Event Report: URISA 44th Annual Conference

4 Oct, 2006 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

Organization brings GIS users to Vancouver, B.C., to "challenge the limits" in government.

The 44th Annual Conference of URISA (the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association) was held September 26-29 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The conference theme of "Challenge the Limits" suited the nonprofit association, which is composed of professionals who use GIS and other information technologies to solve challenges in government agencies.

The first day of the conference was dedicated to all-day workshops, with topics including 3D geospatial applications, LIDAR (light detection and ranging), open-source GIS software and integrating civil engineering with GIS/information technology disciplines. Some workshops included hands-on exercises, providing participants experience with three-dimensional geospatial applications and Internet GIS.

During the opening session the next morning, URISA President Cindy Domenico welcomed the more than 700 attendees and conducted an awards ceremony to honor "individuals and groups who have given wonderful service to URISA." Gary Hunter, whose life's work has centered on recognizing and managing uncertainty in spatial data, was inducted into the GIS Hall of Fame. The Horwood Distinguished Service Award winner was Peter L. Croswell, a consultant with PlanGraphics who likely spoke for all the award recipients when he said, "It's an honor, and this is something that I'll cherish for the rest of my life."

Keynote speaker Ward Chapin, chief information officer of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, gave the opening session audience a glimpse of the overwhelming effort required to select, implement and manage the systems required for communication, transportation and other operations during the Games. In addition to business, games management and Internet systems, the committee is responsible for every element of systems integration and the extensive technical infrastructure. Chapin also noted the vital importance of information security, saying, "We are the target for every hacker in the world."

Conference-goers mingled with vendors, government agencies, and organizations in the exhibit hall, which featured a Demonstration Theater for formal product presentations. Attendees also took advantage of the opportunity to network with their peers at a cleverly organized roundtable lunch, choosing tables dedicated to discussion of their particular interests.

The conference comprised more than 70 educational sessions, which were divided into six tracks: data, tools, applications, management, professional development and hot topics. Session offerings included those composing URISA's PPGIS (Public Participation GIS) Conference. This was the first time that the two conferences were held in conjunction, giving Annual Conference attendees the opportunity to attend sessions on topics such as indigenous issues and engaging the public. A primary focus of the PPGIS material was empowering regular citizens, not just experienced GIS users, with spatial information.

One such session from the PPGIS lineup, "Process - Technology - Empowerment," showcased three examples of how Web-based GIS has evolved to incorporate and encourage community participation. Wansoo Im, an advocate for the Center for Community Mapping, explained that organization's mission to foster participatory planning and community education through affordable, Web-based GIS. One of the center's efforts, the Healthy Lifestyles Community Mapping Project, involves schoolchildren in the collection of data about locations of food vendors and exercise opportunities in their neighborhoods.

The second presentation was given by Alyssa Joyce, a student in the Resource Management and Environmental Studies graduate program at the University of British Columbia. Joyce described the Community Mapping Network, which informs development planning decision-makers and acts as a data steward for its nonprofit and government agency partners, who contribute data about sensitive habitats and threatened species.

To wrap up the session, Dave Biggs of Envision Sustainability Tools demonstrated the company's MetroQuest interactive planning support tool. MetroQuest helps community members -- even those with no city planning or GIS experience -- to immediately grasp the outcomes of different scenarios with maps that visually communicate tradeoffs. Biggs explained that the popularity of the video game SimCity provided inspiration for the tool, proving that tremendous numbers of people have an interest in seeing the consequences of their choices mapped out over time.

URISA's 45th Annual Conference will be held August 20-23, 2007, in Washington, D.C.

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