Saturday 1 June 2019

New Book: GIS for Planning and the Built Environment

A bit of a different blog post today, because a new GIS book by Ed Ferrari and me has been published. It’s called GIS for Planning and the Built Environment: An Introduction to Spatial Analysis and it’s an intro text aimed at anyone with an interest in GIS and the built environment, from geography and planning students to aspiring architects and landscape majors, plus people working in professional practice. We’ve included examples from across the world, from the bustling streets of Manhattan to the zig-zagging ski slopes of Austria. We hope you’ll see that we love GIS and what it can do, but we recognise that not everyone shares our passion, so when we were writing the book we also had one eye on the reluctant GISer - that’s why you can use our book to dip in and out of topics as and when you need to. 

Front cover

Want to know how to make better maps? Okay, no problem, head straight to Chapter 6. Desperate to know more about Waldo Tobler (pictured below with the authors in Santa Barbara on a previous GIS  world tour), his famous ‘First Law of Geography’ and why everyone goes on about it? Then head directly to Chapter 7. You'll also learn about the much less well known 'Second Law'. Want a good overview of contemporary GIS for planning and the built environment more generally? Excellent! Read the whole book. Looking for more information on a specific technical topic? Then our comprehensive index is the place to begin.

The authors, with the late Professor Waldo Tobler

There are many GIS texts out there, from the comprehensive to the highly technical. Ours sits somewhere in the middle as what we think is an accessible, easy-to-read reference for anyone with an interest in the topic as it relates to the built environment and planning more generally. We begin by establishing the book’s aims, and set out our hopes that anyone who reads the book will:

  • Obtain the knowledge, skill and experience to understand how the spatial analysis of data about the ‘real world’ can be used to understand planning problems;
  • Be able to apply a broad range of spatial analytic and visualisation techniques using industry standard GIS software packages; and
  • Understand how maps and data can be used effectively as evidence for planning- related issues.

In the introduction, we also include a little guide to what you’ll find inside so that, for example, if you want to know more about data (including open, big and ‘bad’ data) we tell you to head straight to Chapter 4. In here you’ll also find a bit more on the parts of GIS that really can be baffling if you’re just starting out (like what file formats to use, things like dots per inch, and more about ‘the mighty shapefile’!). 

An example of new Ordnance Survey data we use in the book - this is Manchester

Although we recognise that much of what might be considered core elements of GIS and spatial analysis change little over time, we also recognise that things have changed a lot in the past decade, with new technologies and platforms like QGIS and CARTO helping shape and re-shape an already vibrant discipline. New open data sources have added fuel to the GIS fire and social media has fanned the flames to such an extent that maps are now everywhere, or so it seems. We cover some of this in Chapter 5, where we note that such developments have often led to the creation of what one might charitably describe as ‘bad maps’, and which the book's authors have been guilty of many times! 

But because we’re optimistic people, we do of course focus mainly on the positives, with reference to GIS and cartographic pioneers like Kenneth Field, Anita Graser, Gretchen Peterson, Joshua Stevens and the inspirational Atlas of Design series, where you’ll find some truly breathtaking examples of what can be done with spatial data. We also offer a good bit of advice on how to avoid common pitfalls in your work, so if you’re a student doing GIS and you want to get better grades/marks then we can probably help with that too!

But this an introductory text, and we don’t try to cover everything (far from it) because we thought that would be overwhelming. But we aim to cover the most important things for those working within built environment disciplines more broadly. That’s why the book is peppered with examples of GIS in the real world that people might be able to understand without having to look up a reference book!  Often, we use separate boxes for these, like when we were trying to explain the topic of generalisation in GIS, as you can see below.

Our new book is in part an attempt to bring GIS back to the forefront of planning and built environment disciplines, but also partly an attempt to show how it can help us understand the world just a little bit better, so long as we don’t get carried away with ourselves. We’ll end here with what we say in our concluding remarks in Chapter 9: 

“GIS lets us see. It opens up a world of visualisation that spreadsheet models can never hope to rival. It helps us make links between phenomena on the basis of the attribute that is common to so much of what goes on in our world – the attribute of where.”

We hope you’ll agree and that you’ll find our book useful if you choose to take a closer look - if you want to find out more, head to the book's homepage.