Welcome to this Blog

This blog is for spatial analysts be they professionals, student, academician or just curious about spatial technologies. Spatial technologies include Geographic Information Systems, Remote Sensing, Global Positioning Systems, mobile spatial devises, and other spatial related programs (i.e., Google Earth.)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Is mobile GIS changing our ‘sense of place?’

In a special section in the  27 October-2 November 2012 issue of The Economist, titled Technology and Geography, various writers discussed how mobile GIS units and geographical applications are changing individuals everyday lives, society-at-large, politics, commerce and increasing globalization and connectivity.  In one particular article in this section, A sense of place Geography matters as much as ever, despite the digital revolution., Patrick Lane discusses how instead of geography disappearing it is becoming more important as more applications are becoming geographical in nature.  

Increasing telecommunications capacities (i.e., the Internet, social media, cell phones, GPS enhanced mobile devices etc.) and transportation innovations (just-in-time, intermodal container use for shipping via airplanes, trains, and ships, large capacity airplanes etc.),which are being better coordinated with advanced telecommunications and spatial technologies, are transforming the global society, commerce, economics and politics.  (For more information how the Internet is creating cyber communities, see the following article “Culture in the Digital Metropolis: Theoretical and Methodological Crossroads” , in Urbana: Urban Affairs and Public Policy; also found in the book  The Geography, Politics, and Architecture of Cities: Studies in the Creation and Complexification of Culture.)  However, it is is not making a ‘flat world’ as proclaimed by Thomas Friedman, nor is it the ‘end of Geography.’  

Geography is still an inherent property in all aspects of human existence. Every person and every tangible object is located in a specific physical location.  Human beings still need to eat, meet people face-to face, go shopping, go to work places, and move from one location to another.  Goods and people still need to be transported at all scales (globally, nationally, and local.)  Mobile GIS application and devices are making relative distance smaller in terms of time and facilitating decision-making, but are not eliminating  spatial relationships.  Spatial relationships or geography remains regardless because people, business, industries and building still occupy a physical location.  This will not change in the foreseeable future.  Time travel and teleportation are not likely to go beyond the theoretical in the 21st Century.  

 Underlying spatial technologies is Geographical Information Science which is firmly grounded in the discipline of Geography which encompasses spatial cognition, representation of space (Cartography), meaning of space etc.  Unfortunately, the discipline of Geography is often not referenced when there is discussion of spatial technologies.  

What GIS related devises do is to  facilitate is the transmission of geographical information, in some cases where it was impossible to transmit, not eliminating geography.  Many taxis operate with navigational equipment sometimes linked with location of clients and destinations in a dynamic GIS.  People are finding ride sharing opportunies in San Francisco and other places as referenced in the before mentioned article via mobile GIS related applications.  Trucks can be monitored by GPS tracking and pick-up and delivery efficiently coordinated. There  is an  explosion of GIS related applications for mobile units. GIS related mobile devises are also being used in internal space such as airports. It is fairly predictable that GIS related mobile devises will become more prevalent in every part of global economies and society.  The costs of this technology are decreasing to become more affordable for persons, businesses and governments.  The consequences will be revolutionary in all aspects.

This special section in the The Economist talks about the wonder of GIS related mobile devises. However, the advantages are not evenly spread and demonstrate the growing divide between the ‘haves and half not’ at all scales. It is mainly a phenomenon that is happening in developed nations.  Even within developed nations, the users of these devices are affluent and are not helping those that who are in the lower middle or in poverty. These mobile GIS devise are making fortunes for the manufactures and those designing the software, but are not having great economic impact in the U.S., Europe, Austrailia and other countries. The devices are made generally in China or other developed coutries where the laborers are being paid very low wages while the small amount of developers  and investors in very limited location such as Silicone Valley, Austin, Banglore are making above average incomes and support relatively limited low paid services in the areas that the are located.  Herein lies the delimna of a rapidly technologically developing world where income disparities are not being lessened, but increased by their growth.  In the late industrial age and part of the post-industrial age, incomes rose and there was overall increased prosperity, particularly in the developed world.  The technological or information age, requires only cheap labor which is generally found in developing coutries leaving the vast wealth to a limited amount of people.   As Richard Florida refuting the notions of Thomas Friedman in an article concerning ‘the Creative Class stated the Internet and other technology (like mobile GIS) is not creating a ‘flat earth’ but a ‘spiked’ one where all are not on an even or flat playing field.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Potential for integration of social media with local government GIS to increase citizen participation in urban planning and management (revised 19 October 2012)

