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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

ESRI #Geodesign Summit Day 1 AM

As individuals gather from around the world for ESRI’s first Geodesign Summit there is one thing for sure: no one is exactly clear on what to expect, who will attend or what will be discussed. My breakfastmates, two from the states and one from Singapore, all agreed to this. One fellow also noted that while his organization thought about presenting a paper, in the end they pulled out, not wanting to “look silly.” I understand the reticence since the idea of geodesign is still being defined. I’m committed to looking at the ideas and this whole event with an open mind, forgetting for a moment that “my” first product, ArcCAD, was described as a “Geographic Design System.” I’m not sure I’d have admitted it then, but I didn’t really know what that meant.

Luckily, in his very short introduction (which included having attendees meet someone new) Jack Dangermond tried to layout the vision for geodesign. Geography, he offered,  is the science of our world and design is the about purpose and seeing the future of that world. GIS integrates these two. One could consider geodesign a field or body of knowledge or way of thinking, something a bit more than simply the mix of these two disciplines. The goal of the event, he shared, is to influence research and other fields around the ideas of geodesign.

Tom Fisher, Dean, College of Design at the University of Minnesota declared that we are at the beginning of a new field and wanted to bring the perspective from the design side. In particular, he wanted to highlight what sorts of problems the integrated vision of geodesign can solve for those in design.

He reminded us “non-designers” (or at at least me) that design is no just about making it buildings and communities “pretty” but making them work. He also noted the key similarities between design and GIS:

- both have geospatial thinking at their core
- both have a temporal side - geography is was, design could be - so together these disciplines link time

The real meat of the presentation, however was to focus on how today’s designs don’t take into consideration their consequences on the world. In short, they focus mostly on the present. That’s lead to what amounts to mankind making kind of ponzi scheme, that ultimately will explode. That is, it takes more than the one earth we now have to sustain ourselves.

What we have are many “fractured critical systems” - systems with goals of high efficiency - that are very vulnerable.

He cited these examples where he feels geodesign might help us:

- extinction of species
- carbon accumulation
- finance system (a few banks go down, everything goes down)
- efficient developments - if a few foreclosures, drags down whole neighborhoodm these, monocultures had no economic or environmental resistance)
- electric grid
- transportation system (highly dependent on oil)
- food systems (four plants are key - disease in one could cause famine around the world)
- water
- population growth (we are the invasive weeds of the planet)

These examples certainly put the big picture for geodesign in place. What I wonder:
Do we need to beat efficiency out of some of our solutions to live better? I think that’s part of the answer.

Will Rogers, CEO of the Trust for Public Lands outlined how that organization uses GIS in its work to preserve land for people. He outlined the current challenge: We’ve been doing “Emergency Room” conservation for years, reacting to threats. What we need to do now is “get out ahead of the problem,” perhaps by using the ideas of geodesign.

He walked though the development of a greenprint which involves stakeholders and teh public using interactive GIS. I reminded me quite a bit of the process Ken Snyder (podcast) uses at PlaceMatters. One of the questioners, after the presentation noted the challenge of simply collecting the data for such work. While Rogers agreed it was needed, Jack Dangermond suggested the answer may be The National Map.

Michael Goodchild of UC Santa Barbara spoke about how GIS can develop to serve design “better.” His vision is a bit more practical than the others and includes two parts (the Yin and Yang): the input, edit and recording of a sketch and the evaluation, analysis, prediction and modification of those sketches. The harkens back to McHarg’s 1960s ideas of designing with nature, integrating science into action. But we’ve forgotten that design was part of that vision, and it’s something we’ve not done that much of thus far.

ArcGIS he notes has the second part covered well, but it’s not so well integrated with the sketch part. GIS can do design - logistics, location and allocation, locating linear features, land use modeling - but these are infrastructure based, not “human related” and are most often aimed at expert users, nor do they connect well with “sketch.” He envisions a map on which he (or anyone) can sketch and a single “button” can do the analysis, prediction, evaluation, etc.

Right now we have some (not all) of the tools needed for this vision - but they are scattered and not integrated with sketch and crowdsourcing tools. Thus what we need to do includes:

- map all of the use cases
- select a few for protoyping
- integrate new kinds of interactions
- learn from prototypes (learn from the users)
- allow a comprehensive solution to emerge

Kim Tanzer, Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Virginia like Tom Fisher, comes from the design side. She addressed the value of geospatial to design and the role of the National Academy of Environmental Design in moving geodesign forward. She highlighted Project Albemarle, a website to share a vision for a water plan for the county of Albermarle, in which her university sits. The Palisades Project (New Jersey/New York) an effort to advocate for cooperative research via “beautiful evidence,” a term of Edward Tufte.

Before lunch we saw demos of ArcGIS Online and new sketching, analysis and 3D features in ArcGIS 9.4. The grand finally was a demo on Microsoft Surface. (James Fee offered a blow by blow on the demos on Twitter, findable, with all tagged #geodesign tweets here.)

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

by Adena Schutzberg on 01/06 at 02:13 PM | Comments | Bookmark and Share

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