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Challenges, Threats and Opportunities to using GIS in urban planning in developing countries (case study: Iran)

M.Taleai, M.S. Mesgari
Geomatics Faculty, K.N.Toosi University of Technology, Tehran, Iran
Email: Taleai@alborz.kntu.ac.ir, Mesgari@kntu.ac.ir

Most of data used for urban planning are essentially spatial. Therefore, GIS as the most general and advanced spatial analysis tool has been used for collecting, analysis and visualizing spatial data related to urban modeling and planning. High level spatial analysis capabilities of GIS along with proper spatial decision models are recently being used for defining problems, decision options and scenarios, and for studying the results and outcomes of different decisions.

Obviously, the quality of data and properness of the decision models affects the goodness of the decision taken. Yet, with good data and models, many of the projects on using GIS for urban planning around the world has not been as successful as predicted. The main reason is that, the affects of using GIS for urban planning on involved organizations and departments and on their projects, activities, missions and vise versa has not been studied and considered.

To overcome this shortcoming, it is necessary to study related organizations and define all threats and opportunities that the introduction of GIS might bring about. Moreover, it is required to study and consider all strengths and weaknesses of an organization related to the usage of GIS

A powerful tool/model for doing such analysis is the Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, and Threat (SWOT) model. In this paper this model is used for studying and predicting the successfulness of using GIS in urban planning in the complex environment of a developing country.

1. Introduction
Urban planning and management demands easy access for both information and decision models and requests for science and technology to use these two in making decisions and solving problems. This is a key factor in applying GIS technology as a tool in supporting urban planning and management. But implementation of GIS as a new technology needs some essential challenges and organization related to urban planning and management (an urban organization, we called it) need to do some activities and studies before that. One of important studies is to analyze the Strengths and Weaknesses of urban organization related to the implementation of GIS as interior factors and also assessment of Opportunities and Threats that organization is faced as exterior factors. This analysis is known as SWOT analysis.

The world is rapidly being urbanized. Huge areas are being covered by cities and towns every year. The populations of established areas of the cities are constantly increasing and new buildings are being added. Therefore, management of this rapid changes require a level of planning that is rarely available by using conventional techniques. However, new techniques and technologies are assisting city planners to cope with and maybe even get one jump ahead of the growth. Today's affordable computers and application software for handling and supporting geographic information such as GIS have the potential to allow planners to keep pace with development. Using GIS can improve fundamental understanding of the changes in urban area and the complex interactions between them. Urban planning organization by using of GIS in their activities can overcome the problems that exist in using out-dated and old-fashioned techniques.

Recently fewer developing countries have started to use GIS in urban planning actions. It is clear that high level spatial analysis capabilities of GIS along with proper spatial decision models can use as a useful tools by developing countries for defining problems, decision options, action scenarios, and for studying the results and outcomes of different decisions.

Obviously, the quality of data and properness of the decision models affect the goodness of the decision taken. Yet, with good data and models, many of the projects on using GIS for urban planning around the world has not been as successful as predicted. The main reason is that, different urban organizations and departments have not paid enough attention to the affects of using GIS for urban planning on their organizations and on their projects, activities, missions and vise versa.

To overcome this limitation, study and analyses of related organizations internally and externally is required. Internal study of the organization includes the study of strengths and weaknesses it has related to the introduction of GIS. The external study concentrates on the threats and opportunities that might come along with the introduction of GIS.

2. SWOT Analysis?
SWOT analysis is a basic and straightforward model that provides direction and serves as a basis for the development of plans. It accomplishes this by assessing an organizations strengths (what an organization can do) and weaknesses (what an organization cannot do) in addition to opportunities (potential favorable conditions for an organization) and threats (potential unfavorable conditions for an organization). SWOT analysis is an important step in strategic planning and its value is often underestimated despite the simplicity in creation. The role of SWOT analysis is to take the information from the environmental analysis and divide it into internal issues (strengths and weaknesses) and external issues (opportunities and threats). Once this is completed, SWOT analysis determines if the information indicates something that will assist the organization in accomplishing its objectives (a strength or opportunity), or if it indicates an obstacle that must be overcome or minimized to achieve desired results (weakness or threat) (Anthony C. Danca, 1998).

SWOT Analysis is an extremely useful tool for Strategic Analysis and understanding an organization's current position in GIS implementation process. SWOT analysis involves three key steps:
  • First, we need to understand the organization's strengths and weaknesses.
  • Second, we need to study the organization's environment and understand the opportunities and threats offered by that environment in GIS implementation.
  • Finally, by looking at which strengths might be used to take advantage of specific opportunities, and which weaknesses may make us vulnerable faced with certain threats, we can better plan our strategic options and the way ahead.
Carrying out an analysis using the SWOT framework helps organization to focus its activities into areas where it's strong and where the greatest opportunities lie.

