Abhijeet Chavan is co-founder and co-editor-in-chief of Planetizen.

URISA GISCorps Volunteer Positions Filled

URISA GISCorps got a good response to their call for GIS volunteers. All volunteer positions are now filled. Volunteers will be going to Jackson, Mississippi.

"Seven of the volunteers are map production experts. There is a lab in Jackson where they can start
their work with hardware and software ready to use. They have some data and more is coming. The
second group of volunteers will be in the field with GPS equipment. The group in Jackson will be
mapping the field data as soon as they can and hand it over to the emergency personnel."

URISA GISCorps Needs Volunteers For Hurricane Katrina Relief Efforts

Urban and Regional Information Systems Association's (URISA) GISCorps coordinates volunteer GIS services to underprivileged communities. GISCorps is looking for GIS professionals to volunteer for emergency and relief efforts in the region affected by Hurricane Katrina.

"The immediate need is for 5-10 volunteers at this point. These volunteers must have enough GIS experience to work effectively in an emergency situation. Volunteers must have expertise in map production, performing analysis, data management, and etc. Expertise in disaster management and working with GPS equipment is highly desirable."

Dead Cities

Let's take a moment for New Orleans, folks. Better coverage elsewhere -- check out Boing Boing for links in the blogosphere. So here, you just get an observation: nature, abetted by dumb human decisionmaking, has killed that city.

In a lot of ways, New Orleans is -- maybe was -- a great place. Tremendous food and music. Like Las Vegas, it was a place where Americans kept their decadence, like a precious thing in a box. In Europe, every city and town blows up into a party Carnival; in the US, we keep our Carnivals going non-stop, 24/7, but they're geographically confined.

GIS more than just maps

Yes, we are all riding on the hype that Google Maps started, and the endless possibilities it provides. But looking at it from a planners/geographers perspective, are these possibilities really endless?

In the Directions magazine, Adena Schutzenberger points out:

     ... these services (Google Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSN Earth….) give programmers all the tools they need to make maps. Indeed. It may be time again to explore that age old question: what’s the difference between map making and GIS? The former is about presentation (“a map is a representation of structure, and a structure is a set of elements and the relationships between them”). While paper maps are not interactive, electronic maps may be, but that does not make them components of a GIS. GIS, its proponents argue, is more than just mapping; it’s analysis; it’s exploring what if; it’s using models; it’s developing more intricate visualizations

History of Traffic

Seriously supergood article on the history and technology of traffic here, at Cabinet magazine. How it works, what the terminology means, and how it's (not) controlled. Don't hate me for quoting so much, but it's a really wonderful piece:

In 1930, Philadelphia put the "master controller" (both a device and a person) of its flexible-progressive signal system in the basement of its City Hall; and the groundbreaking Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control (ATSAC) center, created for traffic management during the 1984 Olympics, operates four floors below City Hall in Los Angeles.

Once envied for its vast, efficient freeway system, Los Angeles eventually became the smoggy symbol of destructive automobile dependence and gridlock. Both images, however, are outdated. With one of the earliest and now most extensive traffic management systems, L.A. has become paradigmatic for "intelligent" urban traffic control worldwide. The Los Angeles district of the California Department of Transportation (CALTRANS) operates a traffic management center (TMC) in a fortified building, blocks away from the ATSAC center. ATSAC & CALTRANS combine with the Los Angeles County Public Works TMC to handle traffic flow throughout the region.

Examining Los Angeles further as a case study in both traffic and traffic management, we find a feedback loop between the environment and the system: the environment can be described as the collective movement of vehicles across the urban grid; the system is the infrastructure designed to measure, monitor, and control the environment. More specifically, the system in Los Angeles has two primary realms: the physical and the virtual.

In the physical realm, over 50,000 buried loop detectors, the insulated wire loops that passively detect subtle magnetic field changes from vehicles, combine with over 700 weatherproofed video cameras, some of which are remotely controlled to pan and zoom, to monitor and control traffic flow. Loops automatically trigger software in switching boxes linked to intersection signals but also send data to TMCs that allow traffic engineers to monitor flow patterns and adjust timings remotely. A simple click of a mouse button can start or stop the flow of movement on the grid.


When traffic incidents occur, the system acknowledges and responds in various ways depending on the technological level of the area's infrastructure. In the case of most freeways or major intersections in the city itself, cameras are the first observers, recording the collision or obstruction and the immediate effect on the surrounding flow. An extreme incident is known as a Sig-Alert and is defined by the California Highway Patrol as "any unplanned event that causes the closing of one lane of traffic for 30 minutes or more, as opposed to a planned event like road construction, which is planned separately," and is named after Loyd C. "Sig" Sigmon. Mr. Sigmon developed a customized radio receiver and tape recorder that would detect a particular tone and record the bulletin, providing radio announcers with an analogue database of recent traffic incidents. This relieved dispatch from answering phone calls from the press. The first use of this device was in 1955 when doctors and nurses were requested to respond to a train derailment outside the Los Angeles Union Station. A traffic jam was the unintended result. It's oddly appropriate that Mr. Sigmon was to pass away only days before President Reaganís postmortem journey from a Santa Monica funeral home to Simi Valley, north of Los Angeles, shutting down miles of the busiest stretch of freeway in the country (the 405), causing multiple Sig-Alerts in surrounding areas.

Twins Reading Planetizen

Our newborn twins, Rowan and Grant, reading the latest Planetizen news before setting off on a busy day.

Twins reading Planetizen

Rumor: Microsoft To Buy ESRI?

So if both Microsoft and ESRI are concerned about the Google's move into mapping with the impressive Google Earth, then perhaps a Microsoft-ESRI combination would be the way to fight back. Wow. That's a big rumor.

Open Source Business Readiness Ratings

First -- I just loved Ken's post on GeoTagging. What a great collection of links he's included in his post. We've got a couple projects at UI that could potentially use this type of interface/solution.

I just got my weekly Nemertes Impact Analysis (Nemertes specializes in quantifying the business impact of technology) and this one focuses on the growth of Enterprise use of Open Source tools.

Augmented and Real-Time Maps

Interesting idea under development at the University of Cambridge.

"Printed maps can be designed and printed to show fine detail and yet remain easy to take in at a glance. They are also simple to use in group discussions. However, a new map needs to be printed whenever information changes. Computer-based maps on a screen can change dynamically to represent a changing situation, but are not as easy to use. Dr Tom Drummond, Dr Gerhard Reitmayr, and Ethan Eade are combining the benefits of printed maps with the benefits of computer based dynamic maps, creating a dynamic high resolution map by augmenting printed maps with digital graphical information.

Interactive Tours

The "trace", as some designers and planners refer to them, are marketed and annotated tours that cover specific topics including waterfronts, historic districts and parks. Traditionally, they've been undertaken through marketing efforts and physical improvements such as signs, markers and designated trails. Until recently, they have been developed top-down with funding and the identification of historic markers and sites by specific organizations. Ken Snyder's excellent post