Dragons8mycat welcome!

Nicholas Duggan and Elliot Hartley post Threeharescafe
Nick and Elliot post Threehares cafe


My company Garsdale Design Limited just hired Nicholas Duggan (known as dragons8mycat in the social media world) he starts on Monday the 11th of January as our Principal Geospatial Analyst.  I’ve known him for a while and have even bumped into him on occasion at conferences (we are based in Cumbria and I don’t get out much).

Importantly we needed someone who was not afraid to experiment.  

His CV is impressive and we know he is technically very competent, it’s in part why we hired him.   To be honest though, it was his helpful nature on social media and his interests that are clearly in more than just the job in front of him, that really interested us.  What we needed was someone used to working on a variety of differing projects and able to use different software as appropriate.  Importantly we needed someone who was not afraid to experiment.  

consultancy you see is a wonderfully messy business

Consultancy you see is a wonderfully messy business, today I’m working on a major CityEngine 3D project (yes we do more than just training!), tomorrow I could be helping with some domestic architecture and next week I’m probably helping acquire satellite imagery and GIS data for a potential resort development in the Middle East.  We need more than just a focused specialist to help us.  

CityEngine tower analysis
Analysis of CityEngine models is important.

Nick has stated on twitter on a number of occasions that he has ‘room in his heart’ (okay he didn’t say that exactly) for opensource and proprietary software. Yes Garsdale Design is an Esri Silver Partner (and very proud of it too!) but our clients are varied and their requirements and budgets differ wildly so we have to be flexible.

here is a growing sense of urgency to prove that their investment in 3D is more than just a bunch of pretty pictures

Being able to create 3D urban models is one thing, to actual analyse what you’ve created is quite another.  Whilst our CityEngine clients love 3D and have focused on visualisation there is a growing sense of urgency to prove that their investment in 3D is more than just a bunch of pretty pictures.  3D isn’t trivial it has real-world uses beyond the gimmicky.

This year my focus, or should I say, our focus is twofold in the 3D space:

  • Developing more useful 3D analysis workflows
  • Testing out 3D hosting platforms for our CityEngine created models.

As you can see Nick will play an important role for us this year.   What next for this blog GeoPlanIT?  Well Nick will contribute to it but that doesn’t mean he will abandon xyHt or his own blog ‘The Spatial Blog‘.

Welcome to the team Nick, 2016 is going to be interesting.

UK local online #mapping is a stupid mess…

Yuck, online mapping 1990s style

Today something is bothering me,   it has been bubbling away since I wrote this post “The Awful mess of Local Plans online” and I can’t contain it anymore.

Where’s my broadband coordinator? Cumbria CC

Cumbria as a geographic area I think has a lot of online maps and they all vary in quality and usability.   Sometimes it looks like the people who are operating them haven’t told other departments what they are doing…. to be fair they probably have but red tape has got in the way…

Lets take Sedbergh (yes I used Google Maps!) for example, if I want to see what services my local authorities’ provide on a map I can go here for Cumbria CC services but if I want to see their Public Rights of Way mapping (and the two national parks), I have to go here.  Now Cumbria also has a Historic Environment Record and their mapping is here (seriously slow & doesn’t always work).

Walk this way , Cumbria PROW map
Cumbria’s Historic Environment Record mapping is shit, no really

Now here’s the fun bit, bins, building control and libraries are dealt with by South Lakeland DC .   Ah, but if I want to see my local plan online rather than via PDF I have to go to the Yorkshire Dales online GIS here.   Oh and if I forget what Local Authority I’m in Eden DC provide some mapping for part of Sedbergh too.

Eden Web Mapping, basic but okay?
South Lakeland’s mapping just like Barrow’s and I quite like it..

All these maps provide detailed OS Mastermap level mapping.  Some are symbolised quite well, others not so well, I’ve always liked Barrow’s online GIS which South Lakeland seem to use, but that’s because it’s a bit technical and I hear open source [PDF].   I also worry when watermarks aren’t done well.

As a resident I shouldn’t have to check 5 different online maps to check out what’s happening in my area.  I certainly shouldn’t have to learn how each one operates! (look I used bold and underline I must be serious)

I can’t help wondering why no one is trying to get a national government mapping organisation whereby everyone gets the same online mapping frontend/interface but is in charge of their own data. A bit like the Planning Portal but for publishing data not just receiving it.  If people think this can’t be done, I think people working on the EU’s INSPIRE directive might say otherwise.

What I would like to see is web mapping become central not just an after thought to local and national government websites.   Yes there is a place of localisation (depending on usage, tourism, history etc…).   But a national web mapping site is needed so we can seamlessly browse geographically adjacent datasets.   This would be great not just for residents but also policy makers, politicians and professionals.  Imagine for example, seeing planning statistics and local plans for neighbouring authorities on one seamless map?   Local councillors could see how neighbouring areas with similar demographics are doing.  Think how easy consultation with neighbouring councils could be!

Enough of my musings, I’m off to make a map for a local authority in Iraq….

Related Posts


GeoDesign : Speeding up decision making?

I recently made comment on the Spatial Roundtable website to a piece by Jack Dangermond (of ESRI fame).   The post on “Designing a more Sustainable future” end with a question:

“How can GeoDesign best be applied to climate adaptation in the next 15 years?”

