Earlier this week I read a report about creating a geographic data system for a community group in Lawrence, Massachusetts. The document contained detailed technical documentation for how to use iPAQ handheld computers to collect geocoded data. Since the data was collected and managed in geographic information system (GIS) software, it required pages of technical instructions. This case seemed a prime example of how GIS tools missed the mark for planners who need to work with geographic data, but in a different way than technical analysts. The purpose of the project was to empower community youth to collect basic data, a task ill suited to software designed for data management by experts using hundreds of attributes and a fine degree of precision.
One day later, I found myself reading Newsweek's cover story about the iPad, which reported that Apple expects to sell hundreds of thousands of the sturdy, easy-to-use devices in the coming months. Could the iPad be used for planning? I have previously written about the potential for the iPhone to augment city life. Since then the types of apps I described have only grown in popularity: navigation apps that use transit data, apps to report potholes or other issues to city officials, augmented reality apps providing information about your surroundings, and geographic networking and gaming like FourSquare.