What exactly is GIS you might ask? Previously, you may have heard that word and thought of a pretty map, or that obscure software that municipal agencies use, or honestly had no idea. Today, you should hear GIS and think of the power of data and “location intelligence”! 

Geographic Information Systems, or GIS for short, is at its core a digital representation of the physical world. Most people are very familiar with Google Maps or Apple Maps as a service for navigation, but these maps are so much more. They connect to food reviews, pull in hotel bookings, provide pictures of a park you might want to visit, and offer a myriad of other services including COVID dashboards, wildfire maps, or the current path of a hurricane. All these services are built on the backbone of GIS. 

At RVi, we as planners and landscape architects are tasked with looking into the “so much more” category as it relates to land development. We use GIS, specifically the ESRI suite of tools, to coordinate and analyze physical, environmental, and cultural data to help make better informed decisions for our land plans across the country. As systems thinkers, we are connecting the built world AND the environment in a valuable and meaningful way, and GIS gives us the ability to demonstrate solutions  elegantly and interactively. 

What’s a Map? 

Traditionally, we would create static 2D maps that would then get put into a presentation, used as part of a design package, or for public engagement. They would be pretty. They might get rolled up or even emailed around, but they would be limited to what was plotted on that canvas. 

Today, we need to think bigger, adapting to the way people consume information. We still make pretty maps, but we also now use ESRI’s online interactive tools to give not only our clients, but their stakeholders, and our design teams the ability to view our maps at a micro to macro level. This allows us to showcase local impact to national context, all from the same interface from any device wherever they are. For example, below are two interactive maps created for Ahwatukee in the Phoenix Metro Area and Beverly Sheffield Park in Austin, Texas. Explore and take a deep dive into the sites! 

The possibilities for GIS in the community development world are endless. As we push forward for a more sustainable future, we need to continue to analyze and understand the impacts of the built environment, and GIS is the tool that allows us to begin to make those important connections. For more information about how we can help you with your GIS and spatial needs, Contact Us or email me, Russell Thomman, at rthomman@rviplanning.com.