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Jeff Thurston— “Imagine a world without spatial tools. You could not measure, monitor, process and or understand all that is around you. There would be random processes, random events and random, erratic and irregular growth.”

Matt Ball — “Process is manifested in projects, and rather than a focus on the role of a specific technology within a project, it’s more about a convergence of technologies that help the project become more efficient and better managed. As GIS has matured, it has been applied with increasing success in large infrastructure construction projects.”

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Ship in the Fog

What seems like a fog cannot hide the form of something that remains visible because it is readily understood, even with only faint glimmers from a distance. This is also the case with spatial  tools and their relationship to sustainable development. The key word in the title is ‘process’ and no matter how one tries to associate tools with sustainability, they cannot without considering processes.

Something does not become a ‘theory’ until it is documented and known. To scientists, theory’s do not exist until the processes they encapsulate, can be reproduced – with certainty. More exactly, education is a pursuit of truth.

Anything less than truth, is a hypothesis – an idea, a thought or a whim. That is, until it becomes truth. The process of moving from hypothesis to truth involves modeling. To seek a geographic truth, or geographic theories, data needs to be accurate. More accurate data and information, enables processes to move from hypothesis to theory  more quickly, exactly and understandably.

Sustainability as the Brundtland Report outlines, is not a theory. Yet, it is more than a hypothesis. Some say it is possible, some say it is unachievable and a great many scratch their heads trying to figure out what sustainable society would look like.  Why?

Because all of the processes which regulate the interactions between the ’systems’  involved are not easily or totally understood. Everyone has ideas though, which is a good thing. Add in the word ‘development’ then you begin to see the economic side to sustainability rear its head and become part of the sustainable equation. Thus, when we talk about sustainable development, we are interested in understanding sustainable systems with respect to financial stability.

Now that we have that part understood, what role do spatial tools play?

This is simpler to answer.

Spatial tools, like GIS, are the tools which are used to model, measure, process, view, manage and capture the data and information related to the processes. They are used to process the information in such a way that hypothesis become theory’s. This is why we say geographic tools are tools of inspiration, of aspiration and truth. They hold the promise of sustainability.

Imagine a world without spatial tools. You could not measure, monitor, process and or understand all that is around you, as well. There would be random processes, random events and random, erratic and irregular growth. Not that everything you see today is perfect, but it would be a lot worse without spatial tools.

And here is the secret, I think, as to why GIS is entering its most promising period…

A good part of the tool development has ended, a maturity has occurred.  All because bright minds over the last 20 years or more have developed them.  We are entering a phase, I think, where the tools can move into the processing phase, the modeling phase – thus moving from hypothesis to theory on several fronts.

With any luck, sustainability will be more accurately defined, measured and monitored – all due to spatial tools.

I’m betting on it. That is why Matt and I started V1 Magazine.

The truth is out there.

  The excitement in starting Vector1 Media for me has to do with the move from technology-centric to process-centric. Process is manifested in projects, and rather than a focus on the role of a specific technology within a project, it’s more about a convergence of technologies that help the project become more efficient and better managed.

As GIS has matured, it has been applied with increasing success in large infrastructure construction projects. Engineering firms that successfully implement a marriage of GIS and CAD tools to manage projects have seen great returns. Parsons Brinkerhoff and CH2MHill are two of the large firms that have illustrated stunning results from this approach, and more large firms are joining them.

The true benefits are realized when the system that is developed for a construction or redevelopment project becomes integral with all phases of the process. It’s set up as a foundation before any work is done, and ingests all drawings and data from any activities that impact the reality of a site.

To start the process, the GIS and geodatabase becomes the repository for myriad data observations about a site (topology, cadastral, demographics, imagery, survey data, etc.). All inputs are added and managed within the geodatabase.

The analysis of environmental impact and other site-preparation work become a part of the system before anything is built. This sets the tone for a collaborative system where everyone works from the same system and feeds their analysis and input into the view that is seen by all stakeholders.

A geodetic control network for the site ensures that data accuracy is meticulously controlled. The site benefits from an always-on network that can feed surveying and GPS-controlled earthmoving equipment for Real Time Kinematic (RTK) accuracy to augment the satellite-based GPS signal.

The geodatabase ingests CAD drawings at all stages of development. A common ground coordinate system is established along with the precise positioning so that all drawing are accurately positioned and easily integrated into the GIS regardless of CAD file format.

The efficiency of this system means that there is far less waste in the construction process, leading to an inherently green outcome. The amount of data captured and controlled is a leave-behind after the project is completed for ease of maintenance far into the future.

The quantitative and analytical character of GIS makes the design of new plans much more explicit. GIS is used to explore the spatial structure of a region, to simulate scenarions, to design alternatives and to communicate ideas with other participants in the planning process. GIS can be used at all steps of the process for evaluation of planning alternatives and monitoring of policies.

Without GIS in the mix, it becomes far harder to evaluate the socio-economic and environmental impacts of a project that are necessary for the sustainable development approach. I see the modeling, management and analysis of spatial information in a geodatabase as critical to achieving the whole concept of sustainable development.

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