GIS at Dickinson College

GIS News, Events and Student Work blog

Tag: Urban Planning


GIS goes Green

Tuesday, January 6, 2015 – 12:00am

Esri CityEngine

Courtesy: Esri


Visual impact analysis of proposed building in downtown Philadelphia using CityEngine.


First, the disclaimer. Any numbered list is inherently subjective. So there are bound to be resources that you might know about that I haven’t included here, primarily because I haven’t heard about them (yet).

This list was curated based primarily on whether the site, portal or database in question expands conventional wisdom about how technology can be used to address climate change or sustainable business practices. Several (such as FreshRealm, GridWaste and MySolarCity) represent intriguing twists on how the Internet can help reinvent business models or improve customer engagement.

If you want to consider a broader selection of Web and mobile resources that have been available for a longer time, here are two of my previous lists (still relevant).

Rather than updating information in those past stories, this latest list offers 10 additional resources or platforms worth watching during the next 12 months.


Although Esri (aka the Environmental Systems Research Institute) has been around for more than 30 years, its online geospatial resources have sparked a veritable “app revolution” over the past several years among urban planners and sustainable business innovators. The latest version of the CityEngine platform (released in October) is used in combination with the company’s ArcGIS mapping resource. Its main purpose is to convert two-dimensional diagrams into three-dimensional models that show details such as how a new building could affect solar exposure or whether it will create heat corridors.

Coastal Defense

The platform helps businesses and communities research the impact that natural habitats such as oyster beds, coral reefs, tidal marshes, dunes or mangroves have on flooding and erosion. The information is intended for risk assessments and could be used by developers or municipal agencies. It was developed through a partnership of the Nature Conservancy, the Natural Capital Project, the Center for Integrated Spatial Research, the University of Southern Mississippi and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Cube Cloud

Two years in the making, this cloud-hosted traffic analytics service was launched in mid-2014 by software developer Citilabs. (Its previous applications are tied to the desktop.) The platform provides information about traffic volume and can be used to calculate and model energy consumption and pollution metrics related to various urban transportation services. Sample applications include predicting future flows based on proposed development.

Earth Right Now

The U.S. government’s mandate to “open” valuable climate and atmospheric information for use by “citizen scientists” has inspired the creation of rich online resources that can be used as the foundation for apps and services. One specific example: fresh maps on global carbon dioxide concentrations, collected by NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 and released on an ongoing basis.

NASA Carbon Dioxide


In early December, Esri teamed with the U.S. Geological Survey to publish what is described as “the most detailed global ecological land units map in the world.” The platform, dubbed EcoTapestry for short, contains a wealth of ecosystem data about soil, streamflow, biodiversity and land cover. It is intended for land management applications and planning exercises.

This commerce startup created by fresh produce company Calavo Growers received $10 million in new funding during 2014 to prepare for its pending commercial launch. Its vision is to facilitate national delivery of fresh foods, through its online ordering service. Integral to its plan is the “Vessel,” its special chilled container. It will use FedEx and local carriers to facilitate deliveries.

Global Forest Watch

Developed by the World Resources Institute with partners Google and the Jane Goodall Institute, this resource (still being beta-tested) makes use of satellite imagery to provide a near real-time update of deforestation. The idea is to keep much closer tabs on clearing, so that steps can be taken much more quickly to prevent illegal activity.

Grid Waste

The idea behind this online marketplace is simple: help businesses find more efficient or sustainable trash hauling options. It considers information such as route density, recycling rates, container use and truck optimization — basically providing more transparency about various haulers through its Waste Data Project. Some of Grid Waste’s initial commercial customers include Hyatt, Lockheed Martin and the Ritz-Carlton.


Yes, other applications and websites let utilities offer home energy management and analysis services for residential customers. What makes SolarCity’s app unique are engagement features that track the location of installation and repair technicians or that monitor the production of panels once they are in place. MySolarCity also provides a map showing nearby projects, and lets customers become “ambassadors” who can earn fees for referring new accounts.


Water Risk Monetizer

This modeling tool from Ecolab and Trucost allows businesses to run assessments that consider potential exposure or negative impacts that scarcity could pose to facilities. It uses information about water consumption, as well as projected use three years into the future. Then, it assigns a grade for different locations. The idea is to help sustainability and operations managers prioritize conservation projects or management measures.

For more information visit (


An Evaluation of Harrisburg Street Trees

BurnsHarrisburgThis project aims to provide useful tools in the form of maps to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) tree planting project. The CBF tree planting initiative aims to plant trees throughout Harrisburg to improve stormwater management practices. The Chesapeake Bay has been put on the impaired list and given a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). The TMDL limits the amount of nutrients like nitrate and phosphate that enter the Bay ecosystem as too much of these nutrients impact the Bay’s functioning. Since Harrisburg is on a major tributary of the Bay, this TMDL will require Harrisburg to start addressing its stormwater management practices. Since trees provide ecosystem services like water retention they can be a crucial part of reducing the nutrients and pollutants running off the streets of Harrisburg into the Susquehanna River, and then into the Bay. Every street tree in Harrisburg was inventoried. As part of the inventory data was collected on the location of the tree, dbh, age, species, condition, and maintenance required. The maps produced for this project used that data to identify priority areas for street tree services. The service areas include dead tree removal, tree planting, crown cleaning, and priority re-inspection. These maps show hotspots in need of these services. The importance of these hotspot maps is that they can be used to organize maintenance crews internally and volunteers coming to the CBF looking for work.

By: Christine Burns

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Academic Technology services: GIS | Media Center | Language Exchange