Geographic Information Technologies and Community Planning: Spatial Empowerment and Public Participation

A Paper Prepared for the Project Varenius Specialist Meeting on Empowerment, Marginalization, and Public Participation GIS
October 1998

Daniel Howard, AICP
Department of Geography
State University of New York at Buffalo
Email: geohow@worldnet.att.net

"Tell me, I forget.
Show me, I remember.
Involve me, I understand."

(from Moore and Davis 1997)

These words have been evoked countless times to extol the merits of graphical images and active participation as means of enhancing some learning experience. Few would doubt the veracity of this phrase, the picture is worth a thousand words and direct involvement in most endeavors results in a greater understanding of the experience. Given the wisdom of this phrase, it is difficult to understand why this philosophy has not been universally applied to the practice of urban planning and public participation. The message is clear, greater involvement in the planning process leads to greater understanding and acceptance of the plans which communities create to chart their future.

While many communities have increased the frequency of public meetings and enhanced presentations with visual media ("SHOW ME"), citizens who attend these meetings often experience difficulty understanding the spatial relationships portrayed on maps and plans. The resulting frustration frequently leads to miscommunication and mistrust of planners and politicians. Current literature suggests that participation can be enhanced through the use of geographic information technologies (GIT). Additionally, the use of these technologies on the internet is considered a promising mode to reach citizens who seldom participate or are unable to attend meetings.

Information technology is the modern delivery system for communication of information. Shiffer (1996) writes, "information is only powerful when it is effectively comprehended by those who use it. IT (Information Technology) can help people to comprehend information, (thereby delivering knowledge)." Nearly all planning information possesses a spatial orientation that is essential to acquiring the knowledge necessary for effective planning participation. Shiffer (1995a) and others (Hundt 1997, Krygier 1998, Pieplow 1998) have demonstrated that geographically related technology, including: geographic information systems (GIS); digital aerial photography and photographs; digital simulation and animation; and even audio/video recordings of public meetings where land use issues are discussed can be employed during participatory activities to provide that geographic orientation.

Improving spatial orientation by integrating GIT into the participatory activities of community planning is not a trivial task. Indeed, the design of a participation process must address both the planning issues and the characteristics of the local decision environment. As the participation process must be designed to meet local needs, the GITs employed to spatially empower citizens must be appropriate to the decision environment.

The characteristics of the decision environment can vary significantly and there has been extensive discussion on their definition, evaluation, and the use of GIS for decision support (see the Initiative - 17 Report, NCGIA 1995). For the purposes of this discussion I consider three concepts: the level of decision support and analysis (group setting / individual consideration); the complexity of the planning/computer application (simple or complex); and the effort needed to enhance spatial understanding, or cognition of the planning space (communication of data or information vs. knowledge or intelligence). If these concepts characterize the decision environment, then the effectiveness of GITs to address them might indicate their ability to spatially empower participants. This paper considers the notion of "spatial empowerment" as a design factor for employment of geographic information technologies with traditional public participation techniques. A framework to evaluate the potential of GIT to empower participation is presented for consideration. I conclude with a discussion of one community’s evolving use of GIS to support its participatory processes; and identify several research questions that arise from the use of GIT in the community planning process.

Community Planning and Public Participation

If the ultimate success of a plan is dependent upon public support, then the overall goal of a public participation program should be to construct the "civic infrastructure" needed to sustain that support over time (Moore and Davis 1997). Development of that infrastructure starts in the initial stages of the planning process with preparation of a public participation plan. Anderson (1995) identifies two approaches to developing such a plan. The first relies upon planners to prepare a plan, and to "run it by" a group of citizens to get their reactions. He characterizes this approach as "technocratic" and not likely to receive much public support. The second approach utilizes planners to meet with citizens, develop their goals, and record their ideas. This approach often results in vague notions that are unsatisfactory, or conflicting ideas that prevent a reasonable consensus. For Anderson, neither approach is acceptable; he proposes a participation plan that avoids the weaknesses of these approaches, and satisfies the following conditions (Anderson 1995 36):

1. stimulates local people to come up with good, workable ideas;
2. develops a broad consensus; and
3. uses to good advantage the professional skills of the local planning staff or consultants.
Assuming that most planning programs endeavor to make efficient use of professional staff, my focus will be on the first two conditions.

