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Thread: How important is GIS?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    How important is GIS?

    I'm gonna keep my question simple...

    How crucial is having solid knowledge of GIS for planning careers?

  2. #2
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    I have not worked as a planner, however I did intern for a county planning department. While interning, there were planners that could use GIS very well and there were planners that could not use it at all. While both planner types could effectively do their job, the planners without GIS knowledge appeared to be at a bit of a disadvantage compared to the planners with it. The planners without GIS knowledge would have to rely on other people to perform GIS related tasks. There are a lot planning tasks that would require some basic understanding of GIS.


    During my education, I have always been under the impression that having some understanding of GIS would be very beneficial. In an industry where jobs are at a premium, being as flexible as possible is a good thing. During my internship, about 85% of my work involved GIS in some way or another. While it was probably due to my interest and education in GIS, it was also due to the need to get that type of work done.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Mr_Bacon View post
    I'm gonna keep my question simple...

    How crucial is having solid knowledge of GIS for planning careers?
    GIS is one of your basic tools in your toolkit.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    My undergrad degree contained no GIS. We made maps using ink pens (no erasures) and vellum. History lesson: http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Blueprints

    The GIS 101 class I took in 1999 brought things into the 20thC.
    (Hint from Veloise: if you are taking classes, try to avoid a novice instructor's first-ever teaching attempt. And if the labwork is fraught with excuses, ask for a refund on tuition. "Someone lost the key to the program," "someone lost the door key to the lab," "the computers are being upgraded so we can't use them" are not conducive to a learning environment.)

    I have not used these skills directly. I have viewed on-line maps (jurisdiction websites) and experimented with the concepts, but these are in the realm of life skills, rather than Things I Learned In Class. It's helpful to know terms like polygon and points and layer. Unless you're involved with creating maps, not critical.

    YMMV

    HTH

  5. #5
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    I'll say the same thing I tell undergrad students: GIS is quickly becoming a word processor for planners. You don't need to know how to make it do backflips, but I consider basic command an essential.

    "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)

  6. #6
    For me, it has been pretty important to know how to construct maps in GIS. You don't need to know a lot about GIS to make maps, but just how to work with the different files, find the fils you need, basic editing and layout, etc. We didn't do a lot of GIS in my undergrad program, but I took an elective for it that helped me to be more confident.

    There are GIS professionals who can do the really complicated stuff, but I'd say its good for planners to know how to at least make maps.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Alright, sweet. That's what I wanted to hear. I've already taken 1 basic introductory course on GIS, and I plan on doing the other 2 that my uni offers. Now, next question (that I posted a little while back and got no replies to )

    Is GIS useful to the extent that I should get a 1-year post-grad diploma from the nearby college in GIS to add to my resume? Or will the 3 GIS courses offered through my undergrad be enough to give me a working understanding of it?

    (Note: Some may not be aware, in Canada college = community college in the US. They offer diplomas instead of associate degrees.)

  8. #8
    Quote Originally posted by Mr_Bacon View post
    Alright, sweet. That's what I wanted to hear. I've already taken 1 basic introductory course on GIS, and I plan on doing the other 2 that my uni offers. Now, next question (that I posted a little while back and got no replies to )

    Is GIS useful to the extent that I should get a 1-year post-grad diploma from the nearby college in GIS to add to my resume? Or will the 3 GIS courses offered through my undergrad be enough to give me a working understanding of it?

    (Note: Some may not be aware, in Canada college = community college in the US. They offer diplomas instead of associate degrees.)
    You might not want to portray yourself too much as "the GIS expert" if you want to do planning, which might pigeon-hole you into a more technical position. Highlight planning, with a strong background and advanced skills in GIS. I'm not sure a separate diploma is necessary to do that, since, as other have explained, the important thing is to be proficient in the basics, using it as one of your "tools" in your "toolkit," as APA likes to say.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    You might not want to portray yourself too much as "the GIS expert" if you want to do planning, which might pigeon-hole you into a more technical position. Highlight planning, with a strong background and advanced skills in GIS. I'm not sure a separate diploma is necessary to do that, since, as other have explained, the important thing is to be proficient in the basics, using it as one of your "tools" in your "toolkit," as APA likes to say.
    That makes sense.

