Thematic Chronology of Aerial Photography and its Influence on Planning
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Thematic Chronology of Aerial Photography and its Influence on Planning






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    Thematic Chronology of Aerial Photography and its Influence on Planning Thematic Chronology of Aerial Photography and its Influence on Planning Document Transcript

    • Nathan Robinson RP651-Dr. Mark Hamin Thematic Chronology Aerial Photography: Its Influence and Application to Planning
    • Robinson 1 Introduction Since its development in the late 19th century,     aerial photography has had a dramatic effect     on urban and regional planning by offering     new perspectives on the built and natural     environment. Aerial photography, through its     interpretation and influence, has changed the     way planners think about and solve problems     by vastly increasing the amount of     information readily available to decision-     makers. This paper will explore the most   First  Aerial  Photograph  Taken  in  the   influential aspects of aerial photography to the United  State,  Overlooking  Boston  to  the   east,  James  Wallace  Black   field of planning from the early 20th century to     present times.     Early Applications of Aerial Photography       Although the first aerial photographs were taken from balloons in the mid to late 19th     century, it was not until World War I, and the stability and predictability offered by the     aircraft that aerial photographs began to significantly impact the field of planning     (Newhall 49, Light 126). In building upon the military technology that were utilized in     WWI for aerial reconnaissance and mapping, private firms began to market aerial   photographic surveys to states and municipalities as a tool to properly assess land for taxing, delineate zoning districts and plan in the regional context (Light 126-127). These
    • Robinson 2 aerial surveys and accompanying “mosaic maps”, not only provided enhanced information, they were also much more efficient use of time and money resources than ground surveys. Systems Planning Following the First World War, the United States government made massive investments in aerial photography and its interpretation for military reconnaissance and intelligence. The availability of funding helped spurn growth in academic research in aerial photography and photointerpretation (Light 99). The result was higher-quality photos, improved mapping capacity and interpretation advancements that were utilized in World War II (Branch 4). In the aftermath of WWII the transfer of technology from military to civilian applications had significant influence on planning. Melville C. Branch, in his book City Planning and Aerial Information, referenced advanced interpretive techniques, that when applied to the analysis of urban infrastructure from aerial photographs, could be used to glean information regarding social and neighborhood characteristics and population dynamic within certain areas of the urban environment. Branch felt the availability of this information would be essential to the inventory and analysis of the urban environment and could be used to shift the planning paradigm away from the “emotionally idealistic, unimpressive…attitude of evangelisms” that he claims characterized the 50 years of planning in the United States before World War II, and towards “quantification, management, the behavioral sciences, and scientific method. (Branch 12, 99).”
    • Robinson 3 In the early 1950’s and 60’s, academics within the planning field followed Branch’s lead as research in advanced aerial photointerpretation led to housing studies that related lot size, density and street condition to socio-economic status. In the 1950’s and 60’s aerial photographs of Boston and Philadelphia were used to help city planners identify urban blight and focus potential redevelopment projects (Light 128). The 1960’s and 1970’s are widely regarded as the era of system planning, where urban problems could be deconstructed into component parts (transportation, land use) to increase the efficiency of the system (Taylor 64). This “top-down” approach to planning was influenced by the available technology and information of the era. There is not doubt that the “top-down” perspective of aerial photography was instrumental in supplying much of the information that led to the systems planning “top-down” methodology. Early Geographic Information Systems   In 1962 landscape architect Ian McHarg provided the     intellectual spark for the Geographic Information System     when he used the overlay method to display different     layers of the landscape. He is solution was born from the     nature of a planning problem, the location of a highway     through an ecologically sensitive area (Schuurman 5). In     the late 1960’s the New York State Office of Planning   McHarg,  In  Design  with   Coordination contracted with Cornell University’s Center Nature   for Aerial Photographic Research to conduct an aerial survey of the state that would be combined with ground surveys to develop the first