Dandekar suggests that involvement of the public to stimulate good ideas and build a consensus amongst a diverse community requires three modes of communication: presentation of information to the public; receipt of information from the public; and exchange of ideas and opinions that build upon shared information as the ideas evolve (Dandekar 1982 131). This last mode constitutes the discourse that results in the formation of public knowledge and intelligence that is critical to plan formation. Many techniques exist to accommodate the exchange of information through public participation. Moore and Davis provide a recent consideration of public participation techniques and describe their application to land use planning (Moore and Davis 1997). All of these techniques provide opportunities to spatially empower citizen involvement through the use of GIT. To facilitate this discussion the techniques are presented in increasing order of their complexity as a function of staff preparation and involvement, and their application to groups or individual utilization.

  1. Media Campaigns - Successful media campaigns can be used to educate citizens about planning, advertise planning actions and solicit involvement in planning participation activities. Using the media to convey information about planning activities is not new. The use of multimedia and automated cartography to enhance information delivery through traditional media such as television, radio, and print is becoming common.
  2. Guided Tours - Guided tours are pre-established tours through a chosen environment, that acquaints participants with existing conditions and potential enhancements of an area. The purpose of a guided tour is to bring together a diverse group of people to increase their awareness of a project area. Route maps and photographs of points of interest are frequently used to support tours.
  3. Facilitated Meetings and Groups - In facilitated group problem-solving session's representatives of local interest groups, city staff, and other stakeholders participate in an effort to find a mutually acceptable solution. The facilitation involves the participation of a person seen as fair by all parties to help the group engage in constructive problem solving. Planners frequently use digital maps, photographs, and charts to project images and display information at such meetings.
  4. Formal Neighborhood Groups - Meeting with recognized neighborhood or interest groups can provide a way to achieve direct lines of communication between citizen groups and government. Government support for these groups in the form of staff and access to information technology can help citizens reach their own neighbors and communities.
  5. Involving Youth in Planning - If our children are the future, then they should participate in planning. Moore and Davis (1997 40) cite two reasons for involving youth in the planning process: youth are an important constituency and vital contributing community resource; they have fresh ideas about solving planning problems. Structured youth involvement generally occurs in a group setting such as a classroom where students discuss planning issues. The use of GIT should be especially effective with children and young adults who are accustomed to using the internet and multimedia software. Familiarity with these technologies creates a fertile environment to "spatially empower" the next generation of citizens; not only will they use it, they are likely to demand it. This technique is challenging, as it requires modification of other techniques for application to children.
  6. Visioning - Visioning is an exercise that brings citizens and stakeholders together to establish a common vision for the future of their community. The goal of visioning is to derive written statements of a community’s long term goals. Visioning sessions can be combined with a visual preference survey.
  7. Visual Preference Survey - The Visual Preference Survey (VPSTM) was developed by A. Nelessen Associates to enable citizen evaluation of images of the natural and built environment and to allow these participants to express their preferences. The objective is to provide a forum for individuals to vote on their preferences and for the group to arrive at a consensus about the desired character and appearance of their community. The VPSTM can be conducted at meetings or on television.
  8. Design Charettes - A design charette is an intensive collaborative effort that brings together concerned citizens and stakeholders to develop a detailed and finished design plan for a specified area of the community. Charettes involve key players in the project and a design professional to assimilate information into a plan or image to be assessed and modified by all stakeholders. The charette usually lasts from three to seven days with an objective of achieving a consensus on a plan within that time frame. Charettes can utilize digital geographic information and display as a basis for concept and site plans.
  9. Computer Simulation - Computer simulation involves computer modeling and photographic imaging techniques designed to illustrate the potential results of planning, development, and design projects. This technique provides participants with an ability to visualize the outcome of a design or planning action and assess its desirability before implementation. Computer simulation can be effective for modeling community plan alternatives.
  10. Simulation exercises - Simulation exercises involve citizen creation of land use plans by placing "icons" on maps. The "icons" represent a full range of land uses and are intended to be arranged on a base map. This technique enables development of alternative plans for features such as land use and transportation. The results of individual selections are gathered to help form a consensual plan.
Public participation plans seldom focus on one or two of these techniques. Indeed, if the objectives of a participation plan are to be met (Anderson’s conditions), then the participation program must employ a combination of techniques that are appropriate to the community, staff, and budget. Each of these participation techniques provides opportunities to employ GIT to enhance citizen involvement and support a consensual decision environment. Just as these participation techniques have unique characteristics that influence their appropriateness to various decision environments, geographic information technologies also vary. As discussed below, some GITs are better suited to certain participation techniques and their differences should influence their use in a participation plan. Prior to any discussion of their participatory application we consider their characteristics.

