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GIS in Planning: Examining the Development of Urbanized Areas Over Time

By Justin Sorensen

GIS (Geospatial Information Systems) are utilized by many fields and industries throughout the world. To highlight some of these fields, our Map Monday releases for the 2018 Fall Semester will provide examples of ways GIS can be employed within the work performed by such professionals.

For this map release, we will look at an example of GIS in Planning.

Examining the Development of Urbanized Areas Over Time

Individuals within the planning profession often utilize GIS to answer spatial questions and to make long-term decisions impacting communities and surrounding areas. One geospatial process that can be employed allows planners to examine and visualize the changes and complexity of an evolving city system over time. To demonstrate this process, this map depicts changes to the structural layout of a select area of downtown Salt Lake City, Utah by visualizing the footprints of 1950 buildings based on historic Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps while comparing them through a modern-day satellite image overlay.

When developing an example such as this, several geospatial processes are employed to depict the features being visualized within the map. These geospatial processes include:

  • Georeferencing: the process of defining and aligning a scanned map or image within a digital environment.
  • Digitization: the process of converting geospatial data within a scanned map or image by digitally tracing and creating features found within.
  • Raster to Polygon Transformations: a tool used to convert raster data or images into interactive polygon features or datasets.
  • Swipe Comparison: a tool used to interactively reveal or compare one dataset overlaid by another.

Interested in learning more about the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps utilized in developing this map and their valuable resource for visualizing past city layouts and construction? Check out our online subject guide to access this amazing collection available through the J. Willard Marriott Library.

Interested in additional examples of GIS in Planning? Check out these past map releases:

About Map Monday from GIS Services:

Throughout the semester, GIS Services will release bi-weekly maps on a variety of topics, demonstrating ideas and uses for incorporating geospatial technology into research and projects you are developing. To view our collection of maps, projects, or to learn more about the geospatial services offered through the J. Willard Marriott Library, please visit the GIS Services website @

Happy Mapping!

Justin Sorensen | GIS Specialist
Creativity & Innovation Services / GIS Services

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