3. Evaluation of internal portion of SWOT
The role of the internal portion of SWOT is to determine where resources are available or lacking so that strengths and weaknesses can be identified. From this, the manager can then develop strategies that match these strengths with opportunities and thereby create new capabilities, which will then be part of subsequent SWOT analysis. At the same time, the manager can develop strategies to overcome the organization's weaknesses, or find ways to minimize the negative effects of these weaknesses (Anthony C. Danca, 1998(.

3.1. Internal environment- strengths
To carry out a SWOT Analysis about the organization's strengths, we should answer the following questions (James Manktelow):
  • What advantages do we have?
  • What do we do well?
  • What relevant resources do we have access to?
  • What do other people see as our strengths?
As follows we mention some essential and overall strengths that exist in Iranian urban organization to using GIS in their activities. We think that these strengths maybe exist in other developing country.
  • Increasing awareness of and demand for using geographic information systems at all levels of planning
In most developing countries, such as Iran, many activities have been done to familiarize managers with GIS benefits and improve the level of using GIS in different aspects of management. According to these actions, most of organizations, especially organizations related to urban planning and management, have identified the vital role of GIS in planning actions. However, the important matter is that we must pay attention to define our strategies to catch it as well as possible.
  • Be involved in GIS user groups
Iranian National Cartographic Center (NCC), as the main national mapping agency, has organized some specialty groups for improvement and management of using GIS in national, province and municipal levels.

To coordinate urban GIS activities with other GIS activities in the country, an Urban GIS Working Group has been formed which includes a wide spectrum of agencies. This GIS user group provides a good opportunity for involved organization (as a strength) to facilitate data availability and data sharing among user agencies. It also improves planning and management processes within user agencies through increased access to up-to-date geo-information imparting long-term sustainability to efforts, and economically utilizes public spending through improved coordination among user agencies.
  • Establishing and existing of ICT departments
In the content of new national strategies regarding the development of using Information Technology (IT) in the whole of country, we can see a good view for using GIS and Geo-Information Technology (GIT), in urban planning organizations. Now, most of urban planning organizations have established their ICT departments and are trying to develop required databases and information infrastructure. It is obvious that the development of these departments can be considered as a facility to the introduction and application of GIS in these organizations.

3.2. Internal environment- weaknesses
Regarding the organization's weaknesses, a SWOT Analysis should answer the following questions (James Manktelow):

- What could we improve?

- What do we do badly?

- What should we avoid?

  • Spatial Data Constraints
    GIS is one of the latest additions in the field of information systems and will play an important role in the next decades. Problems related to spatial data issues are the general shortage of spatial data, lack of suitable data in the right format, lack of data consistency and standards, problems associated with accessing data, security restrictions, copyright, cost, lack of institutional co-operation, etc (Khalil, 1996; Brent Hall, et al, 1997; Fourie & Nino-Fluck, 1999, Tapas Ghatak).

    Initially, the use of GIS was restricted in planning specially in the macro level planning like urban planning. These are:
    • Lack of suitable infrastructure for capturing geo-based data
      Previously, urban planning organizations paid very little attention to the capturing and using geo-based information. As a result, these organizations in developing countries do not usually have any executive department for capturing and management of their required geo-based data. Many organizations only have some Asbuilt maps that do not cover all of their activity area.
    • Lack or not availability of digital geo-based data about urban infrastructure required for planning actions
      For using GIS in urban planning activities, we need maps and data about urban infrastructure such as electricity, gas and water supply networks, transportation network, specific facilities and other amenities, sewage & drainage facilities, and also about future development programmes, natural hazard areas etc. The lack of availability of such infrastructure maps at the urban level is posing a great problem for adopting GIS technology. In normal cases, in developing countries such as Iran, these infrastructural maps either do not exist or are in analog format and need costly procedures to convert them to digital format.
    • Lack of needed standards for producing and sharing of spatial data
      Lack of necessary standards for producing spatial data and its effect on data sharing have caused many problems for the exchange of spatial data between organizations and even cause some data to be inconsistent. The fact is that required spatial data for urban planning actions are produced by various organizations. Any of these organizations only pay attention to and produce its own needed spatial data. Therefore, it is very difficult for an organization to use spatial data produced by other organizations.
    • Lack of a defined procedure and infrastructure for data sharing and access of people and organization to existing spatial data
      Yet, many aspects of spatial data infrastructure in all national and organizational levels are under development and are in their first stages.
  • Technical Constraints
    • Lack of proper network connection
      For different urban organization to access the data of each other, they need a suitable network. But existing networks is not capable to transfer the high amount of geo-based data. This constraint causes serious problems and decreases both the success and trend of spatial data sharing.
    • Insufficient skilled personnel in spatial data and also GIS field
      In urban planning organizations there is not enough expert people in the area of spatial data handling and GIS in general. Moreover personnel involved in GIS do not usually have enough experience and knowledge of GIS to understand GIS community as well as use/need for spatial data.