Geographic Information Technologies

A review of the literature finds no single definition or description of the information technologies available to convey geographic information. Most electronic visual media are capable of displaying maps, photographs, or other images that identify a location and its attributes. Audio media can be used to convey descriptive geographic information; however, the absence of a visual aspect limits the effectiveness of their delivery. Multimedia, the combination of audio and visual media, creates a powerful technology for delivery of geographic information. An example is Shiffer’s Collaborative Planning System (CPS) which conveys spatial, political, and economic information through the use of animation, sound, graphics, video, and text (Shiffer 1992 714). His implementation of a hypermedia CPS to assist with the environmental review for a military base conversion illustrates the utility of these systems to support many of the participatory techniques described above (Shiffer 1995a).

For this discussion I have provided a description of common geographic information technologies. These technologies are discussed in the order of their technical complexity and ability to effectively manipulate and convey geographic information. Admittedly the availability of Distributed Geographic Information (DGI) on the internet is dependent upon the power and capabilities of a supporting geographical information system (Plewe 1997). As a public participation tool, however, the implementation of DGI may be more complicated. I considered the technical complexity of a DGI application to exceed the technical complexity of most GIS applications. The geographic information technologies considered in this discussion are described below.

  1. Audio Recordings - recorded sounds from public planning and design meetings, or sounds from a specific location within the community.
  2. Visual Recordings - digital video images of locations within the community used at meetings or on television programs to illustrate plan alternatives.
  3. Community (neighborhood) Networking - the use of maps and photos delivered through electronic mail, community bulletin boards, or online meetings to disseminate information about places and plans.
  4. Automated Visualization Techniques (Krygier 1998) - visualization systems that enable processing and display of aerial photography, computer simulation and animation on television, the internet, or in a planning/design meeting.
  5. Collaborative Planning System (Shiffer 1992, 1995a) - interactive planning system employed during meetings, or located at information kiosks in public spaces (library), or in shopping centers. Although the CPS may depend upon GIS software, the intent of the CPS is to provide a "pleasurable engagement" by providing an associative hypermedia environment that limits direct interaction with GIS software.
  6. Geographic Information System (GIS) - Traditional spatial query, analysis and display capability delivered through a system featuring individual or personal access to GIS software that is characteristic of current desktop systems (i.e. ArcInfo, ArcView, MapInfo).
  7. Distributed Geographic Information - The use of internet technologies to provide access to spatial information and GIS on the internet, within organizational intranets, and the world wide web (www).
These categories of GIT are not exhaustive, however they are adequate to enable consideration of their ability to "spatially empower" the public participation techniques described above. As noted above, not every GIT is appropriate for every participation technique. A mass media campaign is unlikely to benefit from the sophisticated capabilities of the GIS, however, automated visualization techniques using maps or graphic narratives (Monmonier 1996) are appropriate for use on television or in the print media. Similarly, one would not expect DGI to be particularly useful during a facilitated meeting.

