Yet another strategic planning Tool


Yet another strategic planning Tool

The land use planning (which in this paper we call “LUPlanning”) is a complex matter that needs of clearness and standardize methods. This work proposes an effective tool for strategic planning, which provides the use of informatic systems to aid the decision makers and insiders of public body that are not professionals. The use of informatics makes easier and real time the public participation, an important critical point of planning, often difficult to implement for scepticism and in many town hard to really carry out, due to inadequate means.

The aim of the proposed tool is to furnish a way to simplification of LUPlanning process and decision, using available and cheap hardware and software solutions. Computerization is not just a fad, but is almost inevitable evolution of management systems, so make it the most for the municipality means facilitating the work of technicians and insiders and the active involvement of citizens, for a more effective, rational and strategic land planning.

Yet another strategic planning Tool

Each time that is necessary to make a decision on transformation or consolidation of a territory it is extremely useful to apply a method that could simplify the data navigation and the understanding of information, through an opportune choice of scalar indicators. A such useful method have to be developed with a series of evolutive steps, that our cities should follow, starting from a low level of knowledge and set up, more or less, relating to their dynamic and their data collection that each institution has performed over the last decade. This is the time period in which the new technologies and new software have been able to meet the various needs of storage and mapping of data and territorial informations. And are just these technologies that could be developed in function of the needs of planning, aiming to resolve the most common problems. We faced two in particular. The first and problem is the poor training of insiders of public administrations in the field of land planning. This fact has the obvious reason that not all of the mayors, councillors and municipal engineers have the same degree in strategic land use planning and that there is not any course to become a local governor yet. Therefore the decision maker that faced with a problem has some difficult often hard doing his work.

The second problem has the same importance of the former, but it’s strictly related to it and consists in the participation of public to the land planning activity, recommended in regional laws. In our country, in Europe and in United States we can found virtuous example of participating local government plan (e.g. Participating PGT of some Italian cities) taking the advantage of the help of tools like Public Participatory GIS. However these are some examples, but for the most part of town, small and big, the public participation is not easy to realize, because of inadequate means and resources and for scepticism of citizens, which in many cases don’t believe that their opinion or contribution is welcomed and listened by the municipality. Thus there is a need to improve the public participation process with simple tools easily adoptable and usable.

In this work is presented a method for strategic planning that provides some simple tools today already diffuses, in a technological approach, forward-looking. The method prompt to build a dashboard for the land use planners, a sort of command and control panel that lead to an easier decisional process and it affords the time monitoring of the evolving of choices of decision makers. A dashboard can be built using software open source for data management. Placed side by side to the dashboard, the method provides also a solution for a very important point of land planning, the public participation, suggesting the adoption of a Public Participatory GIS (PPGIS)1, in order to involve the citizens in the planning activity and related. The public participation is a question that needs more and more attention, because citizens are naturally the “recipients” of every territorial and urban change, because they constitute the City. Thus this method wants to make the public participation easier, both for the land use planners and the citizens, spreading the territorial awareness.

Ideal Strategic Planning Tool

For a land use planner may be wishful to find the ideal strategic planning instrument that can resolve all of the problems of a city. By researching among the useful tools that the existing hardware and software technologies offer, it is really feasible to create an ideal strategic planning tool, building over the needs of the urban reality, which certainly doesn’t resolve all of the problems automatically, but it would be helpfully.

In order to make a unique tool for strategic LUPlanning aid, one could look around to the available resources, combining a set of software, hardware and, of course, ideas (Fig.1).

For this purpose, it could be useful to set up a Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) with the aim to have a well-structured informatics base to file all of the spatial data and related ones.

For the development of public participation to the LUPlanning activities, it is advisable to follow the Volunteered Geographical Information (VGI), in order and to have a useful dynamic data collection thanks to an effective involvement of citizens.

Process of development of a strategic land use planning tool.

In order to realize this tool, we consider a small-medium size city (population target from 15 to 69 years old that represent computer users, mostly active citizens in a urban area of about 10’000 – 50’000 inhabitants), that represents the reality of the Italian country, and we build our virtual structure that we call SimMyLocalAround (SMyLA), where: Sim(ulation) we took from the popular game Sim City, which is the reference tool, hosting the entire idea; My represents the social media logic, more generally, all of the applications hosted by the Web 2.0, that are customizable and suitable for everyone; the term Local is identified with the territory and its projection on a geographical database by GIS; at last, Around means all that surrounds us, not only physically, but also what interests us, what we like to see in certain situations and in certain time of the day, during the study, at work and in leisure, in a few words, our needs. This latter word also means the growing number of the services for people on Internet, like social networking, that suggests the aim of technology to Web 3.0 or, rather, to City 3.0 (Smart Cities).

