Building sustainable cities using enterprise GIS

Apr 2007 | Comments Off on Building sustainable cities using enterprise GIS

Honolulu, Hawaii recognized the enormous potential of enterprise GIS over 20 years ago and has developed an award winning system

The onset of the 21st century marked the beginning of the Asia-Paci?c era. This is the region where most of the world’s growth and economic development will occur over the next twenty years. The new millennium also signaled the birth of the urban era. Half of the world’s population now lives in cities, and that number is growing rapidly. In fact, the rate of urbanization in the Asia/Paci?c is alarming. The region currently has a population of 3.5 billion people; with that number expect to grow to 5 billion within the next 20 years. Most of that growth will occur in Asia’s cities.

This rapid urbanization presents staggering challenges for the region’s city governments. Up until now, most cities have not developed in a sustainable way. Economic development, land use planning, urban infrastructure, sewers, potable water systems, solid waste handling, and transportation systems are all inadequate to meet current needs let alone the rapid growth that lie ahead.

Most cities have very limited resources to provide for the growing demand for services that comes with rapid urbanization. To meet this challenge, cities have to be organized and managed as ef?ciently as possible.

City leaders need to restructure city operations and institute management reforms that increase productivity.

The most important tool that a city can deploy to meet this challenge is an enterprisewide Geographic Information System. In order for cities to achieve urban sustainability, government leaders need to organize and manage cities utilizing a systems approach. Such a systems approach cannot be achieved without employing enterprise GIS. GIS technology will enable city leaders to integrate and visualize enormous amounts of data for better decision making. Land use planning, infrastructure operations and maintenance, emergency services, tax assessments, public safety services, economic development, and virtually every other city function can be enhanced with the use of a city-wide GIS system.

Honolulu, Hawaii recognized the enormous potential of enterprise GIS over 20 years ago and has developed an award winning system that improves city services, saves taxpayer dollars, and advances urban sustainability.

Economic development

Without a strong sustainable economy, no city, state, or local government can offer the opportunity for a high quality of life to its citizens. All of the challenges that a city faces are related in some way to its economic base. Land use planning will be profoundly affected by the type of economy a city develops. Land use will then dictate infrastructure investment. Sewers, water, utilities and transportation systems will be driven by the land use plan.

Developing a sustainable city with true economic opportunity requires a comprehensive city master plan that understands and takes into account these complex interrelationships. An enterprisewide GIS system is an invaluable tool in developing such plans.

The ?rst step of the master planning process is to conduct a resource assessment of the city and then to analyze these resources from an economic development perspective. Resources may take many forms.

Natural resources such as forests or water resources are easily understood, but other resources, such as the workforce, a good infrastructure, a transparent taxation system, and recreational and cultural resources may be even more important.

An enterprise GIS system allows a city to assess resources and guide the development of its master plan to optimize the use of these resources in a sustainable way. GIS can help a city determine which target industries have the greatest potential for expanding the region’s economy and can help to develop the detailed economic development plans the city needs to realize its economic potential. In Honolulu, all aspects of the city’s resources and infrastructure are in its GIS system. Topography, sewers, historic buildings, transportation systems, police beats, wind energy resources, emergency response times, demographics, traf?c markings, these are just a few of the databases that can be accessed and integrated in the city’s planning process through GIS. By being able to integrate information from all of these sources and a hundred more, the city can make better decisions to advance its economy.

The City of Honolulu utilizes its enterprise GIS system and its awardwinning city website to market Honolulu around the world over the internet. By logging on to Honolulu’s Economic Development website, potential investors can access every piece of commercial property that is for sale on the island. By entering their selection criteria they can determine which properties meet their needs. Investors can call up complete demographic information for any radius around a property they may be interested in, as well as all information relating to such things as infrastructure, zoning, taxes, traf?c volumes, and land use plans. The potential investor can even use the GIS system to view the traf?c in the area in real time by accessing the city’s transportation video camera system that is integrated into the enterprise GIS.

Land use

Building livable and sustainable cities starts with good land use policy. If land use is not planned and managed correctly then all other city functions fail. Land use decisions drive infrastructure, determine transportation systems, frame energy policy, affect economic development, and impact the quality of life in a city in immeasurable ways. Here again, enterprise GIS is invaluable to a city facing these challenges.

Many cities are now paying the price for ?awed land use planning decades ago. Urban sprawl destroys valuable open space and agricultural land and has required the development of costly and inef?cient freeway and highway systems. This has resulted in poor mobility, automobile generated air pollution and high “opportunity costs” with people and goods tied up in traf?c jams for hours each day. Another result of these previous land use planning mistakes was the death of downtowns. With people moving to the suburbs, downtown stores and shops closed their doors and relocated to suburban shopping centers, leaving many downtowns plagued with crime and decay.

