A GIS is a Geographical Information System:
Most of the world’s mapping agencies are now using GIS to produce their maps, even if they are then sold on paper. For landscape architects, GIS will be the key software tool. CAD programmes and image editing software will be ways of inputing data to the GIS. Ian McHarg’s Design with nature helped launch GIS. There is a discussion of the role of GIS in landscape and planning in Turner, T. City as landscape (1996).
GIS has become one of the major business, and military, software technologies. Happily, it can also be a design and planning tool. Each tool one uses affects the end product. One can cut wood with a saw, a plane or a chisel. One can make landscape design proposals with a spade, a pencil, modelling tools, a CAD programme – or a GIS. We should expect that each the new tool will allow different types of proposal to be made.
If you take a city plan and draw over it with a green marker pen, you can design an ‘open space system’ with parks and parkways. This is what Patrick Abercrombie did for London in 1943. It is still the foundation of open space planning for London. But what does the green ink actually mean:
The ‘parkways’ on the original Abercrombie plan are a case in point. Although they were used to interconnect parks, they were actually a special category of road with wide vegetated margins.
These considerations force us to the conclusion that simply classifying land as ‘greenspace’ is inadequate. We need to:
With paper plans, this is not an easy task. With a GIS, it is simple. The two most characteristic features of a GIS are:
The database can hold much of the data which landscape architects use: soils, geology, water, user preferences, contours etc etc. You can either purchase the data or you can put it in yourself. It can generate 3-D models and generate aerial photographs over them, with geographic precision. But this is difficult.
Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) is a GIS supplier. The organisation was started by a landscape architect and it is now the world’s largest GIS company. They make several two basic products:
The published manuals are short and very similar to the help files on the system. The other main methods of learning about a computer programme are:
Cadcorp supply an interesting GIS system which makes extensive use of data drawn from other programmes (eg Microsoft Access) http://www.cadcorp.co.uk/
ESRI supplies ArcView and ArcInfo in the UK http://www.esriuk.com/. This is the GIS company which was founded by a landscape architect (Jack Dangermond). The esri.com website has an account of a landscape planning project in Portugal: LANDSCAPE CAPACITY EVALUATION AND VISUAL IMPACTS SIMULATION A GIS APPROACH
MapInfo supply a popular desktop GIS system http://www.mapinfo.com/
The University of Edinburgh provides an excellent set of links to GIS-related websites http://www.geo.ed.ac.uk/home/giswww.html