      Using of out sourcing skilled people is an essential action to development of GIS in urban planning organizations.
    • Protection of personal information (D.Gritzalis and S.K.Katsikas, 1991)
      Already, many urban information systems have been built and used to store and process personal information of citizens that needed for management of the city. Such personal information may, inadvertently or on purpose, be used against the concerned citizens' wills and/or rights. Therefore, developing and adopting techniques, procedures and legislation is needed to ensure the correct and safe use of personal information. Although a lot of activities have been done to establish generic principles which should govern the use of the secure computerized information systems, but sometimes this security also is cracked and the issue of technical prerequisites necessary to fulfill these generic principles exists.
  • Institutional and Managerial Constraints
    • Absence of a dedicated team and also lack of both managerial and technical experience
      Lack of both managerial and technical experience at all levels in urban planning organization and also not using of professional private sector as advisor, has made GIS implementation actions very difficult and unsuccessful. Usually such organizations use only the support of one or a few staff that just has little knowledge and awareness about GIS implementation. Absence of a specialized team that would be dedicated for a reasonable period of time to the establishment of GIS is the reason that by changing the position of this staff or their moving to other organizations, the implementation of GIS is usually stopped.
    • The traditional mechanisms of producing and delivering information/product/ services are unsatisfactory
      Although urban organization have realized they should look for more advanced and efficient mechanisms of producing and delivering its services, but there are strong resistance to such changes and to the introducing of new technology such as GIS. Often we face with lack of support to young GIS professionals by the peers who feel threatened, regarding their usefulness and importance in their organization.
    • Lack of cooperation among organization regarding common spatial data needs
      Each urban organization that capturing and producing spatial data and related non-spatial data only consider its own requirement and do not pay attention to the needs of other organizations. Therefore, spatial data have been produced by an organization cannot be used by other organizations efficiently and double cost are being paid to produce a map of the same area.
    • Impetus for GIS implementation is technology driven
      Much of the motion for GIS implementation is technology driven and not need driven. There are decision makers in developing countries that see technology such as GIS as an opportunity to rapid track economic development - to leapfrog the process of industrialization and compete in the global marketplace. According to this vision, urban organizations in a developing country in their earliest step try to improve their software and hardware's potential. The reality is somewhat different; there are many more problems to be overcome than just a lack of technology to kick-start economic growth and development. For example data management is one of these issues that if not considered and accommodated fully, will inevitably lead to problems later on.
    • Lack of dedicated departments for GIS activities in urban organizations
      Most of urban planning organization does not have a definite department responsible for GIS actions. Therefore, we can see various departments in an organization doing GIS activities separately. These activities are usually parallel and sometimes redundant. Yet, usually they do not cover the whole needs of the organization and there is some inconsistency between them.
    • Lack of copyright law for spatial data
      In some developing country there is not a suitable copyright law relevant to producing and distributing of spatial data. Therefore spatial data producer and mapping agencies do not have sufficient motivation for producing and sharing spatial data, because they are worried about returning of their investments (Loslier, 1998).
    • Lack of awareness about the value of availability of information and putting some constraints to the free flow and exchange of information among organizations (Ottichilo, 1993; Brent Hall et al, 1997).
      In many urban organizations often managers for political and personal reasons do not sharing their spatial data with other organization or users.
  • Financial Constraints
    • Inadequate funds and high cost of producing spatial data (Johnson, 2000, Vivek N Patkar)

      Because of lacking of mostly required spatial data in urban planning actions, producing of necessary spatial data is a costly activity. But now urban planning organization doesn't have a separate and enough budgets to covering these expenses. Therefore, urban managers are dealing with some challenges to preparing needed fund to cover different stages of GIS implementation such as acquisition and periodic updating of spatial data, hardware, software, etc.
    • Insecurity in the continuity of funding to implement GIS projects
      According to previous section, high level management of urban planning organization, have little awareness and knowledge about the important role of GIS in their organizations. Therefore, even when they develop a GIS, usually there are not enough funds for the maintenance of GIS and updating of spatial data and decision tools.
4. Evaluation of external portion of SWOT
Managers who are caught up in developing strengths and capabilities may ignore the external environment. A mistake of this magnitude could lead to an efficient organization that is no longer effective when changes in the external environment prohibit the organization's ability to implement a GIS project. These changes can occur in the rate of overall market growth and in the competitive, economic, political/legal, technological, or socio-cultural environments (Anthony C. Danca, 1998).