In Honolulu, enterprise GIS is central to the land use planning process. All of the attributes of all of the land on the island is included in the GIS system. Property ownership, population distribution, topography, soil types, water lines, drainage systems, building plans, development patterns, land use regulations, are only a few of the types of information databases that city planers have access to through the city’s GIS system to make better land use policy decisions. Most cities have tremendous potential to expand their tourism industry. In many cases, however, tourism is being developed in an unsustainable way. In other words, as tourism grows it diminishes the very things that the visitors are coming to see and experience. If this continues, visitors will ultimately stop coming and the industry will fail.

GIS can be used to help grow tourism so that the industry fosters the enhancement of the natural, scenic and cultural resources that are the foundation of the tourism economy and to expand tourism into new niche areas not previously developed. When Honolulu was planning for the revitalization of its tourist center in Waikiki, planners used GIS to identify all of the building structures that were over 30 years

old and had the greatest potential for redevelopment. Open space, ?oor area ratios, tsunami inundation zones, infrastructure capacity, and view planes were all analyzed using enterprise GIS, before planning decisions were made. When the City was planning its development of a sports tourism industry, GIS was again instrumental in identifying appropriate properties for sports facilities and for maintenance planning for park lands. Urban design is also extremely important for sustainable urban planning and economic development. In the past, cities competed to attract business and industry to their communities. Once established, these businesses attracted talented workers in the city and its prosperity grew.

Now this model is being reversed. In the more mobile new world, the competition between cities is for talented workers. This means that making your city a great place to live is no longer simply “nice to do”, it is essential for economic survival. Much of what makes a city an attractive place to live centers on good urban design. Streetscape design, urban landscaping and architectural design can all be improved utilizing an enterprise GIS system in order to enhance the livability in a city and make it more competitive for the skilled workforce.

In Honolulu, the City has made extensive use of enterprise GIS in urban design in the revitalization of its communities. Utilizing its GIS system, Honolulu planners, as well as its citizens, can “?y thru” a digital Honolulu evaluating planning and urban design options from every perspective. Viewers can stop at any building and instantly call up the ?oor plans and construction plans of the structure, its utilities, view planes, and street trees. By utilizing companion Sketch-Up software, planners and citizens can use GIS to jointly design and illustrate an in?nite number of urban design scenarios for the subject urban area. Enterprise GIS provides the City of Honolulu with the ability to integrate a wide array of architectural, technical, infrastructural, and aesthetic variables into its urban design decision making, and to educate and involve the general public in the design process as well.


Perhaps nothing is as important to a city’s economic vitality as a good transportation system. Cities that have been developed around automobile transportation invariably face enormous loses in productivity with workers, goods, and commerce delayed in unproductive traf?c congestion. A truly sustainable city with a vibrant economy needs ef?cient and convenient mobility.

To achieve this goal, cities need to take a systems approach to transportation. Only an integrated approach utilizing a variety of technologies and advanced traf?c management techniques can provide for the transportation needs of a modern city. Here again, an enterprise GIS system is a valuable tool.

In Honolulu, the City utilizes GIS in transit planning, trip generation, and travel time analysis. Bus routes and stops are better planned, managed and maintained as a result of GIS, bike routes are inventoried, and street and lane markings are ef?ciently inventoried, catalogued and evaluated utilizing the GIS aerial inventory of photography. Highway planning in Honolulu also relies on GIS with its extensive databases of land use, soil types, and aerial photography. Even the demographic data available in its GIS is utilized in the island’s transportation planning. To avoid negative transportation projects from always being located in low income communities, the city has established an Environmental Justice program which uses GIS to evaluate the socio-economic aspects of affected communities before any transportation infrastructure is planned.

Urban infrastructure

The quality of life in a city is greatly affected by the ef?cacy of its urban infrastructure. Storm-water drainage systems, wastewater treatment, and solid waste recycling programs directly impact environmental quality in an urban area. An enterprise GIS system allows city governments to plan, operate and maintain its urban infrastructure more effectively.

Refuse can quickly overwhelm a city if it is not handled in an ef?cient and sustainable way. GIS can help cities better plan their solid waste collection operations. In Honolulu, GIS is used to plan automated and manual solid waste pick-up routes, increasing system ef?ciency.