Spatial empowerment of the public requires utilization of appropriate GIT with the appropriate participation technique. To facilitate consideration of this concept, each participation technique has been arrayed against each GIT as shown in Table 1. The participation techniques are listed from top to bottom in increasing order of their operational complexity and decreasing order of their need for collective discourse in a group environment. Although techniques such as VPS and simulations can be conducted in group settings, each involves personal consideration of information and can be performed individually. The GITs are arrayed from left to right in the order of their characteristics as defined by: their technical complexity; their application to group decision making; and ability to empower citizens by improving their spatial cognition of the planning environment.

Improvement of spatial cognition results from the ability to acquire information and convert it into knowledge and intelligence. Based upon my limited experiences, and using Anderson's conditions as a guide, I have assessed the application of each GIT to spatially empower each participation technique. The darker symbols indicate stronger applications of the GIT for supporting the corresponding participation technique. Admittedly the criteria and my assessments are subjective and may be disputed; indeed a goal of this paper is to initiate consideration of the appropriate uses of GIT with respect to common planning participation techniques. The optimal criteria to use for this assessment should be the subject of research based upon case studies of several applications.


Table 1

Application of Geographic Information Technologies to Public Participation Techniques


 
Complexity:
Simple
------------------------------------------------->Complex
   Technology
   Characteristics
Decision Support:
Group Oriented
------------------------------------------------->Individually Oriented 
Spatial Cognition:
Limited (data/information)
------------------------------------------------->Significant (knowledge/intelligence)

 
 
Geographic Information Technologies
Public
Participation Techniques
Audio Recording Visual
Recording
Community
Network
Automated
Visualization
Collaborative
Planning System
Geographic
Information
System
Distributed
Geographic
Information
Media Campaign

1

 l
l
¥
l
¡
¡
¥
Guided Tours

2

 ¥
¥
¡
¡
N
¡
¡
Facilitated Meeting

3

l
l
¡
l
¥
¡
N
Neighborhood Groups

4

l
l
l
l
l
¥
¡
Youth Involvement

5

l
l
¥
l
¥
¥
¥
Visioning

6

¥
¡
¥
¥
¡
¡
N
Visual Preference Survey

7

¡
¥
¡
l
¥
¡
¥
Design Charette

8

 ¡
l
¡
l
¥
¡
N
Computer Simulation

9

¡
l
l
l
l
¥
¥
Simulation Exercise

10

¡
¡
¡
l
l
l
¥

Key: N - No Application ¡ - Limited Application ¥ - Moderate Application l - Strong Application


We can generally conclude from the pattern of symbols in Table 1 that simpler participation techniques can be spatially empowered through simple GIT, i.e. one doesn’t need sophisticated GIT to enhance citizens’ basic understanding of planning data and information. Further, the use of more complex technologies (CPS, GIS, DGI) appears to be more appropriate for sophisticated and individually oriented techniques such as charettes and simulation exercises where citizens must process information into knowledge and intelligence. Manual geographic information technologies, i.e. maps, charts, and photographs have always been useful communication devices in the planning process. This is verified by the strong applicability of automated visualization for nearly every participation technique. The table suggests that some form of GIT can be usefully applied to support public participation as defined by Anderson’s first condition: "stimulating local people to come up with good, workable ideas" (Anderson 1995 36). The Table also suggests that individually based technologies are better suited to individually oriented techniques while group oriented forms of GIT, found at the left side of the table, are better suited to support group oriented participation techniques.

To facilitate design of a participation plan a definitive consideration of GIT characteristics and applications can be accommodated through simple quantification of the relationships illustrated in Table 1. By assigning a value of 0 - 3 (0 = no application, 3 = strong application) to each of the symbols in the table and then summing the rows and columns, an index of spatial empowerment can be derived for each technique and technology. The results of this conversion are given in Tables 2 and 3 below. The values shown are scaled to a base of 10 and rounded to the nearest whole number. The indices given in Tables 2 and 3 indicate the ability of each participation technique to be "spatially empowered" through the collective use of GIT and the relative strength of each GIT to empower all of the participation techniques.