 (image located at : http://www.cio.gov.bh/cio_eng/SubDetailed.aspx?subcatid=225)

As referenced in the previous blog entry, “Maps for the Masses: GIS on the web, Neogeography, Volunteered Geography,” there is a growing involvement of citizens using geographic information embedded in GPS, mobile phones, Google Earth, etc. Concurrently, almost every municipality, county and regional agency in the U.S. and a growing number in other countries have means for citizens to view geographic information about the city they reside, usually through some form of online GIS.  This increases the transparency of urban planning and local government. However, this is still ‘top-down’ government which is not improving citizen participation directly.  There is an opportunity to make GIS dynamic and interactive with its integration with social media, either existing or developed by those involved in public geographic information dissemination (local governments, regional organizations, etc.)

There could be many ways to integrate GIS and social media to enhance citizen participation in local government and urban planning.  Many issues in local government are location-oriented: zoning/rezoning; subdivisions, street conditions (i.e., congestion, dangerous intersections/corridors, potholes etc.) crime; urban ‘eyesores such as overgrown yards, broken windows, abandonded buildings etc.; utility problems (i.e., power outages, water shutoffs, gas leaks) and hazardous weather (i.e, hurricanes, tornadoes etc.)  These would be made more accessible through making public GIS usable on mobile devises. 

For example, a citizen notices that there is a rezoning notice posted in his/her neighborhood and wants to find out more about it and make a comment. The person could search on rezoning on an agency’s online GIS, in his/her neighborhood, click on a link for the rezoning case. There could be the rezoning specifics, the opinion of the planning staff and other public officials with justifications. The person could comment on the rezoning and then give an overall point value favoring or opposing the rezoning (i.e., on a 1 to 10 with 1 meaning complete opposition and 10 complete support for the rezoning.)  If there were enough responding around the vicinity of the rezoning, this could be considered an additional imput into the case for or against the rezoning.

The integration of social media and mobile technologies with public GIS opens up numerous possibilities. It may require more applications being developed that would allow for local citizens to interact thorough spatial technologies, but the benefits for citizens and local government may be extraordinary, if not revolutionary.  Urban planners and public officials are often requesting information concerning citizen behavior and opinions on issues.  This information has mostly been collected through traditional surveys that do not involve the citizens in the process as active participants.  The integration of existing social media applications (i.e. Facebook, Twitter etc.) with urban spatial technologies may give a real time measurement of people’s opinions about existing urban problems and involve urban planners and other government officials in a dynamic process between local government and the citizens that they serve.  Others such as GPS tracking, which may provide valuable information on citizen movement patterns, but more information could be acquired through its integration who social media. This is an emerging issue, as seen in the below references.

For further reading:

Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (UCL), "Social media and the emergence of open-source geospatial intelligence", in GIS and Agent-Based Modeling blog,  27 January 2012.

Andrew Hunter, Stefan Steiniger and Coral Bliss Taylor, Fédération Internationale des Géomètres/Internation Federation of Surveyors (FIG), "PlanYourPlace: Merging Social Networks and Participatory GIS for Participatory Planning", Proceedings of  Working Week, 6-10 May 2012.

