A Network of Shared Intelligence

Geodesign applies technologies from geographic information systems in order to tackle issues such as sustainability and ecology

What is “Geodesign” exactly? Geodesign is a term dubbed by Redlands, California-based Esri to describe the confluence of geography and design, applying technologies from geographic information systems and other complementary approaches to tackle big world problems such as sustainability, ecology, and building tomorrow’s cities.

Bran Ferren

Bran Ferren, co-founder of Applied Minds LLC and keynote speaker for the opening session at the Geodesign Summit held at Esri’s Redlands, California Campus, set the tone for the event this past January. The Geodesign Summit, in existence since 2009, is one of those conferences that explores a concept that is still at the “shiny object curiosity stage,” not yet something very usable, according to Ferren. It is a way to try to begin to build the cities of the future, using technologies such as geographic information, planning, building information modeling and much more. 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,” Ferren added. Most of those charged with building and designing 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? In another talk it was brought out that Geodesign professionals may think of themselves as “therapists”, as well as designers, as they consider how cities are modeled. Ferren said the big issues facing urbanization are our finite resources such as oil and water, plus global warming, climate change, and energy. “Geodesign matters for this reason – it gives us the ability to look into the future, show people the future, change the way you design and execute the design,” said Ferren. “Modeling and simulation are shared across all your Geodesign platforms. A 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.


Jack Dangermond

Esri CEO and founder Jack Dangermond spoke on the topic, saying that “Geography provides a foundation,” which focused on geographic information systems (GIS) as a platform on the Cloud that can make the concepts of analytics available to everyone. An example was given using Esri’s product, CityEngine, to model the impacts of transit-oriented development in 3D for Honolulu. Planners were able to create an urban expansion model to show stakeholders density and different scenarios to address expansion. CityEngine can also be used to create a 3D urban information model, including detailed information of buildings, parking structures and other features of a city. Data can be brought in from digital surface models, elevations, renderings and aerial imagery, shadow and other types of analysis.

Jen Sheldon

What does ecology have to do with building and designing infrastructure? 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, wildlife, and processes that are among the most intact in the 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.” The work focuses on animal populations; the better the habitat quality the stronger the integrity of the area. “Animals are the best aggregators of information,” said Sheldon. Perhaps by modeling a healthy ecosystem using a variety of types of data, including species, habitat data, climate input, Sheldon’s research can help us determine the health of our own habitats and ecosystems.

Susan Smith has been writing about architecture, engineering and construction, and geospatial technology for approximately 17 years. She is currently the editor of AECCafe and GISCafe, online portals serving those industries.

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