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Thread: Friday afternoon GIS rant

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
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    Fri. Afternoon GIS Rant

    I am really curious to see how many planners out there REALLY use GIS. I went to school at West Chester University of PA (which is like the GIS capital of the East Coast) and got a Geography degree with a dual emphasis on GIS and Planning.

    All that was drummed into my head for the 4 (and 1/2 *cough* *cough*) years that I was there was that we need to know this, this is the wave of the future, etc. etc. Fast FWD 6 years later into the real world and I have yet to see GIS applications used to their potential in the planning field. I read all the ESRI publications every month, and none of the articles ever feature anything about planning, per se. GIS is being used by big business, environmentalists, emergency services, etc. etc. for analysis.

    In the planning field we use GIS to make maps. We make damn cool looking zoning maps, and land use plans, and at my old job we even used it to make those big presentation checks. But that is it.

    So why do we stress the need for planning students to know GIS? Why do all our job postings say "GIS experience preferred".

    We as planners deall mostly with future developments, which are all drawn in AutoCAD. Why aren't we teaching CAD in school. When redesigning a plan, making comments on a development, etc., wouldn't it be nice if the planning agency got a digital copy of the plans and the planner reviewing it actually knew how to manipulate the drawing and add his/her insight that way??

    OK I'm done ranting. As you can tell, I am a big fan of AutoCAD since being exposed to it at my current job. Only took me 3 months to learn it, and it is 100x better than any GIS product I ever used (but then I never used any GIS software to do REAL GIS). I guess I am just mad that I wasn't offered classes in CAD when I was in school.

    So how do you feel about your department's GIS program, or lack thereof.

  2. #2
    maudit anglais
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    I haven't used GIS since graduating. I used a few programs that incorporate GIS functions (asset management, aerial photography, transportation modelling), but I haven't used ArcInfo for 5 odd years.

    If I need a map, I just ask someone for it

  3. #3
          Downtown's avatar
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    I've actually used A LOT of GIS since leaving grad school. At my first job it factored heavily into the county council re-districting effort. My second job was spent doing all the mapping for a smart growth/transportation planning project that was using a GIS based model that was actually pretty cool. It is also extrememly useful when preparing for public meetings, and it saves my office a TON of time generating public meeting notification address lists.

  4. #4
    Member Glomer's avatar
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    I agree that GIS isn't used to its potential......

    I picked up a GIS certificate degree from a tech school after graduating from college and before getting my masters in planning. At my current job, I used what little money they allotted me to implement a GIS system from scratch.......using Arcview, coverages and attribute info from the county.

    Do we use it for planning purposes??? (i.e. where should we put our next fire station, show me all of the vacant land, zoned commercial, over 5 acres, etc......) Instead we use it to make maps and print out aerials for PC meetings. We do get an addressing list of everyone we need to notice much easier than before, but still........

    I'm not bought on the fact that GIS will change the way we do planning in the future.

  5. #5
    I love GIS. I just wish I could use it

    I have over 10,000 dollars worh of GIS software, but my computer is too outdated to run it without crashing every 5 minutes. Yet the City won't spend a measly 500 bucks to upgrade my computer to a point where it will run. It is frustrating, especially since one of my goals that gets reviewed every year is the "Sucessfull Implementation of an Enterprise GIS" goal.

    That being said, I disagree with the original poster. I think the GIS applications for planning are great. They may not be as "sexy" as applications for other industries, but they are tremendous time savers.

    At my previous job we used GIS for everything...plan commission presentatiions, floodaplin mapping, tree coverage calculations, setbacks, public hearings, etc. It was also great for creating new plans and reports. We even had a computer set up at the front counter so we could help people who came to the counter. Maybe someday I'll have all of that here.
    "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

    - Homer Simpson

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I learned it and used it somewhat in my first job, and marginally in this one. Not at all in the middle two. One of those even hired me for the GIS work I had done (developing techniques for retail store siting), but then never let me do anything that required even a little originality, much less get on a GIS. Oh well, seven months there.

    I've got ArcView and ArcInfo, but don't use them because we do not have the data. The university Geography Department is working on that, though. It will be a big help once it is all in place. For now all of my mapping is done on Corel and Adobe software.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
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    Originally posted by jtfortin


    At my previous job we used GIS for everything...plan commission presentatiions, floodaplin mapping, tree coverage calculations, setbacks, public hearings, etc. It was also great for creating new plans and reports. We even had a computer set up at the front counter so we could help people who came to the counter. Maybe someday I'll have all of that here.
    A point I was trying to get across though is that these are BASIC functions of AutoCAD. There is no need to have the $10,000 worht of software to do it.

    Let's put it this way. My opinion of GIS in the planning field: We use a Porsche to drive 35 mph on a routine trip to the grocery store.

  8. #8
    I guess I see your point. I currently use Microstation for all of our mapping and it does the basic functions that I need.

    However, we are looking at putting GIS data on the web and on an intranet. I think GIS is easier to grasp for non-cad/gis users. Especially if these people are going to be using an ArcIMS based system where they do not do any data manipulation.

