Review of ESRI GeoDesign Summit

I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity this week to attend the ESRI GeoDesign Summit in Redlands, California.  In attendance were about 150 amazing people from academia, non-government organizations and commercial businesses.  I'm not sure exactly what the distribution of participants was, but it felt like probably the majority were from academia.  I found this refreshing as I don't often get to spend time with many academics.

The event was hosted in the new headquarters building on the ESRI campus.New ESRI Headquarters  It is a truly beautiful building and a wonderful space for the exchange of ideas with a group this size.  The schedule was divided into three basic experiences.  The first three presentations in the morning were half hour sessions that allowed the presenter to get into some depth in their chosen subject.  These were followed by a series of "Lightning Talks" - presentations of under 10 minutes - during which time the presenter could give a quick outline of their ideas.  The afternoons were spent in breakout sessions where communities of interest discussed topics including Sketching Inference and Feedback, GeoDesign in Urban Areas, The Role of 3D in GeoDesign and several others.  I attended the session on GeoDesign in Architecture Focusing on BIM.  Regular breaks were scheduled to allow participants to mingle and network.

Given the agenda, there were lots more presentations than I have the energy to review in this space, but the highlights for me were these:

Tom Fisher - Dean of the College of Design, University of Minnesota

Tom opened the conference by presenting a pretty sobering assessment of the current state of our planet and our impact on it.  His logic was compelling - if a little frightening - and left me with a sense of urgency that we must take some pretty dramatic action soon or the consequences for our little world may be dire.

Michael Goodchild - Professor of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara

 Mike laid out a vision whereby GIS analysis could iteratively provide feedback to sketched ideas and help us to realize a new chapter in Ian McHarg's vision of designing with nature.

Juan Carlos Vargas-Moreno - MIT

Juan Carlos described a very interesting participatory land planning project conducted in Costa Rica where local residents participated in a cooperative exercise in land planning for their region.

Brian Lee - University of Kentucky 

Brian challenged us to develop more interactive user interfaces to support land use planning processes.

Carl Steinitz - Harvard Graduate School of Design

Carl presented a fascinating talk on a wide variety of design processes with examples of how each had been applied to specific land use planning challenges.  For me, this presentation really helped me think about the design process in a much broader and more flexible way.

Bran Ferren - Chief Creative Officer, Applied Minds, Inc.

Without a doubt, Bran delivered the most compelling presentation of the entire event.  He laid out a vision whereby GeoDesign can become a new medium through which we can better communicate.  In Bran's vision, GeoDesign can enable us to better tell humanity's story.  It can help us to tell the story of our past and how we have come to be who we are.  It can help us tell the story of the present and how our behavior is affecting each other and our environment.  Most importantly, GeoDesign can help us to tell stories of alternative futures and can help us to intentionally imagine and create a preferable future.

I hope that Bran's vision is correct.  I am grateful to Jack for his vision and leadership in cultivating what may become a new movement.  It will be exciting to see where the path leads.