In this section of paper according to analysis of external factors such as changes in technology, markets, government policy related to GIS field, social patterns, user needs etc, we try to define the opportunities and threats existed in using GIS in urban planning organization activities.

4.1. External environment- Opportunities
SWOT Analysis, should answer the following questions about the organization's opportunities (James Manktelow):

- Where are the good opportunities facing organization?

- What are the interesting trends organizations is aware of?

A useful approach to looking at opportunities is to look at organization's strengths and ask whether these open up any opportunities. Alternatively, look at organization's weaknesses and ask whether organization could open up opportunities by eliminating them.
  • High potential in IT and ICT
    Some developing countries such as Iran have a good condition in Information and Communication Technology (ICT). At now Iran have a good situation qualitatively and quantitatively in software engineering. Therefore this ability can be considered as a high potential for developing and producing applied GIS packages.
  • Important role of GIS and related services in employment
    According to various expertises in using of information technology in other fields, increase in the using of GIS/GIT in urban planning actions will raise the amount of employees that needed to setting up spatial informational services. Also the growing trend of using GIT will be result a bigger demand for absorbing high initial investment. Therefore, GIT can catch more investment in next decades in developing countries and also can decrease the amount of unemployed persons in these countries.
  • Increasing the potential of private sector in GIT field
    Private sectors have started focusing on the GIS and therefore the skills are available in private sectors and also government has decided in the use of private sector for GIS actions.

    The number of private company that GIS/GIT field is their major activity is increasing very fast in pervious years. Also these companies are trying to employ professional personnel in GIT field. Therefore the potential of private sector to cooperate in GIS projects in urban planning organization is growing up.
  • National investment to produce infrastructural digital spatial data (Map)
    In Iran, similar to other developing countries, National Cartographic Center (NCC) as the national mapping agency, during previous years has attracted some national budgets to produce framework spatial data of the country in different scales of 1:250.000, 1:25.000, 1:50.000 and 1:2000. At the present 1:2000 scaled maps for large cities have been produced. We know that the production of framework large scaled map is very costly and some urban organization cannot prepare this investment. Therefore national investments in GIS/GIT projects can speed up the development of using GIS in urban planning organization.
  • Education of qualified person in GIS field
    In previous years according to the increase in the demand for using GIS in different activities such as urban planning, universities have increased the number of their student to cover this need. Therefore, now Iranian universities have fully GIS courses in post graduate level and also some minor courses have been defined to improve the knowledge concept and capability of other graduated people in other related field.
  • Creates increased awareness to policy/decision makers in government about the important role of GIT
    High-level manager of Iranian government have known the essential role of using GIS/GIT in various activities. Therefore in the fifth Iranian development program, much attention has been paid in the use of GIS/GIT in different activities. One of important actions in this program is preparing the Iranian NSDI strategy that must dictate the next action of the country for developing spatial data usage.
  • Development of GIS User Groups (Shobhit Shah)
    According to previous explanation, Iranian National Cartographic Center (NCC) has organized some specialty groups for improvement and management of GIS applications in national, province and urban levels. These GIS user groups provide a good opportunity to facilitate data availability and data sharing among user agencies involved in these groups.

    To coordinate urban GIS activities, a GIS user group can be formed which includes a wide spectrum of agencies. As part of this effort, this GIS user group can help to facilitate data availability and data sharing among user agencies, increase access to up-to-date geo-information, economically utilize public spending through improved coordination among user agencies in their GIS related investment, and introduce GIS concepts, methods and processes to user agencies.
4.2. External environment- Threats
To carry out a SWOT Analysis about the organization's Threats, the following questions should be answered (James Manktelow):

- What obstacles do organizations face?

- What are organization's competitors doing?

- Are the required specifications for organization's job, products or services changing?

- Is changing-technology threatening organization's position?

- Could any of organization's weaknesses seriously threaten its GIS activities?

