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Thread: GIS and urban planners

  1. #1

    GIS and urban planners

    Hi
    I am an incoming graduate student and I am curious about the extent of the use of GIS in urban planning field.

    Which concentration area in urban planning goes along pretty well with GIS? (land use or urban development or transport planning?) Does every planner have to know how to use it?

    If I want to work as a GIS specialist/analyst, will my MUP education provide me with necessary skills and knowledge? Do I need to go get another degree?

    Hows job prospect in GIS career? Is that true that those people get paid much higher than regular urban planner?

    Please feel free to give me any suggestions. Thanks!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    No matter configuration I've asked this question, the answer is always the same: Yes.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    Urban planning and GIS go together like peanut butter and jelly. Both are good on their own, but together they are really great. Most urban planning jobs will require GIS knowledge, some will require more than others I use GIS all the time and I do current planning and historic preservation, so any specialization with GIS is good
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    [QUOTE=urbanmaniac;446164]Hi
    If I want to work as a GIS specialist/analyst, will my MUP education provide me with necessary skills and knowledge? Do I need to go get another degree?

    QUOTE]

    Depends on how much GIS training you had in your program. Many entry-level GIS/planning jobs I interviewed for not too long ago required familiarity with ArcIMS, ArcSDE, Visual Basic, C++, etc. Most of these employers were looking for someone to not only make maps but mention their computer networks. It's a very important part of planning but it just wasn't for me.


    Unless it's indicated in the job description, find out exactly what they want in terms of GIS. Do they want you to draw the content and hand it over to a GIS tech, do they want you to do ALL of the GIS work, do they expect you to collect data through GPS and/or surveying, or do they want to do manage the GIS mainframe? Instead of the peanut butter and jelly anaology, I like to think of GIS as a magnet: it attracts a lot of people, but sometimes can yank peoploe away from their original training and pigeon hole them. However, if you are okay with this, then maybe GIS is the right area for you.

    Hope this helps-

  5. #5
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    Good point nrschmid! I also wanted to add that the level of GIS knowledge needed for an urban planning job or even a GIS job varies depending on the job. I would advise learning as much as you want about either GIS, urban planning or both during school and let the right job find you after. In my office, even the planners who dont know how to use arcGIS, still pull up either the arcInfo map we maintain or the county's property appraiser site that has a Map function. You really can't go wrong learning how to use GIS, as a young planner, it is a skill you can bring to the table that many more experienced planners don't have.
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  6. #6
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    GIS = word processor for planners; it is that fundamental. I'm about to the point that I will not consider someone for even entry-level planning work without an ability to do at least basic stuff in GIS (buffers, generating notice letters, basic navigation).

    In my experience, I have NOT found GIS desk jockies to make more than wide-eyed entry-level planners. An entry level position in GIS or planning, given equivalent education and prior experience, pays about the same. A lot of places are getting away from having single individuals as GIS technicians and are instead requiring all employees to have basic knowledge and ability, with an advanced GIS manager to create custom models, manage the spatial databases, run ArcIMS, ArcSDE, etc.

    GIS, for the past 10 years or so, has been a borderline technical degree in my mind (at least at the undergrad level). The future of people that do GIS exclusively is customized computer programs and complex models, similar to software developers. I think, in the next five years or so, academically you will see GIS degrees begin to migrate into computer science departments from geography departments.

    I use it extensively for my long-range planning work, particularly spatial analyst.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Many entry-level GIS/planning jobs I interviewed for not too long ago required familiarity with ArcIMS, ArcSDE, Visual Basic, C++, etc. Most of these employers were looking for someone to not only make maps but mention their computer networks.
    This is definitely true in my experience as well. If you want to be a GIS specialist or analyst you will have to know a least one programming language (visual basic, C++, etc), and you will have to gain some knowledge of relational databases. You should probably pick up some CAD and remote sensing courses too.

    I think, in the next five years or so, academically you will see GIS degrees begin to migrate into computer science departments from geography departments.
    I agree. I am currently getting my masters degree in planning, but was strongly considering a masters in GIS. Originally, these programs were combined at my school, but by the time I applied and was accepted, they had been split apart. The masters GIS program’s curriculum is gradually moving towards more computer science type courses in computer programming (both general and GIS specific), web development and mapping, and working with relational databases (with and without SDE).

    Going into a graduate program, I would look for classes that deal with technical training (use tool X to accomplish this task; the tool is located here), and classes that teach the art and science side of things, including how to perform various types of analysis (and why). Technical training can only get you so far; it can take some time to learn how to extract useful information. Do not forget about learning how to map professional looking maps, tables, charts, etc; make sure they effectively communicate your ideas, and the results of your work. This is as important as having sound writing skills, and public speaking/presentation skills.