 Daniel Sui,  "Three Reasons GIS Should be Understood as Social Media", in GeoPlace.com,,,
14, October 2012.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Maps for the Masses: GIS on the web, Neogeography, Volunteered Geography

Maps and map/satellite image servers (static or interactive) are common place on the Internet: Google Earth, MapQuest, etc.  Often, when I am trying to find out where retail stores, movies, etc. are located, I use Google Earth. This is common for many people.  If you are looking for motels at a destination, for example on a popular website, hotels.com, you can pick the city and then find its location. The maps can show in detail the streets, satellite image and nearby points of interest  The maps for this site are powered by Google.  There are numerous other examples of this on the Internet. This can be integrated with mobile devices such that persons can use these sites to locate a motel while travelling, see the location and then book it.  Navigation systems do some of the same things.  Most people are not aware they are using ‘pseudo-GIS.’  They do give a talking point with people unaware of GIS.

Like many professors teaching Geographic Information Science, I have also used Google Earth to illustrate some aspects of GIS, Remote Sensing and Cartography. Google Earth and others can be very useful in all geographically-oriented courses (i.e., urban planning, urban geography, physical geography, economic geography, etc.)  For students, it is very accessible and can be used with minimal instruction.  Also, if used in a laboratory, it encourages participatory learning. Some of the skills can be readily transferred to GIS, such as zooming, scales, legends, spatial proximity, boundaries, labels, orientation etc.

There are also some serious efforts to bring the power of GIS to the public, such as MapSrver . This is one example of open source GIS, but some have a higher degree of usability than others. Others ‘GIS on the web’ websites are providing geographic information for public inclusion and transparency in government, such as redistricting information for Wisconsin. These maps are created with ArcGIS Online.  There are many more examples of online GIS of government and non-profit organizations

Now, the general population is becoming involved in their own map making: OpenMap, Wikimapia etc.  Amateur ‘map making’ has been categorized by those in GIScience as ‘Neogeography’, or by Goodchild’s term, Volunteered Mapping.   A special issue of Future Internet (2011) has academic articles concerning neogeography.  Some think of the discussion of neogeography as trendy, maybe even vapid. It is interesting and hopefully giving a higher profile to spatial technologies and Geography.

Geographic Information Science is not just about spatial technologies, programming and making maps, but how geographic information is used. The use of maps and geographic information on the Internet is confusing, nebulous, non-structured, self-organizing and emerging.  It is on the edge of chaos, which is where all areas of studies that are technology related are located. This is what makes GIScience diverse, dynamic, exciting and challenging.  Trying to confine the definition of GIScience doesn’t work, as what is included is always shifting.

Personal Robots: a new development in Spatially-Aware Autonomous Mobile Robots (SAAMRs)

In the past blogs, I have been exploring the rapidly developing SAAMRs.industry and Geographic Information Science.  The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis recently posted an article on personal SAAMRs, “Personal Robots on the Horizon: A Robot Operating System.”
Open source software is being developed that will further accelerate the development of SAAMRs. Within the near future they may be commonplace.
The implications of personal SAAMRs as they become more embedded in our society is revolutionary.  These are directly related to the confluence of Geographic Information and technology. One of the first perceivable impact would be for those that are mentally or physically disabled. Within the house, the robot could get items, clean house, warn others about the status of the person (i.e. having trouble breathing, heart attack or general well-being), and with other SAAMRs drive the person to doctor’s appointment, help in shopping etc.  The more able-bodied could use them as personal assistants.  

Other possibilities such as using these robots instead of workers in factories would be foreseeable in the future as well.  The social and economic impacts of this would restructure economies around the world. The cheapest labor would not be peasants in developing countries, but those countries that possessed high technology and the infrastructure for this.  Even some professors could be replaced by robots.

All these tasks are dependent on spatial analysis, spatial technology, artificial intelligence and Geographic Information bringing them into the realm of Geographic Information Science. As such, these are ideas that should be contemplated upon by those in the field. I welcome comments on this subject.