Carrying out this analysis will often be illuminating - both in terms of pointing out what needs to be done, and in putting problems into perspective.
  • Less awareness of an organization about the activities of other organization in GIS field Urban organizations with understanding the essential role of GIS in their efficiency are trying to use this technology and produce required spatial and non-spatial data. The number of such projects is too high. Therefore, often an organization doesn't know any thing about the activities and plans of other urban organization in GIS field. Sometimes we can see two organizations have applied to produce the infrastructural map of the same area. Therefore, establishing an infrastructure for sharing news and information, related to GIS actions, between urban planning organizations is very necessary.
  • Lack of confidence about the quality of spatial data produced by other organization According to previous explanation, different organizations produce various maps independently to cover their spatial data requirements. One of the important problems in using of these maps is their quality (Hendrix, 1996; Jones, 1997). These maps usually do not have any metadata about their accuracy, standard, sources etc. Consequently map users can't confide about the quality of these maps. Another problem is referring to lack of quality control action in producing of maps. Although national mapping agencies such as NCC have responsibility to control of produced maps specially supported by national budget. However, in most cases, maps are produced by urban organizations without using specific standards and without considering required quality. Therefore, in most statuses, urban organizations prefer to produce their required spatial data themselves instead of using spatial data produced by other urban organizations.
  • Insecurity in the continuity of national funding to implement GIS projects According to previous section, during recent years government has paid some national funds to support GIS projects. But some worries exist about the non-continuity of national funding, mainly because of poor economy in developing country.
  • Lack of defined standard and procedure to determine the cost of GIS projects In developing countries such as Iran, many companies are active in GIS field. Yet unfortunately, we do not have any document to be used as a basis to determine the cost of different steps of implementing GIS projects. Therefore, urban organizations have some fears about the cost of their projects presented by GIS companies and do not have any basis to compare and judge them. Moreover, they do not have professional employee in GIS field for evaluating presented cost of GIS projects.
  • Lack of defined procedure and criteria for evaluating the ability of private companies active in GIS field According to previous sections, urban organization has little knowledge in GIS field, so in some cases companies not having experience in GIS implementation win in competition for getting the GIS project. This situation is one of the important reasons for failure of GIS projects in developing countries. Therefore, we need to establish a nationally defined and agreed procedure and assessment criteria to evaluate the private companies active in GIS field.
The crossing and relations between parts of above discussions is summarized in Table 1.

Table 1: Crossing analysis of parameters considered in interior and exterior environment

5. Conclusion
Most of data used for urban planning are essentially spatial. Therefore, GIS as the most advanced spatial analysis tool has been used for collecting, analysis and visualizing spatial data related to urban environment.

Recently most of developing countries have been using GIS in urban planning actions. But they have faced problems that caused the failure of GIS implementation activities. This status was happened because they do not pay enough attention to the correct definition of plans for GIS implementation.

For efficient implementation of GIS, first it is necessary to prepare a strategic and implementation plan. One of important studies needed to prepare this plan is assessing an organizations strengths (what an organization can do) and weaknesses (what an organization cannot do) in addition to opportunities (potential favorable conditions for an organization) and threats (potential unfavorable conditions for an organization). This analysis is known as SWOT analysis. SWOT Analysis is an extremely useful tool for strategic analysis and understanding an organization's current position in GIS implementation process.

At previous sections we mentioned some essential and overall strengths and weaknesses that organization are faced in their interior environment and also opportunities and threats that organization are faced in exterior environment.

According to Table.1, we cross the interior parameters with exterior parameters to define the effect of each parameter on others. Therefore we can then develop strategies that match the strengths with the opportunities and thereby create new capabilities for organization. At the same time, we can develop strategies to overcome the organization's weaknesses according the opportunities that exist in exterior environment and find ways to minimize the negative effects of these weaknesses.

On the other hand, we can find the strength that can minimize the negative effects of threats and accordingly we can define some suitable strategies. In addition, we can cross weakness and threats and find the serious problems resulted from maximizing weakness effects by threats. We show this positive effects by "+" and negative effects by "-" signs in Table 1.

According to this table, using the strengths can minimize all of the threats' effects and some opportunities can minimize the effects of weaknesses and we can use these opportunities to overcome and decrease the effects of weaknesses. In addition, some threats can maximize the negative effects of the weaknesses. We show this multiple negative effects by "-" in Table 1.

As can be seen, SWOT analysis can be extremely beneficial to analyze the status of urban planning organization in doing GIS activities. However, it is not simply enough to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. In applying the SWOT analysis it is necessary to minimize or avoid both weaknesses and threats. Weaknesses should be looked at in order to convert them into strengths. Likewise, threats should be converted into opportunities. Finally, strengths and opportunities should be matched to optimize the potential of urban organization in GIS field. Applying SWOT in this fashion can obtain leverage for urban organization in doing their GIS activities as well as possible.

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