    I still like the fact that all of the maps in GIS have data behind them and my opinion is that I would enjoy driving a Porsche, even if it was only 35mph to the grocery store.
    "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

    - Homer Simpson

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Plus PlannerGirl's avatar
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    Im learning GIS as part of my new job but think CAD would be much more useful

    that means trying to get someone to send me off to learn it

    fun!
    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ben Franklin

    Remember this motto to live by: "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming 'WOO- HOO what a ride!'"

  10. #10
    Cyburbian nerudite's avatar
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    In my current job I don't use it at all (well... I have a tech that puts together maps for me). But following the gist of the threads, we don't use GIS here for what it was designed for at least.

    In Vancouver (WA) we had a fairly decent system (through Clark County) that we relied upon for all types of information. It still wasn't used to its best potential probably, but I like having archaeological, historic sites, soils, wetland delineations, etc, at my fingertips whenever I wanted them. I used to point people to our internet version (not as much info, like archaeology for obvious reasons), and most people thought it was a great resource. Here's the public version, if anyone is interested: http://www.rtc.wa.gov/ccgis/mol/property.htm.

  11. #11

    gis

    Well, when I was in school, GIS was called computer cartography and one had to be careful not to drop your box of punch cards when you walked down to the main frame to hopefully run the program.

    Cartography was still mylar, zip-a-tone and leroy sets and took an incredably long time to creat a decent map. (One thin we did learn that GIS people don't get today was map design which is the same wether in GIS or by hand.)

    Anyway, I agree that GIS capabilities are very seldom used and I think that reflects on the demands of the profession of planning. But GIS makes making high quality maps sooooo much easier and faster than any old means. As far as CAD goes, we import CAD subdivision files into out GIS for planning commission meetings and they work fine if not a little clumbsy.

    I envy today's geography grads that come out of school with at least one saleable skill.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Re: gis

    Originally posted by fireboss
    Cartography was still mylar, zip-a-tone and leroy sets and took an incredably long time to creat a decent map. (One thin we did learn that GIS people don't get today was map design which is the same wether in GIS or by hand.)
    In grad school, I took 10 studio/drafting/design credits and 8 GIS credits. Based on my experience, I see GIS as a crutch when it comes to making maps. As processors of data to make dozens of maps to analyze trends and for office meetings, yes, GIS is an awesome tool. But for presentations and plan documents, nothing beats beautifully rendered maps. If planners had more drawing skills, I'm sure there would be more renderings than pixelated GIS maps with poor color contrast. More often than not, attempts to create GIS maps look unprofessional and are clearly not well thought-out. Of course, not every planner who uses GIS is unskilled in graphical presentation, however, I have seen way too much map-crap that is uncomprehensible. A little creativity and trial and error can go a long way before creating that last map for publication.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Tom R's avatar
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    Re: Re: gis

    Originally posted by Beaner


    In grad school, I took 10 studio/drafting/design credits and 8 GIS credits. Based on my experience, I see GIS as a crutch when it comes to making maps. As processors of data to make dozens of maps to analyze trends and for office meetings, yes, GIS is an awesome tool. But for presentations and plan documents, nothing beats beautifully rendered maps. If planners had more drawing skills, I'm sure there would be more renderings than pixelated GIS maps with poor color contrast. More often than not, attempts to create GIS maps look unprofessional and are clearly not well thought-out. Of course, not every planner who uses GIS is unskilled in graphical presentation, however, I have seen way too much map-crap that is uncomprehensible. A little creativity and trial and error can go a long way before creating that last map for publication.
    I agree with you completely.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian poncho's avatar
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    Map design is important no matter how it is created. I am a GIS Cordinator for a Texas County. I create the data, distribute it and train people in the various school districts, cities, and water districts. I see the potential and I believe we are able to serve the public better with it than without it. I also believe that people don't have the time to learn or the desire. With that said I have a job offer as an Assistant Planner and it will only be about 25% GIS the rest will be comp. planing. I am very excited about this, GIS is only a tool and like all computer applications it's Garbage In Garbage Out.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    We use GIS extensively. We have spent over 1,000,000 on data collection, hardware, and software, and I dare say we're on the "bleeding edge". ArcInfo, ArcMap, ArcIMS, and if we ever get the time we'll implement ArcPad too. By December '02 we're going live with a new permitting software that links permits to geodatabases (anybody getting turgid with all this?).

    We've even displaced our IS department and administer our own server.

  16. #16
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    unrealized potential

    We use ArcView in our department and rely on data created by the County i ArcView for the base layers. We use GIS to do some analysis of land use, census statistics, etc. But as much as anything we make maps. There are some substantial limitations to ArcView graphics, but at least the data we use or create is georeferenced. Data created in other departments in CAD are usually not. They may draw snappy pictures but nothing is useful for geographic analysis.

    The main thing I see hobbling GIS in Planning is a general lack of vision and therefore investment. If you want to see government GIS in action check out Cincinnati/Hamilton County OH. They estimate over 2000 government users on a system that links everything from the Building to Taxation to Zoning. Some of those use the maps for reference, others use the system for analysis. But it was built from the ground up to streamline government operations and it does a lot more than CAD alone could do.

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