    • Robinson 4 Geographic Information System (GIS), known as LUNR (Land Use and Natural Resources Inventory) (Light, 138-139). While the computer technology at the time was nowhere near advanced enough to incorporate the aerial photographs into the system, the researchers from Cornell teamed up with Harvard Graphics Laboratory to create thematic maps that showed the spatial relationships between physical and socio-economic information (Light, 141). The land use information that was collected from the thematic maps was synthesized into a data format that could be incorporated into Harvard’s computerized overlay data (Schuurman 5). While these events only scratch the surface in the historical development of GIS, they highlight two if its modern foundations, the use of layering spatial information to a fixed location in a computerized database. This early application of GIS would serve as the framework for the modern technology that planners use today. Modern GIS The rapid development of computer technology in the last 15 years, from processing power and storage capacity, to the information era in the age of the internet has been instrumental in the development of commercially viable GIS software available to planners. The technological achievements have led to astonishing advancements, allowing those with the software the ability to manipulate and analyze spatial, environmental, economic, demographic and visual data like never before (Schurrman, 5). For planners, information access has been advanced by federal, state, and regional programs designed to develop data that can be integrated into GIS. In 1999 legislation
    • Robinson 5 was passed in Massachusetts creating the Office of Geographic and Environmental Information, which was mandated to create a state GIS for the development and distribution of “geographic and environmental information in order to improve stewardship of natural resources and the environment, promote economic development and guide land-use planning, risk assessment, emergency response and pollution control (” It is clear from the enabling legislation that the expectations for the application and capacity of GIS as a problem-solving tool are vast. Web Access and User Generated Mapping While modern GIS software increased access to spatial data for planners, the barriers to entry, through cost and ease of use, makes the software inaccessible for the majority of public citizens. This is beginning to change however with access to software programs like Google Earth and web platforms like Google Maps and Wikimapia that allow any citizen with a computer to access spatial and other data at the local and global scale. What is most exciting and interesting about these platforms is that they encourage, and increasingly, are dependent upon, user and community based content (Helft). A recent article in the New York Times highlighted the importance of user generated mapping technology, noting that Google Maps no longer uses professional cartography services in the development of it maps, as it finds user generated content and updates through GPS devices to be more accurate and dynamic (Helft). The implications of GPS technology and online mapping for the field of planning are vast. It is easy to imagine that a community could enlist its citizens to use GPS devices to map issues related to planning throughout the community. This medium of
    • Robinson 6 communication, providing barriers to technology were overcome, could vastly increase the participatory influence of planning in practice. Citizens would no longer have to spend hours at public hearings waiting for their voices to be heard, grassroots planning efforts could take the form of interactive maps highlighting a community’s most treasured assets and resources, as well as its biggest concerns. Aerial Images in the Illustrative Context While much of this paper has discussed the use of aerial imaging as a tool to create and disseminate information, it is important to note that aerial photography is also an amazing illustrative tool that helps professionals, but more importantly the public, understand historic settlement patterns, how they have changed over time and the impact on both the natural and cultural landscape. In their book Above and Beyond, Campoli et al use aerial photographs to paint a vivid picture of how development patterns and differing land use regulations Above  and  Beyond,  Temporal  Change   lead to significantly different manifestations of the built environment with various implications for cultural and natural landscapes.
    • Robinson 7 Conclusion Aerial photography has had an enormous influence on urban and regional planning by allowing insights, perspectives and interpretations into the built and natural environment that have ultimately served as an illustrative, and diagnostic tool for the field. This is evident on several levels, from growth of systems planning that evolved from early interpretations of aerial photographs of urban areas, to simple visual representations of the landscape from above. The wealth of information available from aerial photographs played an instrumental role in the development of Geographic Information Systems, and the integration of accessible, user-friendly web based mapping platforms with GPS technology has the potential to change the way planners and communities identify and deal with problems.
    • Work Cited Branch, Melville C. City Planning and Aerial Information. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1971. Print. Campoli, Julie, Elizabeth Humstone, and Alex Maclean. Above and Beyond. Washington, D.C.: Planners, 2002. Print. Helft, Miguel. "Online Maps: Everyman Offers New Directions." THe New York Times. 16 Nov. 2009. Web. 30 Nov. 2009. < Light, Jennifer S. From Warfare to Welfare: Defense Intellectuals and Urban Problems in Cold War America. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 2003. Print. "MassGIS Legislative Mandate." MassGIS. State of Massachusetts. Web. <>. Newhall, Beaumont. Airborne Camera: The World From the Air and Outer Space. New York: Hastings House, 1969. Print. Schuurman, Nadine. GIS: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell. Print. Taylor, Nigel. Urban Planning Theory Since 1945. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2004. Print.