    The other part of my perspective on GIS is that I haven't actually decided that planning will be my profession. My degree is will simply be a BA in Human Geography; it contains elements of different kinds of planning jobs, other things relating to land-use, and I'm choosing to use electives for GIS courses (as well as cartography and remote sensing, if I want to).

    So basically I'm going to have a lot of potential directions. Having that GIS diploma could be beneficial if I decide to take a different direction than planning in the end. I guess I'll see how I feel when I get there, eh?

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Mr_Bacon View post
    That makes sense.

    The other part of my perspective on GIS is that I haven't actually decided that planning will be my profession. My degree is will simply be a BA in Human Geography; it contains elements of different kinds of planning jobs, other things relating to land-use, and I'm choosing to use electives for GIS courses (as well as cartography and remote sensing, if I want to).

    So basically I'm going to have a lot of potential directions. Having that GIS diploma could be beneficial if I decide to take a different direction than planning in the end. I guess I'll see how I feel when I get there, eh?
    Hey Mr_Bacon. I completed a post grad diploma in GIS and I think it has benefited me in getting my first job (although the location of where I work is not the most ideal - super small town). In my opinion, the advantage with GIS is that it can open doors for you in areas other than just planning. My BA was not in planning (more geography related) so I was probably not the best candidate for a planning job. However, if you strictly want to go into planning, I think just a basic understanding of GIS and how to use it is sufficient. What I'm finding now is that I want to concentrate in one particular field. I still am not sure whether I want to focus in just planning or GIS, but I'm finding it difficult in getting another job as just a planner. Maybe its because only part of my job is a planner or maybe the economy is just sucking hardcore right now. Maybe a combination of both? Who knows?!

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    If one wants to make GIS into a career, or be the focus of their career (such as a GIS Analyst, manager, etc.), what else would they need to know or would be helpful?

    I understand that database software is essential, which software though? What else?

  12. #12
    I myself wonder how big and important GIS is for a planner.

    I took two GIS classes last year.
    They were the worst classes I have ever taken.
    No class has ever been that hard, that difficult, that incomprehensible.
    Computers are just not my strength, I found GIS to be very tricky, unclear, with vague directions that more often than not the best advice was for you to "guess" or "infer".

    It was incredibly frustrating, and I would never want to work in an environment were I would have to use GIS for anymore than a cursory purpose...I believe when one has a career you should do 1) what you like 2) what you are a good at.
    There is nothing that I am worse at than GIS.


    That said...does it indicate I am not cut out for the planning field or can I still find a niche out of grad school were I will not be at a disadvantage stuck without hope for advancement?

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by surfer1280 View post
    I myself wonder how big and important GIS is for a planner.

    I took two GIS classes last year.
    They were the worst classes I have ever taken.
    No class has ever been that hard, that difficult, that incomprehensible.
    Computers are just not my strength, I found GIS to be very tricky, unclear, with vague directions that more often than not the best advice was for you to "guess" or "infer".

    It was incredibly frustrating, and I would never want to work in an environment were I would have to use GIS for anymore than a cursory purpose...I believe when one has a career you should do 1) what you like 2) what you are a good at.
    There is nothing that I am worse at than GIS.

    That said...does it indicate I am not cut out for the planning field or can I still find a niche out of grad school were I will not be at a disadvantage stuck without hope for advancement?
    I've worked in three different planning departments since 2001. The closest I've ever come to using my limited (one class) training: jargon. If you can use the phrase "turn on a layer" in a coherent sentence, you'll be fine.

    HTH

  14. #14
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Veloise View post
    I've worked in three different planning departments since 2001. The closest I've ever come to using my limited (one class) training: jargon. If you can use the phrase "turn on a layer" in a coherent sentence, you'll be fine.

    HTH
    That's too bad. I use it often. I just got a series of files for a Board I serve on where I'll be helping with queries. It is a powerful analysis tool.

  15. #15
    Quote Originally posted by surfer1280 View post
    I myself wonder how big and important GIS is for a planner.

    I took two GIS classes last year.
    They were the worst classes I have ever taken.
    No class has ever been that hard, that difficult, that incomprehensible.
    Computers are just not my strength, I found GIS to be very tricky, unclear, with vague directions that more often than not the best advice was for you to "guess" or "infer".

    It was incredibly frustrating, and I would never want to work in an environment were I would have to use GIS for anymore than a cursory purpose...I believe when one has a career you should do 1) what you like 2) what you are a good at.
    There is nothing that I am worse at than GIS.


