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GIS in Urban and Regional Planning: Uses and Examples

GIS enhances urban and regional planning through spatial data analysis and visualization. Here are functions and benefits with innovative technologies and use cases

GIS technology (Geographic Information System) plays a fundamental role in urban and regional planning, allowing the integration of geographic information and data analysis to create well-structured and sustainable urban plans.

GIS provides detailed perspectives on territory and infrastructure, generates visualizations of environmental conditions, and improves stakeholder decision-making processes.

However, to benefit from the advantages of GIS in urban planning, it is necessary to use advanced technologies that help planning professionals, construction, security, public works, and engineering to meet or exceed all requirements. In this regard, we suggest you to try a software for GIS digital twin, which enables you to integrate openBIM-IFC models of buildings and infrastructure with GIS data to create digital models that interact territorially and connect real-time information produced by all stakeholders.

Discover applications and benefits of GIS in urban and regional planning with the case studies below.

What is meant by urban and regional planning

Urban and regional planning is a process through which urban and regional spaces are organized and managed to achieve specific social, economic, and environmental goals. This process involves the design and management of the development of cities and regions to improve the quality of life of the people living there.

Here are some key aspects of urban and regional planning:

  • space organization: urban and regional planning involves dividing space into zones and determining how these zones will be used (e.g., residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, etc.);
  • sustainable development: planning takes into account the environmental and social impacts of urban and regional development, seeking to promote sustainable use of resources and the protection of the natural environment;
  • infrastructure and services: planning includes the planning of public infrastructure (such as roads, public transport, parks, etc.) and services (such as schools, hospitals, sports facilities, etc.) necessary to support the population and economic activity;
  • urban mobility: planning also considers how people move within cities and regions, seeking to promote sustainable transport modes and reduce traffic and pollution;
  • public participation: an important element of urban and regional planning is involving the local community in the decision-making process, ensuring that their needs and opinions are taken into account in urban development design.

In summary, urban and regional planning aims to create more livable, sustainable, and balanced cities and regions, taking into account the needs of people and the surrounding environment.

Role of GIS technology in urban and regional planning

Integrating GIS into urban planning addresses specific challenges such as traffic management, green space planning, and environmental impact assessment.

GIS provides the necessary tools to design and map neighborhoods and cities, and visualization, spatial analysis, and spatial modeling enable informed decisions on urban development.

Moreover, the spatial query functions and mapping of GIS allow analyzing the existing situation of a specific area, region, or city. Consequently, using this information, it is possible to make informed decisions about the growth status of an area and efficiently plan its development.

With GIS, planning committees can examine detailed data, avoiding development in high-risk areas. For example, through the GIS multilevel mapping function, it is possible to visualize a variety of primary agricultural land, surface water, high flood frequency, and highly erosive land. This information helps avoid urban development in areas with a high flood frequency.

Finally, GIS facilitates feasibility assessments for projects such as bridges, schools, and waste disposal facilities.

Applications of GIS in urban and regional planning

The applications of GIS in urban and regional planning are diverse and essential for land management.

Some significant uses include:

  • risk management and emergency planning: GIS data is used to connect emergency management with spatial planning, analyzing networks, thematic mapping, and territorial information systems;
  • standardization and validation of urban data: GIS allows the collection and analysis of socioeconomic and environmental data for possible standardizations;
  • analysis of current situations: through methodologies like overlay analysis, GIS helps identify areas where land development conflicts with environmental issues by overlaying current development on land suitability maps;
  • execution of urban plans: GIS can be used in implementing urban plans by conducting environmental impact assessments of proposed projects to evaluate and minimize the impact of development on the environment;
  • resource inventory;
  • creation of maps and land use plans.

How is GIS used in urban planning?

Here are some of the main ways urban planning professionals use GIS:

  • creation and updating of basic and topographic maps;
  • creation of georeferenced inventories for various categories of assets: historical urban furniture, green areas, industrial parks, etc.;
  • monitoring and control of road and pedestrian signage;
  • mobility studies to understand people flows and identify critical points;
  • preparation of feasibility reports for urban projects, including avoiding constructions in flood-prone areas;
  • environmental impact studies for urban projects;
  • collection of information on telecommunication networks, electrical and other infrastructures;
  • optimization of public services, such as waste management and maintenance of parks and gardens;
  • selection of the best locations for public centers and services, such as hospitals, sports centers, and public transport stops;
  • urban register management;
  • georeferencing emergency reports for a timely response;
  • identification of areas with major public safety issues.

Why GIS is important in urban and regional planning?

GIS is a fundamental tool used in urban planning for spatial data analysis and visualization, contributing to informed decisions regarding land use, infrastructure development, and resource management.

