The Role of GIS in Urban Planning

Urban planning sits at the core of sustainable urban growth. Portland, Oregon, is one of the jurisdictions at the frontline of sustainable urban development. The urban growth boundary law is a landmark legislation passed in the city that sought to encourage urban growth while protecting nature and natural resources.


But there’s more that we can do using technology.


GIS is an efficient and sustainable way of planning our urban centers. So, how can we use geographical information and technology to create better, sustainable cities for the future? Let’s find out.


What is Urban Planning?

Urban planning is the process of designing and developing urban areas, open land, and the built environment.


Urban planners perform urban planning. This multifaceted process involves utility systems, infrastructure, distribution chains, communication networks, and many more.


During urban planning, you have to manage many variables while planning for the future and growth of the area. These plans include most of the things you’d find in an urban area, such as parks, streets, and public places.


National Geographic dates urban planning back to the 19th century, when dirty, overcrowded cities were the bedrock of diseases. City planners then figured out that putting people away from factories, foul odors, and pollution significantly improved their health.


The first steps in urban planning saw the introduction of zoning ordinances which separated urban areas into business, residential, and industrial districts.


Early city planners were more concerned with rapid population growth and urban sprawl. Today, the modern urban planner focuses on the opposite issue.


According to recent data, U.S. Cities are shrinking. The data shows that 2021 marked the slowest year of city population growth in U.S. history.


The modern urban planner is thus no longer concerned with what to do with the little space available but instead what to do with the vacant space left behind by vacating people and businesses.


In comes GIS.


What is GIS?

GIS is the acronym for Geographical Information System. It’s the intersection of data and locations.


GIS organizes, analyzes, and displays data related to an area.


GIS is used in various industries, with different organizations defining and using GIS differently. Generally, with GIS, you can perform:

  • Mapping

  • Asset management

  • Data management

  • Emergency and disaster management

  • Change detection

  • Urban and regional planning


How Is GIS Used in Urban Planning?

GIS is essential in modern urban planning because it helps us better understand the current needs of a city and then design and develop based on those needs.


Modern GIS uses geospatial data from aerial photography, satellite images, and remote sensors to gain a detailed perspective on infrastructure and land.


GIS also provides insight into competing priorities and complicated problems within an urban area, allowing the urban planner to devise clever solutions for issues such as waste disposal and building placement.


GIS allows urban planners to understand better urban areas in different phases of development, ranging from rapidly growing, densely populated areas to smaller towns with informal settlements.


You can run complex queries and analytics on the system to better understand how new regulatory demands and infrastructure needs will fit into existing resources.


With this information, you can identify ways to improve resource utilization or find ideal locations to set up sustainable energy infrastructure for harvesting wind, solar, or geothermal energy.


Modern urban planners also use GIS to gain insight into the future impact of particular design and development projects. They can monitor the fluctuations and feasibility of these projects and their predicted effects on the environment.


Stakeholders can also see these predicted effects or changes and make better decisions.


Benefits of Using GIS for Urban Planning

Using GIS in urban planning is very helpful. And with prices of GIS software and hardware falling over time, these are the reasons why you should incorporate this technology in your urban planning.

  • Improved access to vital information – Desktop GIS makes it easier to access, store, and manage vast amounts of geographical data from various sources. Cloud GIS packs the same benefits while being accessible from any device, anywhere

  • Increased quality and efficiency of public services – GIS can be used to create a public service portal to improve civic engagement when it comes to urban development

  • Better communication – GIS makes it easier to share information across departments or government agencies by using a unified system for data management and storage

  • Better support for strategic decision-making – GIS gives speedy access to a wide array of geographic information that urban planners can use to make effective urban planning strategies

Learn More About GIS and Civic Engagement

GIS is the tool urban planners should be using to create better cities and engage with the community about the future of urban areas. Learn more about how the Nerd Squad can improve civic engagement during this process.

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