    That said...does it indicate I am not cut out for the planning field or can I still find a niche out of grad school were I will not be at a disadvantage stuck without hope for advancement?
    Not at all. While we've explained that some GIS knowledge is good, there are plenty of planners out there who never touch it. Its really impossible to say how important it will be for you. For larger planning companies and agencies, I'd say it might not be as important, since they will likely have a GIS department. For smaller ones, it will probably be more important, since everyone wears several hats.

    ArcGIS is a pretty incomprehensible program, and we've always joked that ESRI makes it that way so they can sell their workshops, books, updates, etc., along with the creation of a new profession of GIS experts. If the program were more user-friendly, anyone could make maps. And who wants that, right? But really, there is a hell of a lot more to ArcGIS than making maps, but that's about 90% of what planners need from it, so if you can learn how to do some basic map-making stuff, you'll be alright, and you might even be alright if you don't know how. It all depends on the expectations of your employer.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Well.....

    It's just like any other skill in Planning.....you need to maintain a basic understanding with the ability to advance quickly when needed. This thread reminds me that I need a refresher course in ArcGIS In my previous position, I was the go to guy in the department for GIS stuff. It gave me great satisfaction to update zoning maps, develop master plan maps and map sex offender locations A nice break from getting beat to death by politicians for systemic traffic problems
    Skilled Adoxographer

  17. #17
    Quote Originally posted by Veloise View post
    I've worked in three different planning departments since 2001. The closest I've ever come to using my limited (one class) training: jargon. If you can use the phrase "turn on a layer" in a coherent sentence, you'll be fine.

    HTH
    THANKS GOD!
    I was so depressed reading this thread until now....believe I have been told like one poster remarked that GIS is like typing.

    Nice to know you can by-pass it and not be at a disadvantage/trapped without chance of advancement?

  18. #18
    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    Not at all. While we've explained that some GIS knowledge is good, there are plenty of planners out there who never touch it. Its really impossible to say how important it will be for you. For larger planning companies and agencies, I'd say it might not be as important, since they will likely have a GIS department. For smaller ones, it will probably be more important, since everyone wears several hats.

    ArcGIS is a pretty incomprehensible program, and we've always joked that ESRI makes it that way so they can sell their workshops, books, updates, etc., along with the creation of a new profession of GIS experts. If the program were more user-friendly, anyone could make maps. And who wants that, right? But really, there is a hell of a lot more to ArcGIS than making maps, but that's about 90% of what planners need from it, so if you can learn how to do some basic map-making stuff, you'll be alright, and you might even be alright if you don't know how. It all depends on the expectations of your employer.
    Oh THANK GOD!!!!!!

    YES...so am I not alone?
    ESRI is HORRIBLE...I joked that the people who work for ESRI couldn't get jobs at EASports!


    Oh I was so worried...people in my graduate department make it seem like if you don't know GIS....if you can't digitize...you have no net value and are an idiot.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian kalimotxo's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    Not at all. While we've explained that some GIS knowledge is good, there are plenty of planners out there who never touch it. Its really impossible to say how important it will be for you. For larger planning companies and agencies, I'd say it might not be as important, since they will likely have a GIS department. For smaller ones, it will probably be more important, since everyone wears several hats.

    ArcGIS is a pretty incomprehensible program, and we've always joked that ESRI makes it that way so they can sell their workshops, books, updates, etc., along with the creation of a new profession of GIS experts. If the program were more user-friendly, anyone could make maps. And who wants that, right? But really, there is a hell of a lot more to ArcGIS than making maps, but that's about 90% of what planners need from it, so if you can learn how to do some basic map-making stuff, you'll be alright, and you might even be alright if you don't know how. It all depends on the expectations of your employer.
    I have to disagree with this. The trend in planning in the country is towards an increased use in GIS everywhere, including the development and maintenance of publicly accessible interactive online mapping tools. The number of planners who "never touch it" is skewed toward the veterans of the field and definitely a shrinking share of the profession. Whether you can find a job with little knowledge of GIS today is immaterial; even those who aren't directly manipulating data will increasingly need a comprehensive understanding of the capabilities and limitations of GIS. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to complete GIS tasks for supervisors and coworkers who don't understand what the program can and cannot do.

