Geodesign - GIS and Planning to Reach Consensus

People who have been involved in community planning know about the challenge of reaching consensus. From environmental and business groups to local citizens, many approvals are needed that can push back construction dates or delay it indefinitely. Earlier this year, I participated in Arizona State University's (ASU) geodesign workshop and shared my watershed and geographic information system (GIS) expertise with a group of community stakeholders and planners.

Visualization Technique

Geodesign is a set of techniques and technologies for planning built and natural environments in an integrated process that utilizes GIS for mapping, analyzing, evaluating, visualizing, and negotiating future land use scenarios, while focusing on a way to reach consensus for urban planners. The theory behind geodesign is to allow users to identify and define their priorities for the landscape from a local subject matter perspective (e.g., water, ecological, environmental, development, business opportunities, or transportation issues) and then a social perspective (e.g., government, business owners, hospital, local resident, student).

Building a Perspective for Urban Design

At the workshop we were given the hypothetical task to plan the ASU West Campus and hospital expansion. A cross-section of interested stakeholders included about 40 professionals from the community, including members from local and state government, university, private sector, local businesses, and residents, who were able to lay out the potential design plans into the community space with web-based GIS tools. I participated as a private-sector GIS professional and subject matter expert for water resource and flooding concerns. For example, I worked on evaluating flood hazards in the proposed area for the university expansion, while others worked on key elements for transportation, parks and recreation, commercial development, university expansion, etc.

Geodesign pioneer Professor Carl Steinitz, Harvard Graduate School of Design, leads participants in the geodesign workshop using the web-based GIS tools to construct the hypothetical expansion of the ASU West Campus urban and regional plan.
Geodesign pioneer Professor Carl Steinitz, Harvard Graduate School of Design, leads participants in the geodesign workshop using the web-based GIS tools to construct the hypothetical expansion of the ASU West Campus urban and regional plan.

Each group mapped their specific concerns, which developed the layers of the planning process from prioritizing a plan for the landscape from a subject matter view point, then from a social one. My team first worked on water and flood topics by identifying existing flood hazard areas, looking at potential drainage basins, green space that needed to be conserved, or places where drainage could be improved. Next, we reconvened with our social point of view groups to create a master design plan by picking from the elements of each layer on the map. I was a part of the local government group, and we went through all of the subject areas (e.g., water, transportation, development, social services) and built a plan for growth that a local government would promote and from what we thought were the best ideas and issues identified by the subject matter experts.

Contributing to the Plan

We reviewed every group's plans and none of them were the same, but there were various similarities across the board. Each group discussed their opinions for their best interests with expert recommendations actually available during the planning process. The final plan was created by combining two plans together, and then four plans, and then one big master plan that incorporated every group's viewpoints.

It was amazing to leave the session with a sense of comradery and accomplishment, with everyone being proud of their contributions to the overall plan. This methodology was recently used in creating a plan for Georgia's coastal approach to mitigating sea level rise. I believe that using concepts from geodesign can help our clients to streamline the planning process to bring proactive consensus building from small watersheds to large urban planning projects.

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  • Stephanie Routh
    Stephanie Routh
 
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