Observations and Insights from the Geodesign Summit 2012

The first day of the GeoDesign Summit on the Esri campus in Redlands, California produced some pointed remarks about the "process" and "models" that define this evolving discipline. Collaboration seems to be the hallmark of geodesign whereby myriad stakeholders can see and interact with geospatial information and models.

Jack Dangermond, Esri: "At a distance, geodesign will be looked at as an evolutionary step for humans; we will realize the consequence of our human actions. Geodesign will be done by society but all of the information that will be available on the web...What is changing at the same time is technology; we're measuring more resulting in huge volumes of data, some call it big data. We're making this data available; computers are getting connecting; its affecting science and how we approach science. Design is becoming more collaborative and information driven; we're becoming more multidimensional, [more] interactive.

Doug Walker, president of CommunityViz: "A'll of this technology doesn't really matter to city planners unless it helps you to make good decision."

Jeff Volpe Michael R. Ross of Bergmann Associates, in showing a typical, vertical perspective of imagery and maps to a city official was asked by the official: "Who are we trying to impress with this, helicopter pilots?" Ross's recommendations were to:

  1. Continue to work to position geodesign as an essential way of the working in the initial conceptual design phase of a project
  2. Smooth the model development pathway
  3. Enhance the first-person experience with more ground level designs and maps

Carl Steinitz, professor of Landscape Architecture and Planning at the Harvard University School of Design and considered the founder of the geodesign discipline said, "What if it was more true than false that we didn't know what we were doing?" Essentially, Steinitz was advocating a collaborative process and to challenge some of our basic assumptions of how to visualize and model geospatial information.

Braden Allenby, a professor of Civil, Environmental and Sustainable Engineering and Professor of Law, Arizona State University, speaking about the complexity of large systems such as the economy, biodiversity, water and others: "These Earth systems are difficult in themselves, but because they are foundational, they are coupled to each other, and to many others."

Similarly, Doug Olsen, president of O2 Planning + Design, spoke about the geodesign approaches to land use planning and urban watershed management. He is working to develop vulnerability and suitability plans based on inputs such as habitat, terrain, transportation, ecological structure and create a weighted average vulnerability  map.

Tamara Manik-Perlman of  Azavea discussed an R&D effort by her company to develop ways to offer citizens more input to community development efforts in what she calls "citizen science." She discussed how to develop a social impact score for replacing high density housing with a forest to allow citizens to  see the balance of tradeoffs in the decision-making process.

Will McClintock of the University of California, Santa Barbara, discussed SeaSketch, a collaborate application for ocean planning. "We love and use the ocean more than ever;  Human use of oceans has increased," said McClintock. "[We] need to engage more stakeholders in the process of how the environment is used ... Sometimes, the government and scientists get together and make decisions. However, they are not the only stakeholders and plans sometimes fail." He discussed how geodesign enables any potential stakeholders to sketch as they go along and learn as they go.

One of my take-aways as a first time attendee to the Summit, was that we don't have an information problem; we have an education problem because people in planning don't necessarily know what is possible with the types of information and technology that we have. The demo of Esri's CityEngine for visualizing and interacting with building models and 3D data was particularly interesting because of the ability to try different scenarios quickly.

Disclosure: Esri funded part of the travel expenses related to covering the GeoDesign Summit.

Published Friday, January 6th, 2012

Written by Joe Francica

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