Fifty years ago today in Washington, DC, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" Speech. Delivered to over 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the speech was a defining moment of the American Civil Rights Movement. On that same day across the country in Los Angeles, URISA was founded by 48 people at the “First Annual Conference on Urban Planning Information Systems and Programs”. That small group of big thinkers also had a dream, not as high-minded or articulated as emotionally, but certainly one that has had a significant impact.
URISA’s founder and esteemed member of the URISA GIS Hall of Fame, Edgar Horwood, recalled that first conference:
“…by mid-1963 there seemed to be a genuine interest of the users of the ROMTRAN language and some of the more active graduates of the course to get together to discuss applications, and on August 28, 1963, 48 people met on the University of Southern California campus to trade information on developments in “urban and regional information systems.” This was billed as the “First Annual Conference on Urban Information Planning Systems and Programs.” In a sense, the organization founded itself.
No proceedings were issued from the first conference, which was essentially of a seminar nature, structured around a few topics of interest. . Two things stand out in my mind from that first meeting. One is the demonstration of interactive computer graphics given after the meeting by Weldon Clarke, then of the Los Angeles Office of Bolt, Beranek, and Newman, and the other was the luncheon address given by Robert Goe, a chief aid to the then recently elected Mayor of Los Angeles, Sam Yorty.
The demonstration of interactive computer graphics, using a light pen and vector generating cathode ray tube operating from a small scale computer, opened a new horizon of thought in the minds of the viewers toward the on-line editing of networks in connection with geocoding. In retrospect this causes one to consider how quickly the hardware systems’ technology outdistances our capability to adapt to it, because it took us five years to gain this competence at my university and few metropolitan area DIME files are yet interactively edited.
The lunchtime talk by Robert Goe is memorable in the light of the 12-year history of the Yorty administration in Los Angeles. Mr. Goe personified the newly emerging style of public administrator dedicated to the incorporation of information systems into the fabric of the administrative process. With the computer now firmly incorporated in public management thinking, we were, according to Goe, at a new threshold of governmental efficiency and improved executive capability via harnessing of the new information automation capabilities. Los Angeles, situated in the center of a vast sea of competency in information processing technology related to the Southern California aerospace industry, was obviously well located to accommodate the transfer of the new technology for the betterment of the citizens of the region. Needless to say, the visions of Robert Goe were slow in materializing. Bunker Hill, the oldest unfinished urban renewal project in the country, was then entering its second decade of planning and is now, for all I know, in its fourth. In the interval, smog, riots, traffic, and the civil service did not show any signs of diminishing.
We see from the foregoing that URISA emerged from the need for communications among professionals in a new field and from their need to learn the skills, outlooks and philosophies that had not been included in their formal scholastic background.”
URISA's Immediate Past President, Greg Babinski, pulled out a couple of key items from Horwood’s recollections:
- The event ‘opened a new horizon of thought’ in the participants. That is what URISA conferences have been doing for 50 years.
- Robert Goe’s personification of ‘the newly emerging style of public administrator dedicated to the incorporation of information systems into the fabric of the administrative process’, describes people like me, and those ‘dedicated public administrators’ have been the primary focus of URISA for the past half-century.
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