  8. #8
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    Good question. In my opinion a basic introductory course in GIS should be required in planning by the PAB because it is so important. I agree with Suburban Repairman who stated that GIS is like Word for planners.

    In our school, it seemed like the GIS course went a little too detailed for what we needed on the job, however maybe that would be what you want.

    If you are into planning and enjoy making a difference on the urban fabric I would argue that you need not go into too much GIS depth, however, many municipalities have separate GIS departments that focus specifically on data processing and boring stuff like that (since GIS is very multidisciplinary).

    As for pay, I would say that having GIS skills would definitely put you ahead of another that does not have the skills, but maybe not so much in the salary department.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Suburban Repairman:
    GIS = word processor for planners
    Very true today. But just as knowing how to use a word processor doesn't mean you know how to compose a business letter or write a book, knowing GIS doesn't mean you know urban planning, environmental management, traffic engineering or any other substantial content in the fields in which GIS is used. Being an excellent carpenter doesn't mean you know how to design and build a functional house.

    This has been probably my greatest frustrations working with GIS graduates - especially when many of them only know one software package, and only on one operating system. Where I've had teams including a GIS expert, I more or less have to teach him/her how to apply his/her skills in the specific field of application. One of the biggest shortcomings I see is that "GIS experts" are not always able to tell whether the results they get from their analyses are reasonable or not, do not have good enough knowledge to make those judgment calls. And sometimes in very specific fields do not know what analytical/statistical methods are appropriate for a particular problem.

    Therefore your MUP, urbanmaniac, is (in the context of my urban planning assignments) every bit as important as whatever GIS skills you have. Your GIS skills will give your urban planning concepts, approaches or whatever an extra edge that is very valuable.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Monamogolo:

    This has been probably my greatest frustrations working with GIS graduates - especially when many of them only know one software package, and only on one operating system.
    Out of curiosity, what software programs or operating systems would you recommend? Perhaps a better way to phrase it is what programs/operating systems would you expect a GIS graduate to be familiar with? I think you make some good points about critical thinking and analyitic skills, too. Not the easiest thing to pick up, but very very important.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    kfp
    Out of curiosity, what software programs or operating systems would you recommend
    For situations where cost is not an issue, ESRI products like ArcGIS, SDE, etc etc.
    MapInfo products - a lot of cities swear by MapInfo.
    Manifold - for a different way of thinking, starting from database design (e.g. you don't need to split your datasets into point, line and polygons). Extremely reasonably priced, partly because they don't advertise much. www.manifold.net.
    GRASS - probably the granddaddy of them all chronologically - and still free.
    ILWIS for less demanding situations and where cost is a factor. Also free.
    Brazil's space agency has developed SPRING, which is an integrated raster-vector system that grew out of satellite imagery analysis. Also free.
    For satellite imagery analysis, learn ERDAS and be familiar with EASIPACE (I am told that the support for EasiPace is much better than ERDAS, but this may vary considerably through time and location - I don't know for sure).

    But for specialized applications these "all-round products" need special add-ons, and still do not do as well as specialized software. They (the above) are not created specifically for design work (use a CAD program instead), transport studies, soil contamination studies (use the free SADA software from Tennessee U) and so on. If you're going to be doing a lot of large scale database design, you need to learn something like Visio and UML to speed things up, as well as dbase programs like Access, probably Windows SQLServer, or MySQL (free) or Postresql.

    There is a huge amount happening, especially in Open Source GIS, with myriads of products constantly being updated or released. Its alittle bewildering.

    I do not claim to be a GIS expert, but I work in situations that need GIS, and usually have enormous budget limitations. Unfortunately cost is not the only factor to consider. For my work, language availability and local support services often determine the software that can be used.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Plus Scout's avatar
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    GIS is both a tool and a career. I made a decision early on to use GIS as a tool because I wasn't interested in the computer science/database management aspects. I think everyone needs to make a similar decision. If you want to use it as a tool, find a profession (Planning) that is enhanced by GIS. If you want to make it a career, I suggest you pursue a computer science background.

    As for all of the available platforms (ESRI, MapInfo, Manifold, GRASS), I think that understanding how GIS works is more important than proficiency with the various programs. If you understand how GIS can help you retrieve and manipulate spatial data, the programming aspects (what to "click") are easily overcome in time.

    Cheers

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    Good thread - I'm starting a Urban Studies program @ the UW and I'm also getting a GIS certification

    I'm really torn on getting a minor in Applied Computing (Database and networks stuff)

    Obviously any and all computing skills help but there's other classes I want to take - and still graduate in 2 years

    I wonder if the Applied Computing minor is even worth getting is GIS enough to land a job

    curious

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