Technological innovations are changing both the practice of planning and design, and the ways proposals are generated, evaluated, executed and monitored. Today’s hardware and software allow designers and planners to rapidly construct sophisticated support systems and execute previously impossible solutions. The term GeoDesign has been proposed to refer to these innovative approaches which integrate geospatial analysis with the planning and design process. This article aims at gathering the most important concepts and definitions, and sharing my views on this concept and its attributes.
The definition of GeoDesign is the first challenge. Some definitions refer to GeoDesign as the set of techniques and enabling technologies for planning built and natural environments in an integrated process (Flaxman, 2010). The shortcoming of this definitions is that it conceives GeoDesign as a collection of processes and supporting technologies already established in traditional disciplines. Here GeoDesign results only on technologically-enhanced propositions .
Conversely, understanding GeoDesign as a “tight-coupling” may serve better in a context where the design processes and related technologies are systems in continuous transformation and evolution. Under a “tight-coupling” vision, GeoDesign must be conceived as the result of a systems integration process. The integration of systems essentially seeks to fuse capabilities of the individual systems in order to provide the desired level of usability (Abel, Kilby, & Davis, 1994). Therefore, I suggest defining GeoDesign as the act of integrating the constantly transforming techniques, concepts and approaches in design and planning with GeoSpatial systems and technologies. GeoDesign’s aim is to create more comprehensive and rapid solutions for both processes and forms of the built and natural environment. This definition suggests transforming design and planning practices to a technology-supported feedback loop that allows the rapid conceptualization, articulation, visualization, modeling, and monitoring of transformations in a variety of geographic environments.
“Tight” or “deep couplings” eliminate the difficulties associated with incompatible user interfaces and inconvenience routines resulting from systems architecture. This means that under a tight coupling approach, planning tools and GIS capacities must be integrated in a common working environment. Such conception of GeoDesign requires a re-conceptualization of the GIS (hardware-software) environment and of the designers’ and planners’ drawing board, while preserving fundamental spatial and design-oriented concepts and norms.
At the recent First GeoDesign Summit, multiple participants discussed the need for a “GeoDesign dashboard” in order to support the practice of GeoDesign (Lee, 2010). It is clear the technology industry does not provide such environment and capacities currently. One important requirement characteristic of the dashboard–as well as GeoDesign practices–is the flexibility to rapidly adjust to the designer and planner requirements and to adjust to different client configurations, scales, and complexity levels of the planning problems while capitalizing on the knowledge and skill of multiple actors, and clients in a transdisciplinary way.
Positioning GeoDesign in Practice
Some practitioners argue that GeoDesign is a new name to an old pairing of planning and GIS. Traditionally information technology (IT) as a model delivery system for communication and information has revolutionized the way we work in design and planning. However, despite traditional efforts in integrating IT in planning, early forms of GeoDesign practice followed what has been referred to as a “loose-coupling” or “shallow-coupling” approach (Nyerges, 1993).
These are characterized by occasions where separate, stand-alone GIS and diverse design approaches were linked through a spontaneous or organized approach (Vargas-Moreno, 2008a). In these early efforts, GIS serves as both a source of input data for visualization and modeling, but not integrated in the conception of the design proposition. Here lies the challenge of ongoing GeoDesign efforts to migrate to a tight-coupling approach.
It seems that given today’s more open, and technologically minded planning discipline, GeoDesign may be well-positioned to succeed in an already increasingly complex planning practice. In particular, the escalating institutionalization and popularization of participatory and transdisciplinary planning requires new approximations to the traditional planning process. Because of the information systems platform in which GeoDesign operates, it can provide a more efficient environment for planning, allowing multiple loops of plan and design refinement, deeper involvement of multiple actors (designer, planners or stakeholders) and a much-needed analytics integration (Vargas-Moreno, 2008b). Another of the most promising aspects for the integration of GIS in design and planning is the support of online spatially-explicit collaborative design processes–another of the big challenges in our current planning paradigm. These GeoDesign capacities may provide an important opportunity to articulate a long due and unsolved design-planning-GIS integration. We still need to see how GeoDesign is accepted in traditional practice and supported by the technology industry. While we can theorize and hypothesize about GeoDesign, further application and exploration will be required to develop theory and integrate GeoDesign into education and practice.
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