Main advantages of GIS

The main advantages of using GIS data include:

  • better understanding of current urban needs: thanks to GIS, planners gain a better understanding of current urban needs by processing geospatial data from various sources such as satellite images and aerial photographs. This provides a detailed view of land and infrastructure, facilitating design to meet these needs;
  • greater support for more informed decisions: GIS generates visualizations of the current environmental conditions of an area and allows comparison with the expected results of development plans, also enabling analysis of the current socio-economic status and identification of future trends for more informed decision-making;
  • data integration and visualization: GIS integrates and visualizes large amounts of data from different sources, offering a comprehensive overview of the planning area and its issues. This supports the development of alternative solutions and the prediction of demographic changes, land use modifications, and traffic flows;
  • efficient information management: GIS supports the collection, maintenance, analysis, and visualization of spatially related information, improving planning quality and facilitating communication among stakeholders;
  • more efficient resource management: GIS helps identify natural or human-made disasters and monitor the population, contributing to more efficient resource management;
  • improved mapping: since all maps and data of a region can be stored in a single central location, GIS can enhance map credibility (how current a map is), increase the effectiveness of thematic mapping, and reduce data storage costs;
  • optimization of communication among stakeholders: GIS simplifies the process of collecting, organizing, and retrieving information from a wide range of sources and allows data visualization from various devices. For example, by using the specific software that integrates openBIM-GIS data, you can geolocate all openBIM models on thematic GIS maps in the cloud, and this data is accessible from various devices.
OpenBIM models on GIS thematic maps

OpenBIM models on GIS thematic maps – usBIM.geotwin software

Benefits of using GIS for local governments

Local governments derive numerous benefits from using GIS in urban planning.

Among the main benefits are:

  • increased efficiency in decision-making processes;
  • time and cost savings due to easy-to-access information;
  • data-driven decision support;
  • more effective management of public resources;
  • greater citizen involvement in decision-making processes;
  • promotion of transparency in public administration.

In conclusion, GIS offers numerous advantages in urban planning, contributing to a better understanding of city needs, more effective resource management, and optimized communication among various stakeholders.

Application of remote sensing and GIS in urban planning

Through multi-temporal analysis, remote sensing provides a unique perspective on how cities evolve, and the application of remote sensing and GIS technologies in urban planning provides powerful tools for data-driven decisions and evidence, aiming to create more sustainable, resilient, and livable cities.

Some key applications include:

  • land use mapping and monitoring: remote sensing data and GIS techniques are used to create detailed land use maps, monitor changes over time, and assess future land use plans;
  • urban growth analysis and “urban sprawl“: remote sensing and GIS are employed to evaluate and monitor urban expansion, identify patterns of urban sprawl, and support sustainable urban planning decisions;
  • infrastructure and services planning: GIS-based spatial analysis is used to optimize the location and distribution of urban infrastructure, public facilities, and services such as transportation networks, public services, and healthcare centers;
  • environmental and risk management: remote sensing data and GIS are integrated to identify environmental issues, assess risks related to natural phenomena, and support disaster preparedness planning and emergency responses in urban areas;
  • urban renewal and redevelopment: remote sensing and GIS-based tools enable visualization and analysis of urban renewal projects, facilitating planning and implementation of urban regeneration initiatives.

Consequently, the use of remote sensing and GIS in urban planning offers significant benefits, including:

  • accurate spatial information;
  • efficient land use planning;
  • urban growth monitoring;
  • more sustainable and resilient environmental management;
  • optimization of infrastructure planning.

Example of GIS application in urban planning: case studies

The integration of GIS and BIM allows combining geographic information with building structure data, thus facilitating planning, design, construction, and management of buildings and urban environments.

Below are two examples of GIS application in an urban planning environment from two different cases: Barcelona and El Jadida (Morocco).

In the first case, starting from the federation of IFC models on the geospatial view, advanced levels of querying properties of each element, building, and infrastructure at an architectural and structural level are achieved.

In the second case, starting from point clouds and textured meshes of the model, the IFC model is created to verify data and properties.

In both cases, the geospatial digital twin software usBIM.geotwin helps ensure smarter and proactive management of infrastructure and constructions, thus contributing to creating more efficient and sustainable urban environments.

GIS in urban planning: Barcelona

The following video shows a concrete example of how GIS has been applied in the city of Barcelona through the integration of openBIM-GIS models.

In this case, 2000 IFC models have been federated, totaling 120 GB of data, demonstrating that there are no limits to complexity or the number of updatable data.

The presence of a wide range of openBIM IFC models within the digital smart city enables efficient and intelligent management of various urban services and systems.

Directly from the geospatial view, it is possible to enter an advanced level of detail and query the properties of each building and infrastructure at an architectural, structural, and MEP level. This allows for a detailed analysis of resources within the surrounding environment.

Geospatial querying of IFC models: usBIM_geotwin software

Geospatial querying of IFC models: usBIM.geotwin software

This integration allows combining and displaying detailed information about building installations, enhancing the efficiency, safety, and sustainability of infrastructure and constructions. Moreover, it enables:

– Monitoring the real-time status and performance of buildings;
– Optimizing maintenance and management operations;
– Predicting potential issues or criticalities in advance.

GIS in Urban and Regional Planning: El Jadida, Morocco

The following video demonstrates how the geospatial digital twin software allows access and management of large quantities, with no limits on data complexity, number, and updates, featuring file representations of various dimensions, geolocated and integrated with GIS.

Starting from the geospatial view, the BIM visualization is set up, managing texturized meshes and point clouds of a building in the center of the historic city of El Jadida.

From the point cloud, an IFC model is created to display structural data and check object properties in the 3D model.

The use of point clouds and meshes to create a digital twin allows for increased efficiency, time savings, and cost reduction in the lifecycle of structures and infrastructure, optimizing the planning of urban environments.