Table 2

Spatial Empowerment Index for Public Participation Techniques


Media Campaign
Guided Tours
Facilitated Meeting
Neighborhood Groups
Youth Involvement
 Visioning
VPS
Design Charette
Computer Simulation
Simulation Exercises
7
4
6
9
8
3
6
5
8
7

Note: Illustrates the cumulative ability of all GITs to empower each participation technique


Table 3

Spatial Empowerment Index for Geographic Information Technologies


Audio Recording
Visual Recording
Community Network
Automated Visualization
Collaborative Planning System
Geographic Information System
Distributed Geographic Information
7
8
6
9
6
5
4

Note: Illustrates the cumulative ability of each GIT to empower all the of the participation techniques.


Examination of these tables reveals several conclusions about the ability of GIT to empower a public participation program that meets Anderson’s conditions.

  1. With the exception of guided tours and visioning, GIT can provide moderate to strong spatial empowerment of traditional participation techniques.
  2. As shown in Table 3 higher levels of spatial cognition can be attained without the use of complex technology. Conversely simpler technologies appear to be effective in most group-oriented techniques.
  3. These factors could be useful in the design of a participation plan. As an example, employment of the participation techniques where GIT appears strongest (neighborhood groups, youth involvement, and computer simulation) could form an effective program that provides a wide range of spatial empowerment and depends upon simple to moderate technology that can be applied to a variety of decision support settings.
  4. The use of more complex individually oriented technologies such as GIS and DGI appear to have limited ability to facilitate Anderson’s second condition. The moderate to low indices for applications of GIS and DGI used with collaborative techniques suggests that their use as public participation tools may be limited to small group interactions or individual participation at information kiosks or the www. This analysis does not suggest that these technologies cannot enable public participation, only that their use may be limited in a collaborative effort.
  5. Certainly factors such as budget, available technology, community characteristics, and others should be considered for incorporation into such an index.
Anderson’s conditions suggest that a public participation plan should be capable of supporting inquiry for individual concerns, as well as group, or collaborative planning activities. Based on the derivation of the empowerment indices, the participation techniques described above can accommodate a variety of decision environments; however, GITs have varying capability of empowering both individual and collaborative activities. In particular, DGI presents flexibility as an application for individual and collaborative use. As an application on the www a DGI is likely to be oriented to individual users. Conversely, a consensus could be achieved through the widespread dissemination of information responses to an organizational intranet or a virtual community on the www.

While the potential of the internet as a tool of democratic participation appears promising, that promise is overshadowed by questions about its ability to support a collaborative decision environment characteristic of community planning. Shiffer (1995b and 1996) and Krygier (1998) both speculate upon the utility of a site on the www to disseminate community information and enable public comment and feedback. Plewe (1997) discusses the technical issues associated with DGI. Shiffer (1996) and other participants at the Initiative-19 Meeting (NCGIA 1996) have commented on the social issues and marginalization related to the use of DGI as a participatory tool. Further, as a media to enable the exercise of democratic participation, Davis and Owen (1998 110-130) consider the political implications of the internet as "the final act toward democracy", and arrive at similar conclusions.

Based upon the subjective analysis above the derivation of an empowerment index to support the design of participation planning could benefit from actual data and experiences. Shiffer proposes three areas of research into the use of information technology (this includes GIT) to support community planning activities: "the representation and use of the technology; the institutional mechanisms and techniques necessary to sustain its implementation; and issues of access to the IT tools that might be employed." (Shiffer 1996 7). He notes that current (1996) evidence about IT and its impact on communities is "loose and anecdotal." He concludes that this results from the relatively recent consideration of the topic and absence of longitudinal studies. Longitudinal studies of IT applications offer several advantages, most significantly the trust and comfort engendered by participants familiarity with the tools, processes, and persons involved. Shiffer’s call for longitudinal, participant observer, studies of GIT application are echoed throughout the NCGIA Initiative-19 Report, "GIS and Society" (NCGIA 1996: Couclelis D-13, Chrisman D-9, Monmonier D-51, Obermeyer D-52, and Openshaw D-57).