I thought I’d post my response here as well, I hope it isn’t too much of a ramble.  I honestly think that the combination to GIS and tools like CityEngine are the future of planning as well as environmental analysis.   I hereby make the prediction as well that CityEngine will end up dropping the word “city” and just end up being part of the core ArcGIS package (whether it is bundled with 3D analyst or spatial analyst is open for debate!).

“Sensible, informed, timely design and planning of our environment should be the ultimate goal for most of us, especially within the spatial and environmental industries.
But until recently we have only been able to conceive of technologies able to do this, not necessarily implement them. With the relatively recent emergence of cloud computing (not just for storage but for processing) as well as fast communication infrastructure (mobile and fixed line), combined with GIS technologies are now allowing for some of these ideas to become a reality.

Not wishing to plug specific technologies, but the recent acquisition of CityEngine by ESRI, shows a new exciting path for GIS and the way forward for GeoDesign. Where design can be instantly (or near instantly) informed by not just rule sets but other underlying data, environmental or otherwise.

I’ve written before about “the Instant City” in regards to city master planning as a result of tools like CityEngine. Whereby many aspects of city design could now in theory take place all at the same time. Or you can work on detailed multiple designs of a city for a client and only at the end with all the information (BIM level information for cities, energy, cost, environment etc..) do they choose what they deem to be the most appropriate plan.

The application of tools like CityEngine does not need to be for cities or urban areas alone. You can use it for pretty much anything agriculture, rural areas, national parks, forestry, as long as you put the appropriate data in (still an area for debate amongst the experts!). It also doesn’t matter what level of detail or physical area you are working on as it works at all levels.

GeoDesign in this context is about making quicker informed design decisions and being able to formulate new plans quickly as new data arrives without having to rewrite all your work. Of course the speed of analysis comes down to how much cloud computing power do you want to buy?

The answer to the question about how GeoDesign can be applied to climate change adaptation in the next 15 years should be relatively straight forward and surely we already know the answer?

Our professional disciplines related to the environment and planning have been working on this in separate silos for many years, only bringing things together, often in an adhoc way, via GIS, to make decisions. Our problem has been in the timely analysis of data and making decisions before things change and we have to start again.

We’ve got the tools, and access to the computing power if we want and of course the experts! The application of GeoDesign in the next 15 years should be in part about getting the workflows right. As well as making sure that the process of GeoDesign by whichever technology you use is almost transparent so we can get on with the important business of design and decision making. ”


Digitizing the Informal

I’m doing some digitizing for a project in the office, basically I’m plotting the entire road network in a city environment.   This sounds easy doesn’t it? Just plot the thick black lines and you’re done.   Well this is a country with a hot desert environment and a poor quality road network.   To compound matters there is a high water table, and places where there is no underground sewer network.

satellite image of informal road network
Informal Road Networks - but how do you record them?

The upshot of this is there are many informal road networks, even in the ‘developed’ neighbourhoods.   It’s quite easy sometimes to make a good guess as to the line of a road based on the housing.  But the road accessing a particular development can be erratic taking account of features and circumstances I cannot see from my satellite image (soft sand for instance).   What’s more how am I to know that this is a permanent road?   Sure it looks fairly set now but come the next season it will all change.

My general approach is to first establish what kind of project I’m working on and what information is required for the job.   Here I am choosing to acknowledge the existence of these informal tracks, especially the ones that look heavily used.   I’m also ensuring that the lines I’m creating have appropriate information about the feature for instance: “informal, access, unmade”.  I’ll also add some meta data to ensure anyone in the future who finds my work knows what satellite image I digitized from and what date I plotted it and for what purpose.

So fellow GIS professionals (particularly the ones that like to digitize) how do you digitize yours?  I’d really appreciate your insight if you could leave a comment or dm me on twitter that would be great!

ESRI UK Conference – My Presentations

My first presentation on Day One was entitled the “10 Minute City” to a largish group of people who made the trek to the basement instead of hearing about exciting developments in ArcGIS 10.1.  Honestly, thank you for coming down and listening to us all, not just myself.   VIDEO TO VIEW HERE After initial issues relating to my video not playing on ESRI laptops and codecs (I’ve never figured out codecs all I can say is it worked on my PCs and their offices ones too).

Here I demonstrated a workflow that used CityEngine and ArcGIS as the pivot points in creating a very basic city model for visualisation and analytical purposes.   I hope this went down well and if people have any more questions about it (I know I skipped some of the detail) then please don’t hesitate to contact me.

My second presentation entitled “Games and the City” was to a much smaller audience, I gave a live demonstration and an insight into a workflow we’ve been looking at using specially built software with assistance of InfoLab21.

My quick quiz about what game and system this screen shot was from got no correct answers unfortunately (and I was going to give the person who guess correctly a snazzy GDL memory stick!).
Perhaps you would like to guess? (answer in the comments below, no prize though sorry!)

Source: RetroGamer.net

Both presentations should be available to upload from the ESRI site soon, I’ll also try and post it here soon.

Apologies to those of you who saw the presentation and saw it stall at one stage.   I’ll blame it on the lack of a mouse mat, the awkward position of the mouse on the podium oh and my shakey hand due to nerves!