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Geo-Design – a key aspect of the GeoWeb

The second successful Geo-Design conference was recently held by ESRI.  It was interesting to me as it stressed many themes which have been at the basis of GeoWeb for the past several years.  You may remember Jack Dangermond speaking about his early ideas of Geo-Design in his key note address at GeoWeb 2007, and Alex Miller’s presentation in 2008 as these ideas became more concrete.  I don’t recall Jack using the term Geo-Design in 2007, but he stressed several times the importance of using geography for design, and in acting in the world.  In GeoWeb 2008, we also heard from Kimon Onuma, who introduced many of us to the concepts of Building Information Models, and the need to integrate urban infrastructure design into wider concepts of collaboration and scenario planning.

These are clearly key concepts of our evolving understanding of the GeoWeb, of the importance of integrating systems that support the functions of sensing, analysis, visualization, and action (control, design) in order to deal with some aspect of the world around us, such as the management of air traffic, or the development of urban infrastructure.  The need for systems that span organizational boundaries, and which function in a collaborative fashion without a single locus of control, seems central to our approach to many of the world’s problems, especially those that are the most vexing and complex.

This concept of the Geoweb as a “directed” web of systems or as “the internet with a purpose” is clearly more than just a technical challenge.  It will require, in many domains, a change in how we think about the process of design and “acting in the world”, and a change in the kinds of software and systems required to support that acting.  We might, for example, require collaboration frameworks operated by cities or private entities that facilitate the interaction of all of the stakeholders in the development of a city, from developers to architects to urban planners, and which integrate functionality for permitting, building, and structure design, as well as the design of whole city blocks or even of entire cities.  Such collaboration envisions a level of integration of organizations and their information systems which does not exist today.

I don’t believe that this is about making the design process faster, or about minimizing the labour effort.  Rather, I believe it is about more effective design, where we use information technology including, of course, geographic information in its widest sense, to develop urban infrastructure that is more energy efficient and more planet friendly, while providing us with a more human and liveable surrounding.  Clearly this is about collaboration as much as it is about geography, and one might just as easily speak of Collaborative Design as Geo-Design or, as in the GeoWeb, to see the word Geo to mean the world (global, globality), hence implying collaboration as its essential element.

GeoWeb 2011 – Smart World Applications addresses these issues of collaboration and the integration of systems head-on.