonus: Look for my “Takeaways” article on the event this week in Directions Magazine.

Esri helped cover some travel and lodging costs related to Directions Media’s attendance at the Summit.

Published Monday, January 10th, 2011

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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