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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

Geodesign Summit 2013 – Day One

January 24th, 2013 by Susan Smith

Bran Ferren, co-founder of Applied Minds LLC and keynote speaker for the opening session at the Geodesign Summit held at Esri’s Redlands, Calif. Campus, set the tone for the Summit that commenced today.

He said that in 2009 at the first Geodesign Summit, he challenged people to tell better stories. Basically the Geodesign Summit is one of those conferences that explores a concept that is still at the “shiny object curiosity stage,” not yet something very usable. It is a way to try to begin to build the cities of the future, using all the technology tools we have, which then means they will include geographic information, planning, building information modeling and much more. Ferren said that “if you wait long enough, these problems will get solved.

So in trying to retrofit and build tomorrow’s cities, considerations should be made to create “cities that feel good about themselves as they will perform better than cities that don’t feel good about themselves.”

Interesting that he would bring this up, as most people in considering the 3D city or city of the future are not talking about how the city itself “feels” but rather, does it have all the physical components that will address the needs of the inhabitants?

The big issues facing our urbanization, said Ferren, are that we have 100 years until our oil runs out. Nuclear energy, the ozone layer, global warming are all places where the consequences of our actions are going to be big. “There is no appetite in political leadership to make changes in these big things,” he pointed out. “Short attention countries move from one crisis to another.”

Short attention span was something he brought up as an ailment to our country, but is likely worldwide, brought about by some of the very technology that we will use to solve complex problems. These issues are very complex and require more thought than just sound bites.

“Geodesign matters for this reason – the ability to look into the future, show people the future, changes the way you design and execute the design,” said Ferren. “It lets them tell story in their way, modeling and simulation. Once you get it right it becomes an enabler, that is shared across all your Geodesign platforms. An entire community can form around that whole subject area. It’s this network of shared intelligence is the foundation to build upon.”

Ferren proposes a 250-year plan such as the Bill of Rights, rather than the shorter term plans that are usually in place for infrastructure and other so-called long range planning.

In a panel discussion between Esri CEO Jack Dangermond, Harvard University professor Carl Steinitz, and Bran Ferren, they argued whether the 250 year plan was viable. Steinitz felt that the long view is really 30-60 years, because “you can’t predict far beyond that period of time.”

Jack talked about the super organisms; large multinational organizations that are taking over the planet. “These are forces are even more controlling than our natural forces of weather. You’re suggesting something like another super organism that is made up of data, measurements, apps, and models about how the world works, and that we dip into that knowledge and share it. through transactions like regional long term designs, we dip into web and bring out and share what I did and use it or someone else’s best practices.”

Ferren said that we would start with social behaviors rather than the physical architecture in the model. “You get that effect of super organism without creating one. What was the inspiration for the internet? The people who invented it thought interoperability was important and it was opposite from the way we build cities.  The internet is self-healing and self-correcting and is never broken. You can build what you want on top of it. I argue those are the most important ideas, like the Bill of Rights. There are a set of underlying first principles, that’s the super organism, not definition at a super high level of granularity.

If you get these first principles right, then it allows for you to solve problems in several different ways.”

Luo Ling-jun, director of Chongqing Geomatics Center, spoke on “From Geoinformation Services to Geodesign Services.” He is the first person to practice Geodesign in China.

The Chongqing Geodesign development system consists of four parts – Geodesign, geo-assessment, geo-analysis, and geo-space database which comprise the Geo-survey.

The Geodesign service is used in urban planning. They also use CFD software, energy consumptions simulation technology, and GIS to consider the building space pattern.

“Geodesign Enabling Technology,” presented by Esri’s Bern Szukalki, described Geodesign as “about best design that’s achievable and sustainable.” The company’s ArcGIS is becoming 3D with the addition of the CityGIS engine.

Jen Sheldon, an ecologist with a background in system approaches, spoke on “Yellowstone Ferocious Wild, Benchmarking with Geodesign.”

