Welcome Home, GIS Professionals – Ryerson Geography at URISA’s 54th Annual Conference

The Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA) held its first conference on “First Annual Conference on Urban Planning Information Systems and Programs” in 1963 at the University of Southern California. Now dubbed “GIS-Pro”, the conference and URISA as an organization are the preeminent destinations for exchange of best-practices among Geographic Information Systems (GIS) professionals. This year, Canada, the birth place of GIS, welcomed URISA back for its 54th annual conference held at Toronto’s Westin Harbour Castle hotel from Oct 31-Nov 3, 2016.

The conference drew over 350 participants, with some 200 from Canada (including 150 from Ontario) and most of the remainder from the United States. Representatives from Australia, Barbados, Japan, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and the United Kingdom rounded out the pre-conference attendee list. URISA is greatly engaged in the professional development of its members, and consequently, over 100 participants held the GISP designation. URISA is a founding member of the GIS Certification Institute, which awards the “GISP” status and was an exhibitor and workshop organizer at the conference. URISA’s Vanguard Cabinet of young geospatial professionals, URISA’s GISCorps of worldwide GIS volunteers, its GIS Management Institute, and its regional chapters were all involved in organizing the conference. In one of the conference highlights, Esri Canada founder and president Alex Miller was inducted to the URISA GIS Hall of Fame. More information about URISA can be found at http://www.urisa.org/main/about-us/.

Title slide - 3D-printed geography

Ryerson’s Department of Geography and Environmental Studies attended the conference with three speakers and ten student volunteers. In the unusual format of a luncheon presentation and discussion table (https://gispro2016.sched.org/event/6nuR/hosted-lunch-vendor-spark-lunch-presentations-roundtable-discussions), I presented work with Dr. Claire Oswald on “3D-Printed Geography for Education, Outreach, and More?” This was a summary of one-and-a-half years of 3D-printing of terrain models and cityscapes, focusing on the processing of geospatial data into 3D printer-compliant format, and on the reception of this project among potential users such as conservation authorities. Our slides are available at http://gis.blog.ryerson.ca/files/2016/11/3d-printed-geographies_urisa-gispro2016.pdf. A previous review of the project is available at https://storify.com/ClausRinner/3d-printed-geographies-one-year-in.

My former graduate students Justin Pierre and Richard Wen had signed up for a session on open-source geospatial software (https://gispro2016.sched.org/event/6nv7/free-puppies-and-solutions-open-source-and-commercial-software). Justin presented on his Master of Spatial Analysis (MSA) major research paper “Developing an Argumentation Platform in an Open Source Stack”. His map-based discussion forum on Toronto’s bike lane network runs on Ryerson’s cloud at https://cartoforum.com/bikelanes/, albeit not always as reliably as we wish. Richard outlined his MSA thesis research on “Using Open Source Python Packages for Machine Learning on Vector Geodata”. He applied the “random forest” algorithm to the task of detecting outliers in OpenStreetMap data, with the goal of developing tools for semi-automated data input and quality control in volunteered geographic data. Richard’s code and thesis are available at https://github.com/rrwen/msa-thesis. Both of these student were part of the Geothink SSHRC Parternship Grant, http://geothink.ca/, which supported their conference participation.

RyersonGeo booth with AR-sandbox at GIS-Pro2016

@RyersonGeo also had a booth in the GIS-Pro 2016 exhibit hall. While conference participants were interested in the Department’s programs and research expertise, the main attraction of our booth was an augmented-reality (AR) sandbox. The sandbox was built, set up, and staffed by our collaborators in the GIS team at the Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority (CLOCA – http://cloca.ca/). CLOCA staff had attended Dr. Oswald’s GeovisUW workshop (https://storify.com/ClausRinner/geovisuw-workshop-ryersongeo) in June 2016 and were inspired by the visit of Ryerson’s Digital Media Experience Lab, which demo’ed an AR sandbox. In subsequent discussions about public outreach around surface- and groundwater protection, we proceeded with 3D-prining of CLOCA’s watershed geography and terrain, while CLOCA staff endeavoured to build the sandbox. The two displays were used by CLOCA at the 2016 Durham Children’s Groundwater Festival in late September. At the GIS-Pro 2016 conference, some participants were wondering about combining the two technologies, while others were interested in using the sandbox to model real-world terrain and simulating flooding. While accurate modeling of terrain and water flow may prove difficult, we are indeed planning to test the sandbox with semi-realistic scenarios.

CLOCA's AR-sandbox at GIS-Pro2016

In conclusion, applied GIS researchers and practicing GIS professionals are a friendly, close-knit group. The conference volunteers from our BA in Geographic Analysis, BA in Environment and Urban Sustainability, and MSA in Spatial Analysis programs were given a lot of free time and thoroughly enjoyed the conference. They were truly impressed by the large number and variation in GIS applications presented, and left the conference with a greater sense for the professional community. For me, the conference confirmed that research and development of GIS should be led by geographers, within Geography departments, as we are best positioned to understand the professional end-user’s needs, yet also have the technical expertise, at least @RyersonGeo, to contribute to GIS R&D.