The shortage of spatial planning skills to deliver sustainable communities and regeneration.

Last week I attended the ‘Spatial Design Support: GIS-based analysis tools for urban design and spatial planning’ event at Cardiff University (UK). Hosted by Professor Chris Webster this CEBE (Centre for Education in the Built Environment) event was meant to review the current situation and look at ways of improving GIScience in UK Spatial Planning Education System.

For me it confirmed my experiences working in an authority development control environment where there is little knowledge of GIS analysis beyond creating a defining boundary when registering an application and querying the same boundary for its constraints. My experiences were echoed by the delegates from Universities ranging from Queen’s University Belfast to Edinburgh College of Art.

During the lunch break as I strolled through the corridors of the School of City and Regional Planning I couldn’t help but notice the plethora of eye-catching Ordnance Survey ‘Mastermap’ based schemes of urban development on the walls but no evidence of any spatial analysis or use of 3D software seemed evident.

Another sharp reminder for me was the vice grip that ESRI and MapInfo have on education, a shame that few of the delegates appeared to have tried let alone adopted Open Source. I wondered why in this was the case in our ‘Google’ society… but that may change as budgets continue to diminish.

Although computing in ‘The Cloud’, Google Earth, OpenStreetMap and Street View developments have exploded the market for easy to use maps for ‘mainly’ location based purposes, geospatial analysis coupled with data knowledge can still send a shiver down the spine of the most experienced Town Planner and Urban Designer.

The conclusions to this dilemma apparently involve strengthening collaboration between the three main organisations the RTPI (Royal Town Planning Institute), CEBE and SPLINT (Spatial Literacy in Teaching), to investigate the current skills gap in planning practitioners GIScience knowledge amongst others. The best of luck to them and I hope things only improve. Sorry about all the acronyms!

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