Public Participation GIS Experiences

Shiffer’s call for research with GIT is timely. As information technology advances, there are corresponding public expectations for its application to participatory activities. As an example, in 1997 the Town of Amherst, New York sponsored a series of "summit meetings" designed to elicit input from residents about the Town and its operations. At every meeting residents inquired about the Town’s efforts to develop a presence on the internet and provide access to information about land development and other issues associated with zoning and planning activities. Amherst has a home page on the www, and based upon comments by residents attending the summits they expect the Town to use many of the information technologies described above.

Such demands are to be expected, as Amherst’s residents are becoming increasingly aware of the power of GIS through its use on several Town Projects. In most cases the Town’s use of GIS has been limited to analog and digital maps employed during public meetings to spatially orient residents and to improve their ability to participate in planning and policy decisions. Three recent examples from Amherst demonstrate how planning processes have been empowered through simple applications of GIT. The participation technique used most often is the facilitated meeting, however, each example involves conveyance of different levels of information (data, information, knowledge and intelligence) resulting in increasing levels of spatial empowerment and discourse among citizens and officials.

Amherst’s zoning ordinance requires notification of pending zoning and planning actions for all property owners within 500 feet of the subject property. In the past, the Town distributed post cards identifying the affected property address, a description of the pending action, and the schedule for an upcoming meeting where the issue was to be discussed. When residents attended these meetings their first comments were usually: "where is this parcel located and how does it affect my property". This resulted in countless minutes spent orienting residents; such discourse has limited impact on the decision. Through a GIS application the Town has automated the notification process, and can send maps to residents that show the affected parcel and all parcels located within the 500-foot notification area. When this information is provided it is expected that the public comments will become more salient to the land use issue and less concerned with orientation. These maps will improve residents’ understanding of the planning issue but provide little information about its impacts on their property. The use of these maps could increase citizen participation, but will not necessarily improve citizens’ spatial cognition of the issue and its impacts.

The second example involves the use of GIT to help citizens participate in park planning efforts. The Town recently acquired nearly 1,200 acres of land interspersed with protected wetlands and heavily wooded areas. Public participation was a key element in forming the design and subsequent development of the park. Using its GIS, the Town conducted a suitability analysis to help locate walking paths and rest points. Town staff and citizens used maps and information resulting from these analyses to identify routes for the paths and locations for rest areas and observation points. Many of the participants have subsequently formed work groups to help clean up the park and clear brush to establish the walking paths. This example illustrates how citizens were able to use maps from the suitability analyses to assist with park planning, and subsequently involve themselves in its development. As the park development continues opportunities to use more complex participation techniques will arise. The use of GIT to empower citizen participation beyond attendance at meetings was a success. According to the empowerment indices this success might be sustained through the use of other participation techniques such as visual preference surveys or charettes that employ visualization technologies to enable design of other activity areas.

The third example illustrates how GIT was used to elicit spatial information from residents to conduct an analysis of property damage resulting from the presence of white-tailed deer within suburban subdivisions. The development of new subdivisions in former deer habitat has resulted in severe property damage to landscaping and increasing numbers of deer-car collisions. To help define the spatial extent of this problem, the Town held several meetings asking residents to indicate the locations of properties where deer damage was experienced on a map. When these areas were combined with information on deer-car collisions, both Town officials and residents had a clearer understanding of the extent of the problem. The resulting knowledge helped identify areas where the application of deer management practices would be most effective, and helped residents gain a better understanding of the extent of the problem, and the need for a comprehensive management program. This example illustrates the power of using GITs with simple participation techniques to develop the knowledge and intelligence necessary to support policy decisions. The Town has initiated an environmental study to evaluate deer management practices. This is a divisive issue; there is intense disagreement over methods to manage the deer population. Such a decision environment requires careful design of a participation program that assures equitable access to GIT and engenders trust in the participation process.

