Sunday, January 30, 2011

GIS in U.S. Urban Studies and Planning Education

Richard LeGates

The use of GIS in social science and public policy disciplines has expanded exponentially in recent years. There is worldwide interest in incorporating spatial thinking and the use of GIS into education at every academic level—particularly in academic disciplines and professional fields where spatial understanding and GIS can greatly improve academic understanding, research, and professional practice (National Academy of Science, 2006; Goodchild and Janelle, 2005; LeGates, 2004).
Urban studies and planning are often cited as fields where spatial thinking and GIS should be used. However, there is little information on how GIS has been incorporated into these fields. Nor has there been much serious thinking about alternative models for incorporating GIS sensitive to the variations among urban studies and planning programs. This is particularly important because these programs range from minors in small interdisciplinary urban studies programs at liberal arts colleges with no core urban studies faculty and no faculty knowledgeable about GIS to sophisticated graduate Ph.D. planning programs at major research universities based in professional schools with multiple highlytrained faculty teaching advanced courses drawing on a range of GIS, CAD, remote sensing and related spatial technologies.
This paper describes the variety of types of urban studies and urban planning programs in the United States and different ways GIS has been incorporated into urban studies and planning program curricula. Based on a review of urban studies and planning programs in California and other states, the paper identifies models of how GIS and spatial thinking can be incorporated into different types of urban studies and planning programs. It reviews existing books and other materials useful for defining appropriate GIS content to include in urban studies and urban planning courses at different academic levels and showcases exemplary courses and programs worthy of replication. Finally, the paper describes an instructional module the author has developed titled Think Globally, Act Regionally (LeGates, 2005) that is appropriate for undergraduate and graduate urban studies and urban planning students.

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