    As for ESRI being incomprehensible... GIS is an incredibly complex discipline and they've done a pretty noble job of making it understandable and user-friendly and providing a myriad of really useful tools beyond basic mapmaking. If you think ArcGIS is complicated, maybe you should spend a few hours using GRASS or Cartographica. I'm not saying ArcGIS is perfect - we all know it has its bugs. I'm just saying other firms have had decades to fill the void and I have yet to see a viable alternative.
    Process and dismissal. Shelter and location. Everybody wants somewhere.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by kalimotxo View post
    I have to disagree with this. The trend in planning in the country is towards an increased use in GIS everywhere, including the development and maintenance of publicly accessible interactive online mapping tools. The number of planners who "never touch it" is skewed toward the veterans of the field and definitely a shrinking share of the profession. Whether you can find a job with little knowledge of GIS today is immaterial; even those who aren't directly manipulating data will increasingly need a comprehensive understanding of the capabilities and limitations of GIS. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to complete GIS tasks for supervisors and coworkers who don't understand what the program can and cannot do.

    As for ESRI being incomprehensible... GIS is an incredibly complex discipline and they've done a pretty noble job of making it understandable and user-friendly and providing a myriad of really useful tools beyond basic mapmaking. If you think ArcGIS is complicated, maybe you should spend a few hours using GRASS or Cartographica. I'm not saying ArcGIS is perfect - we all know it has its bugs. I'm just saying other firms have had decades to fill the void and I have yet to see a viable alternative.
    I agree. I think it is very user-friendly for what it is, and believe you me, judging from the content and structure of the comments above, if they were using 3.x there'd be slitting of wrists. Nonetheless, if I get hung up all I need to do is go to the file menu or right-click and I find what I need fairly quickly.

    I would say if you have a fear of computers, get a better pencil sharpener and orient your career away from analysis and long-range planning as you won't be doing much decent analysis if you don't use computers.

  21. #21
    So basically if I hate GIS, had a horrible experience with it, and find it incomprehensible than as an entry level person should not even bother with planning...that chances for advancement will be slim and I will feel the dummy in the firm.
    Great.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by surfer1280 View post
    So basically if I hate GIS, had a horrible experience with it, and find it incomprehensible than as an entry level person should not even bother with planning...that chances for advancement will be slim and I will feel the dummy in the firm.
    Great.
    Well hang on, there were other comments saying that it may not be a big part of your job.

    My impression from these responses (and my impression matters since this is my thread) is that it would be beneficial to have basic GIS abilities from the perspective of keeping more doors open, but that it's also subjective in the sense that different workplaces handle GIS differently (ie. some workplaces require GIS skills, some may require you to refer to it but not really use it, and some may not require you to touch GIS at all.)

  23. #23
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    There are planning positions at all levels where GIS skills will not be required. Development review, for instance, typically does not require GIS. You may find your opportunities limited if you want to branch out into other aspects of planning, such as policy or long-range planning. GIS is especially important at the entry level for these activities, as your responsibilities will be more focused on preparing exhibits and doing the more basic analysis. And knowing how to work well with GIS will help you to advance more quickly. The two GIS-related skills I value the most are the ability to apply its data capabilities (Business Analyst, for instance) and the ability to produce an attractive and easily understood map. You should note, though, that knowing the right GIS commands are only part of what it takes to do that work. The other part is knowing what makes a good map or knowing how to identify what is important in the data. Unfortunately I find that very few people really have these abilities.

    I learned GIS back in the days of programming in Arc macro language, which was much more difficult than today's GUI. I did not use it for several years after college mainly because communities were just beginning to adopt GIS. Now I find that I need to pick it up more often to prepare my own maps, and I am having to re-learn some of the more complex features to do analysis. Could I work without it? Perhaps, but the quality of the work would suffer. GIS is a great tool. Planning without it might be compared to building a house without using a hammer. You can still bang the nails in with a rock or a pipe, but it isn't going to work as well.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  24. #24
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by surfer1280 View post
    So basically if I hate GIS, had a horrible experience with it, and find it incomprehensible than as an entry level person should not even bother with planning...that chances for advancement will be slim and I will feel the dummy in the firm.
    Great.[emphases added]


    You may want to examine whether your text - and esp the separate elements in it - is a construct that successful experienced planners share. And whether the successful folk in other fields in general share those traits as well. If not, you may want to reflect on why that is. Just a thought.

  25. #25
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    I can print a map and provide land use and zoning to the public. I leave analysis to my staff. I know, lame.

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