The use of Geographic Information Systems or GIS in urban planning in North America and throughout the world has expanded at an exponential rate since the mid-1960s and early 1970s when Canada first used GIS to assess land inventory. A GIS is a software that captures, analyzes and manages spatial and geographical data.
The Canadian Land Inventory used GIS, with a system created by Roger Tomlinson, to determine land capability for crop types and forested areas by using soil, drainage and climate characteristics. It was Canada’s foray into GIS and the ensuing use of the technology by governments that realized the importance of GIS in urban planning.
Since then, the number and variety of GIS applications and software and their use have multiplied: Urban planners and local governments can now use in-depth, real-time data to map and monitor cities, demography, land use, infrastructure and much more.
The cost of using GIS in urban planning, in the beginning, was prohibitive, with as Sinton’s IMGRID being one of the earliest and most influential grid-based software applications in use for urban planners. However, at the time, that mapping software was weak in analytical functions.
Since then the availability and capabilities of GIS software for urban planners has increased, and at the same time, the cost has decreased.
GIS in Planning Communities
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A wide range of solutions can be solved by using GIS in urban planning. Planners use GIS for analytics and modeling, which enables local governments to plan, build and maintain productive, organized cities.
Using GIS, an urban planner can determine the demography and density of a region to decide where to build new cities and expand existing ones. Problems of overcrowding, urban blight, and other issues can be addressed using GIS data.
While a variety of methods can be used to obtain information about a planning area, such as satellite images, aerial photos, reports, statistics and paper maps, and drawings, importing this data into a GIS application can help planners predict demographic and land use changes. Also, simulations such as traffic flow and speed are achieved via GIS data input and analyzation.
GIS as a Visual Aid
GIS provides optimum visualizations of gathered data that can be presented to all stakeholders in planning a community. A GIS database can include information such as land use and population statistics, as well as data converted from any scanned maps and plans. Numerical data is converted into tables, graphs, and charts. Spatial query and analysis are achieved using GIS layers that geo-code topography and combined with managing large, elaborate sets of data, planners can address infrastructure and public use.
GIS in Land Use
GIS remote sensing technologies are used to determine the environmental viability of a land area, whether it can be used for waste and disposal and treatment, or to address issues such as restoration of wetlands.
Addressing matters such as zoning and building permits in an area that has been developed or is being reconstructed, using GIS a planner can find information on permits such as type, date of issuance and for what kind of development the permit was issued.
Whether for urban or rural planning, environmental and design planners use GIS to gather information and make decisions on a variety of matters.
Environmental planners use GIS to assess land risks, i.e., whether flooding or erosion will impact integrated land use. They also use GIS for developed land management, especially regarding urban sprawl growth and for infrastructure management, such as dams, bridges and other structures that may impact a community or surrounding environment.
Finally, environmental planners or designers use GIS to determine the social and economic impacts of decisions made by the previous issues.
The applications of GIS in the planning and maintenance of cities and regions seem boundless. As time advances, most likely will the variety of uses of GIS by urban planners. The critical importance of GIS technology keeping up with the expansion and growth of cities throughout the world cannot be overstated.