The Yellowstone National Park comprises 20 million acres with structures, components and processes are among the most intact in the remaining world, according to Sheldon. “All 18 species endemic to the park are still there. It is a benchmark for the healthy ecosystem. The larger idea is to establish a workflow to build ecosystem models.”

Her approach was to benchmark the ecosystem using a systems approach to reference standards. Sheldon suggests borrowing from public health paradigms to determine the health of the ecosystem. Using a variety of types of data, including species, habitat data, climate input, remote sensing, hyperspectral, lidar, etc. a workflow has been created to model structures.

The work focuses on animal populations, as the better the habitat quality the stronger the integrity of the area. “Animals are the best aggregators of information,” said Sheldon.

Al Reynolds, vice president at Stantec, spoke on “Rural Land Stewardship” with an engaging story about an innovative, incentive-based planning program designed to preserve and maintain a natural habitat, protect agricultural land and promote sustainable growth and economic diversification in rural areas.

It relies on no regulations or public funding to accomplish these objectives.

“Using GIS we created a new currency called ‘stewardship credit,’ calculated using a GIS database that we put together, and created a regionally specific natural resource index,” said Reynolds. “The credits entitle footprint and balance resource protection, agriculture and growth.”

“By building the database we got these people to trust each other at some level, we couldn’t have been done otherwise. We put this data together and gave it scores, and run maps to show digital representation of values. The higher score you get the more credits you get under our system. If the wetlands stay in pristine condition, then we could identify places that needed development.”

Out of this effort the new town of Ave Maria was created. “It’s a town of 5,000 acres, 25,000 people, it’s on land that is 1/10th of what we would have used,” said Reynolds. “We had environmentalists, developers on the same side of project, and panthers’ habitat was protected.”

Florida is 70% rural, and with this plan they have protected 1.4 million acres of habitat.  The footprint of growth has been reduced by 80-90%.

The “Lightning Talks” – a group of brief talks on exciting topics held in breakout sessions – followed the afternoon keynotes.

One such talk was on the topic of “Urban Metabolism – information processing” by Skidmore Owings Merrill’s Keith Besserud, AIA.

He is involved with an urban design group where they are making analogies between biological systems and urban systems.

The connection between biology and information has been studied for many years. “In the 50s when they were revealing the structure of DNA, DNA information is coded in, and then goes to messenger DNA,” explained Besserud. “The field of biology moves from an endeavor of matter and energy, to now information.”

There are similarities between biological systems and urban systems. But the reality is we don’t have a good understanding about the systems of cities and flows of information in them, he said.

Besserud had a lot more questions than answers, such aslooking at how a GIS model can model the biological world, what if you could approach urban models in much the same way? Does biology provide a potential model for us to study cities?

All of these ideas, observations and applications are moving toward not only technology advancements but advancements in the way we think about and interact with environments, ecology and infrastructure.

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One Response to “Geodesign Summit 2013 – Day One”

  1. Ken says:

    Planning the next 100 years should include a review of past development practices, i.e., the development economics of parcel and tract size with the actual land use needs of a population to prevent the future of high maintenance developments. High maintenance developments don’t provide a population with adequate land uses to function properly. Ferren said “if you wait long enough, these problems will get solved.” The solutions to these built-out community design problems will be more expensive than if planned and designed properly from the start. For the next 100 years high maintenance developments will purchase more right-of-way, and expand other land uses, i.e., commercial, industrial, and utilities, to name a few. A visionary might even say the impacts on high maintenance developments will continue for the next 100-250 years due to inadequate infrastructure and planning for a population, i.e., road right-of-ways and other land uses. Communities which are calculated for the entire population, not entry level, will perform better and look better in plan view, 3D, and cost less over time. As a general exercise, evaluate a large community plan, good, bad, or ugly, in GIS or CAD; consider whether land use areas are enough for the entire built-out population; double the ¼ acre residential lots to ½ acre, especially for communities on septic; increase major road right-of-way widths; add community landscape buffers along the major routes. Road expansion is more readily possible with community landscape buffers than by eminent domain on private property; if a community is planned this way that should never happen. We should have some feeling of stability and permanence in a community, at least while we’re there.

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