All of these applications featured Town officials using GIS during facilitated meetings or with neighborhood groups. In each case the participants were "spatially empowered" by the data and information provided by the GIS and enabled them to assist the Town in forming policies and making decisions. These examples demonstrate an evolving use of GIS to involve citizens in planning and policy decisions. The use of GIT in these examples is limited; in fact all feature simple applications with group oriented environments. While each successive example involved increasing spatial cognition on the part of citizens, none employed participant use of sophisticated geographic information technologies; none measured their effectiveness to enhance participation; and none involved detailed design of a participation plan.

Amherst may soon have an opportunity to design a participation plan that would help to validate the notion of spatial empowerment and its ability to enhance participation. When participants at the summit meetings were asked to identify challenges facing the community, over forty percent identified controlling growth and preparation of a new comprehensive plan among the most important issues. The impetus for preparing a new community plan can be varied but it almost always results from concern or dissatisfaction with the physical development of the community. Amherst is poised to prepare a new comprehensive development plan and its formulation provides an excellent opportunity to design a participation plan that features the use of several GITs. The comprehensive planning program can also facilitate the longitudinal research necessary to test the validity of the empowerment indices, and more complete consideration of the technical, social, and political factors that comprise the decision environment.

Speculation on the Use of GIT in Amherst

Amherst is similar to many communities where the use of GIT is relatively new. Town officials, staff, and citizens are inexperienced with many of these technologies and their use for participation will change the their approach to planning. Most Town officials and citizens are unaccustomed to communicating through electronic means and therefore may be reluctant and skeptical of its use. Successful citizen use of complex individually oriented GIT (GIS, DGI) will depend upon their ability to comprehend spatial relationships and geographic aggregation/disaggregation. Consideration of alternative land use alternatives will challenge the ability of many persons to select and model meaningful scenarios for evaluation. Alternatively, most participants are likely to be capable of viewing photographs and expressing visual preferences. The use of digital photos and simulation techniques to model new zoning requirements and design guidelines could be very successful in planning for neighborhoods and activity centers. Perhaps the use of simpler GIT can help construct the cognition required for such techniques.

As access to information and participation increases with the use of GIT the volume of citizen comments will also increase. A hypermedia application available on the www is potentially accessible to users anywhere. From a practical and political perspective, comments received from sources outside of the Town are unlikely to have the same influence on politicians as input from within. Citizens that do participate will demand responses to their input. Planners must be prepared to handle large volumes of input and provide meaningful interpretations of their messages and realistic assessments of their value. Decision-makers must also assess the value of information gained from untrained and naive GIT users and weigh the political consequences of its dismissal. Their spatial cognition will be important design considerations. Further, what accountability does "spatial empowerment" of the public bring for public officials and decision-makers?

Clearly the design of a participation program requires consideration of the technical, social, and political implications of employing GIT. Practical issues such as these can be explored through the following questions.

In the absence of longitudinal case studies that document the use of GIT in planning processes, responses to these questions are difficult. In addition to the practical questions posed above, this paper also raises several question related to the benefits of GIT, their measurement, and the influence of spatial empowerment in the planning process. Among these questions are: Planners can employ many techniques to "INVOLVE" citizens in the planning process, however, involvement alone may be inadequate. The potential for geographical information technologies to empower the participation processes of community planning appears promising; however, spatially empowering these participatory activities is not a trivial task. As the participation process must be designed to meet local needs, the GITs employed to spatially empower citizens must be appropriate to the decision environment. I submit that public participation plans that empower citizens by improving their spatial cognition will help construct the "civic Infrastructure" needed to sustain community plans over time.

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