With this inspiration, we build a dashboard that consists in a management structure suited to absorb all of the interesting spatial data for the LUPlanning, through the use of which easily order them and make clear their navigation. Together with, we provide the updating of all of these data with the additional contribution of citizens, adopting a PPGIS structure.

At this point the tool stops its function and lets the insiders to make the most appropriate decisions for LUPlanning.

Utility and implementation of the tool

Among hundreds of technological solutions, methodological, theoretical and practical, arising from matters like sociology, economics, computer science and management, we found a right mix to solve the two problems described previously.

The target of SMyLA ideal tool is to put the land use planners working team in condition to solve many problems, like the two we introduced.

Why do we choose the dashboard interface and the PPGIS? The former is because our mind is already prepared to look at the dashboard shape in normal daily activities, just thinking of household appliances, cars, mobile phones and the control panels of great plants. Today thousands of applications use this graphic interface. The latter is for a same reason of mind form that regards the wide daily use of social networks, always filled of contents by the users, constantly updated and spontaneous. This last feature could be negative effects on LUPlanning, so attention is required, trying to give more order to the structure of PPGIS. The aim of the use of the social network form is to export and use just the features that are helpful in the LUPlanning process.

A dashboard for LUPlanning

The dashboard is a simplified representation of data sets derived from the collection process. Through its use the insiders, which are the main users of this graphic interface (GUI), can interact with territorial information in various ways (Kumar 2005). This interface is normally attractive because it shows various information in the same time and in the same place, letting to know to the user all about the system. A dashboard could be not ever complex, formed by lots of elements, including a number of little dashboards, but also very simple, describing few feature (Fig. 2).

An example of very simple dashboard that shows the situation of a hundred sample community of a popular social network through the use of suitable symbols (David McCandless 2009).

A dashboard for LUPlanning should shows to the user a number of maps, data expressed in percentage and graphs, trends of indicators (Fig.3), enriched also with text windows reporting news, alerts, links and short messages and many other “buttons”. For its simple structure it has the relevant advantages to be ready-to-use and time evolving, that means the more frequent is the use the better are the results.

A dashboard example for City of Milano (Urban Ecosystem Dashboard 2007, modified2).

With the best arrangement of information, the dashboard could lead the insiders to have control on the whole situation of the city and easily to interact with it to obtain desired answers to LUPlanning questions.

Public Participatory GIS as crowdsourcing.

A PPGIS took the basis of crowdsourcing that is a concept, now a model business, whereby the potential of a voluntary action of stakeholders becomes a recovery of specialized resources (at vary levels of skills) that are the citizens which have demonstrated their interest and they are prepared to participate. This recovery of resources is similar to Wikipedia structure, in which everyone can contribute to contents of articles, but in this case contents are thematic maps and spatial analysis. Thus the users that are citizens have to be a little more equipped, condition that can be compensated by organized courses that in time will be principally organized by most advanced users, like “cyborgs” (Eades, 2009).

Citizens that are interests in PPGIS are volunteers and they are a valuable resource for municipality and LUPlanning. In time a PPGIS team would be an effective self tool with own dynamic regulations3.

A land planning tool developed on the informatics basis of PPGIS could lead to a future of real time knowledge of the own territory with lots of information (EartmineTM, 2009).

This mechanism is self-feed by an increase of interest and participation, because citizens can interact with own territory and concur to administrate it through an instrument of public domain. Also for that, the public administration can give answer to citizen, following the transparent principle, publishing the results, also facing other themes, like geomarketing.

The five principles of SMyLA

We developed the SMyLA model of ideal tool, combining the use of the dashboard and the PPGIS, following five basic principles:

  • sustainable development;
  • SWOT analysis method;
  • indicators;
  • GIS basis;
  • software opensource.

Sustainable development, today as never, represents a guide model for city development, involving the simultaneous analysis of three macro-spheres of social, environment and economics, in order to make the best choice of development that ensures both the protection for environment and the quality of human life4. In this view, the LUPlanning tool have to make the knowledge operations of planners faster, effective, lower cost and planning choices suitable for the territorial contest, involving also the contribute of citizens.

The analysis of the three spheres of city environment can be done using the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats), method that allows to create a synthesis of information of different sources and to make a comparison between positive and negative factors deriving from the actions of plans or programs5. In this way it is possible to observe the situation of the city divided in the three thematic spheres of point of view (social, environment and economics), so the strengths and the opportunities can be compared in the same spatial plan and at the same time with the weaknesses and threats, that the actions planned can produce (Fig. 5). This is an appealing form to show information that is easily reproducible into a graphic user interface like the dashboard.

SWOT analysis.

