Using Technology to Create Better Communities New Study Examines Geographic Information Systems


If placemaking ever becomes a competition, Prof. Karen Hanna, ASLA, believes landscape architects equipped with an understanding of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) will be in the lead. All the parts are there for enhanced decision-making: accessible data, user-friendly software, well-trained staff. It's time landscape architects become team leaders in a digital design world.

It is the dramatic amount of digital data that can be collected by GIS that prompted Hanna, a landscape architecture professor and department head at Utah State University, to author the latest addition to the Landscape Architecture Technical Information Series (LATIS), Geographic Information Systems: Using the Tools for Informed Growth. The study is available online at, with four other LATIS publications. LATIS - GIS is free of charge for ASLA members and can be purchased for $50 by non-members by visiting the ASLA Store in the For the Public section of ASLA members can access the study by logging on to ASLA's Professional Practice Library. Each publication includes a self-study exam that can be turned into ASLA for grading. Successful test takers will earn 3.5 professional development hours (.35 continuing education units).

The GIS program allows users to combine numerous layers of information about a place to give a better understanding of an area and to facilitate better decision-making in its development. The layers of information combined depends on the purpose - whether to find the best location for a new store, analyze environmental damage, view similar crimes in a city to detect a pattern, and so on. Hanna's LATIS release consists of case studies highlighting different GIS applications. The first case study is fairly traditional - using GIS to make a site analysis, come up with concepts, and develop a master plan. Another case study uses GIS in a community workshop context. The final study is a scientific modeling approach. All three are state-of-the-art GIS works.

"GIS can bring a lot of information to bear quickly in a common format," Hanna said. Traditionally, landscape architects use GIS to help determine the natural conditions of a site. However GIS can provide demographic and social data in a digital format that can also shape designs. "Since more agencies are making information available, people can share more readily," Hanna said. "This means consultants other than landscape architects are involved in collection and interpretation of data." By enabling date to be shared and used in multiple ways, GIS is a critical tool in addressing community growth issues.

According to Hanna, the informed growth of communities requires good information and can include data collected by GIS. The LATIS reveals ways GIS can:

Find and use existing datasets in place of or in addition to field-collected data;
Use existing datasets as a baseline on which to record additional, existing conditions;
Use the results of GIS models for site planning, growth planning, and implementation phasing.

Hanna's GIS study marks the first time the Landscape Architecture Technical Information Series (LATIS) have been made available to the public for a nominal fee. "LATIS studies are one of our most popular membership benefits, but the data is useful many different professionals," said Ron Leighton, ASLA Director of Education and Academic Relations. "LATIS studies are frequently the first time cutting-edge, technical information about tools and methods is ever published. These studies, such as Structural Soils and Reclamation Planning for Pits and Quarries, are continually downloaded well after they were initially posted."

LATIS - GIS can be purchased by visiting the ASLA Store in the For the Public section of ASLA members can access the study for free by logging on to ASLA's Professional Practice Library.

Founded in 1899, ASLA represents landscape architects nationwide. The organization advances the profession through education, advocacy, networking opportunities, and publications. Landscape architects integrate elements of the natural and built environment to produce sites that are both functional and beautiful. For more information on ASLA, visit


Karen T. Grajales
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