Clean drinking water is vital for a city’s economy and for the health and well being of its citizens and visitors. The lack of pure drinking water is perhaps the largest obstacle to the growth of tourism in some cities, and contaminated water supplies represent the largest threat to public health. In Honolulu, the entire potable water system is GIS based. All of the City’s watersheds, wells, reservoirs, pump stations, ?re hydrants, and transmission lines are on the enterprise GIS. Utilizing GIS, water managers are able to track water consumption using a wide array of variables.

The maintenance and repair of the island’s entire water infrastructure is also GIS based. Field workers, carrying hand-held computers can call up the construction details of a damaged water main while in the ?eld, make the necessary repairs, and update the GIS database on the repaired utility while still at the site. By providing the utility with as-built drawings in the ?eld and up to the minute maintenance records, the ef?ciency of this vital public service is greatly enhanced.

Storm-drain and wastewater systems are similarly operated and managed. Every storm-drain manhole cover in Honolulu has an attached bar code. Work crews carrying handheld computers simply swipe the manhole cover and have instant access to the maintenance records of that catch-basin. Once their maintenance duties are performed, workers enter the information into their hand-held computers and that information instantly updates the citywide GIS data base. In this way, the ef?ciency of the storm-water system is dramatically improved, and emergency response personnel evaluating the potential ?ooding impact of an oncoming storm will be able to evaluate ?ooding risks on a street by street basis.

Natural disaster planning and response, police and ?re operations, renewable energy resource inventories, park planning and maintenance, real property tax assessment; in case after case, the institution of an enterprise-wide GIS system has improved city operations and reduced operating costs in Honolulu. Cities throughout the world are realizing that the application of enterprise GIS is essential if local government is going to improve the livability and sustainability of their communities.

The Sustainable Cities Institute (a Honolulu based NGO) and its partners, has established a number of services and training programs to help cities in meeting these challenges.

The Mayors’ Asia/Pacific environmental summit

The Mayors’ Asia/Paci?c Environmental Summit (MAPES) is a unique forum for mayors and other local government of?cials in the Asia/Paci?c region to assist cities in becoming more sustainable utilizing enterprise-wide geographic information systems (GIS). The program helps city leaders advance the protection of their urban environments, promote sustainable development, and share information and best practices about sustainable urban technology and management between cities.

management between cities. This biennial summit focuses on leadership building, training, and capacity building for city leaders and managers. Since its founding, over 120 cities from 30 countries have participated in the MAPES program.

In addition to providing Summit activities, MAPES also provides targeted support for city leaders in the form of Executive Seminars, City Leaders’ Training Programs, and Technical Advisory services. In conjunction with the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden, a two day Certi?cate in Sustainable Urban Development training program for selected Mayors and city managers is also offered.

MAPES is a unique partnership of city leaders, municipal associations, world renowned experts, donor organizations, and NGO’s that leverage support for cities that are committed to sustainable development.

In addition to The Sustainable Cities Institute, other MAPES collaborating partners include the Asian Development Bank (ABD), the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), US-Asia Environmental Partnership (US-AEP), the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the Stockholm based Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) and the Global Environment & Technology Foundation (GETF), as well as others.

City Leader training program

This program is an exclusive, state-ofthe- art training and mentoring program for sustainable, urban development directed at city leaders and executives.

Under this program, The Sustainable Cities Institute in partnership with the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden will send the Royal Institute professors to the participating city to provide a two to three day training program for city personnel in sustainable urban infrastructure utilizing enterprise GIS.

utilizing enterprise GIS. The coursework includes training in land use planning, municipal solid waste handling and recycling, wastewater treatment and recycling, green building design, municipal energy ef?ciency, renewable energy, urban transportation, and urban design, utilizing enterprise GIS. Upon successful completion of this course, participating city staffs earn a Certi?cate in Urban Sustainability from Stockholm’s prestigious Royal Institute of Technology.

Advisory services

The Institute provides advisory services to cities in the areas of city master planning and resource assessment, economic development (specializing in sustainable tourism), land use planning and urban design, solid waste handling and recycling, water system development, wastewater treatment and recycling, transportation, parks and recreation, energy, and city management and technology. Once again, the application of an enterprise GIS system is central to the advisory services provided.

An Institute team is available to travel to a requesting city to provide either a comprehensive review of city operations or to focus on a particular problem area. The team will make presentations to city staff and recommendations to city leaders once its review is complete.


Jeremy Harris

served for more than ten years as the Mayor of the City
and County of Honolulu, Hawaii. He retired from politics in
January 2005. Prior to becoming Mayor, Harris was
Honolulu’s longest serving Managing Director, a position
he held for nine years.
My coordinates
His Coordinates
Steve Berglund
Mark your calendar
May 09 TO DECEMBER 2009

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