This instrument allows the insider primarily to have a cognitive framework of the whole city and secondly to predict the effects and the results of the actions to do, like changing the use of land, improving the waste collection, adopting a free wi-fi net for municipality, to build a road, etc. Every action has a different impact for each sphere, in which it could represent a strength, a weakness, an opportunity or a threat for the city environment.

In this analytic contest, indicators6 are essential instruments for elaborations and assessment phases of LUPlanning. We can divide the urban system in a hierarchical structure of indicators for each thematic sphere, in order to face many different situations at different levels. For example, a road can be observed through indicators at many various levels, using a simple scale of goodness of increasing values (1, 2, 3, 4, …), as follows: the order of the road in the neighbourhood relating to the main one; the number and quality of intersections; type of road and furniture; number and type of service elements (bus stops, etc.). With such system of indicators it’s easy to make a judgement on the quality of the road network and to make the best decision relating this group of indicators with the other thematic spheres of indicators.

The geographical/geometric dimension of territory is the most interesting and uppermost part, with which it is possible to interact, making transformations and visualizing the result directly over the town space. The adoption of GIS basis provides the land use planner to dispose not only of a cartographic basis, but of a real instrument for LUPlanning, independently by the sort of platform web-GIS or desktop-GIS, because it allows to georeferencing any kind of data, like topography, hydrography, land use, images and many other. With georeferenced data it is possible to make integration, elaboration and interpretation of large amounts of data of different nature.

The last principle of our method is the adoption of software open-source. Support computer hardware and software plays a fundamental role in the development of the LUPlanning tool. For the hardware, a standard instrumentation of medium level to build a server is enough and for the software is advisable to follow the OSGeo7 or GFOSS8 guidelines. For data management it could be useful refer to Inspire, in particular Plan4All, whereas for the data structure there are various projects of open data and the same GFOSS indicate the best path of licensing and distribution to get the software. In order to have a reliable database both in terms of speed, storage and querying capacity of many types of data (qualitative, quantitative and geographic) it can be an advantageous solution adopting PostgreSQL with PostGIS9, software that are very supported by the open-source community. To give an example for public administration, the municipality of Prato (Italy) uses PostgreSQL for web consultation and data warehousing.

With such software system the users (often the insiders) dispose of a complete CMS (Content Management System) that allows to achieve data anytime, to compare them and to realize new ideas, like questionnaires, surveys, photographs, etc.


In order to give a dashboard of the features of the SMyLA model of ideal strategic LUPlanning tool presented here, we report the relative SWOT analysis.

Yet another strategic planning Tool
Tab.1 - SWOT analysis of the SMyLA, model of ideal LUPlanning tool


The strategic planning tool we propose follows the spontaneous evolution of all management systems to a growing computerization, not only in order to faster and simplify processes, but principally to make the maximum breadth of public information spreading. Therefore, also the strategic land planning is evolving its formation, resulting from years of research and applications in different territorial realities, tending to reach improvements from new best technologies available. Starting from the use of tools and facilitation, like suggest Inspire10that gives directives for cartographic database using a universal language, it is possible to create a standard development plan and public it. This is a first step to approach to a modern way of local Open Government.

The aim with this tool is to promote municipalities’ adoption of an organizational approach that points on efficiency and automations of operations for the planning and management of land use compatible with the urban contest and sustainable development principles. In this contest, automation and efficiency are at the basis of the idea of Smart City, for which local government policies aim to prevent waste and control errors and to eliminate unnecessary things. Each town will produce its proper configuration, specially studied in relation to the local context and to the type of situation. It is clear that there is not a unique solution for everyone, dependently strictly from the resources that the municipality dispose of, and above all there is not a unique solution that include all that can interest the municipal planning. Just think about the question: it is useful and cost-effective for a town to archive all of the possible information? And many others. For this purpose, using a tool like that, every town can create its customed one, built around its own needs and right-to-size.

The tool dealt with here, maybe, is already thought by many land use planners and maybe it’s time to change. A town should prepare for what will be the natural evolution trend of the management and planning systems. Means are available and the benefits are real, detectable both in the short term and long term. Finally, the question is just the availability of municipal resources to make the change.


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Reference note

  1. This term is often indicated briefly with Participatory GIS.
  3. following the examples given by many Wikimedia applications, such as generic wiki-manuals..
  4. Sustainable development has various definitions, here we refer to UNESCO –Johannesburg Summit 2002.
  5. SWOT analysis was developed by a research team at the Stanford Research Institute in the 1960’s (Pahl, Richter, 2007).
  6. Indicators are synthetic parameters that represent environmental situations directly or not directly measurable through a unit and able to express the quality of environment with respect to a fixed reference scale.
  7. Open Source Geospatial Foundation.
  8. Geospatial Free and Open Source Software Association.
  10. Directive 2007/2/EC of European Parliament.