The Geospatial Web: A Tool to Support the Empowerment of Citizens through E-Participation?

The Geospatial Web: A Tool to Support the Empowerment of Citizens through E-Participation?

Karl Atzmanstorfer (Paris-Lodron University Salzburg, Austria) and Thomas Blaschke (Paris-Lodron University Salzburg, Austria)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4169-3.ch009
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This chapter introduces a spatial view to e-participation in urban governance which is based on the technological core of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and their more recent transformation into service architectures. The chapter begins with the premise that the technological realms are available today in professional software packages and in open source software environments. It focuses on the utilization of GIS and various methodologies in participatory planning projects. The technical descriptions are limited to a degree that the reader can understand the applications envisaged. The chapter describes developments in the GIS domain which are summarized under the term ‘Public Participation GIS’ (PPGIS) since the 1990s. In 2005 however, the launch of Google Earth changed the situation significantly: such mapping platforms—including Microsoft Bing and others—brought mapping functionality to the computers of hundreds of millions of internet users and soon after, the term “volunteered geographic information” was created. It refers to the two-way communication possibilities using geospatial tools and to the participation of citizens in planning initiatives. The chapter highlights a few of such applications in urban planning and administration and discusses the situation in developing and emerging countries, while posing the question of whether or not such options may lead to an empowerment of citizens.
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A Brief History Of Geographic Information Systems (Gis)

The idea of portraying different layers of data on a series of base maps, and relating things geographically, has been around much longer than computers (Goodchild et al., 1990). One of the earliest examples of an analysis of a real-world phenomenon with an explicit spatial focus is Dr. John Snow´s map showing locations of death by cholera in central London in September, 1854 (Wienand, 2007). He used the map to track the source of the cholera outbreak to a contaminated well – an early example of spatial analysis. Indeed, the origins of spatial analysis refer to mapping of spatial events and then overlaying the information in order to see where overlapping occurred. Before the widespread availability of computers, this effect was first achieved through a base paper map and then physically overlaying transparent printouts on top.

However, the foundations of GIS as we know them today were laid in the 1960s with the first primitive computers being available for scientists. In this ‘era of innovation,’ Roger Tomlinson, the ‘Father of GIS,’ initiated the Canadian Geographic Information System (CGIS) in order to facilitate use of land inventory data in federal, provincial and regional planning – the first fully operational GIS in the world was born (Longley et al., 2001).

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