Friday, March 21, 2008

How to Improve Poverty-Stricken Areas Using Geospatial Technology

Architects and urban designers Rosario Giusti de Pérez and Ramón A. Pérez spent years working on projects to revitalize barrios in their home country of Venezuela. In Analyzing Urban Poverty: GIS for the Developing World, their new book from ESRI Press, they explain how people can use geographic information system (GIS) technology to identify and manage ways of improving the quality of life in poor urban areas.

The Pérezes began using ESRI's GIS software in 1976 to help analyze a proposal to build a town for coal workers in the Guasare-Socuy river valley in Venezuela. Today, they advocate that city planners, urban designers, and others working to improve living conditions in impoverished areas of the world use the technology to manage, analyze, and visualize data related to their projects.

"We have found GIS to be the best tool to help improve the overwhelming problem of urban poverty," the authors wrote.

Squatter settlements are often dilapidated and packed with people and lack enough land to accommodate modern systems for electricity, running water, and sewers. To maximize improvements to the target neighborhood, the Pérezes urge integrating GIS into planning and design when studying the area, then drafting the proposed improvements.

The authors describe their methodology using real scenarios, illustrations, and design ideas to show how GIS can help transform poor neighborhoods into more modern, livable communities. The book explains how users can

# Conduct the site analysis of the land and settlement, taking into account such factors as soil, slope, and drainage patterns.

# Analyze the built environment to understand social subdivisions and inhabitants' referential elements.

# Measure and map levels of poverty to establish priorities and assign resources.

# Study how residents use their space such as how they cope with the lack of sidewalks or streets.

# Build "what if" scenarios, including 3D models of the urban space, that show what the neighborhood would look like after changes take place such as a new location for a public transportation network.

# Decide where to place needed improvements such as roads, sewers, bus stops, sidewalks, and hand railings.

# Manage improvement projects to adhere to regulations set by national and local governments.

# Keep residents informed about the project by producing maps showing the location of proposed upgrades.

To make up for the common lack of official data about squatter settlements, the Pérezes suggest surveying people in the community for the information. They also caution that tearing down settlements and moving residents into high-rise buildings often fails because it devalues what the community has already built.

"In developing countries, the real use of GIS is to identify the absent or scarce social needs and locate them in the best available space," said the authors. "We need to apply the technology not just for estimating what proportion of public space is needed but also for sensing elements that are absent."

Rosario Giusti de Pérez received her master's degree in architecture from Zulia University in Venezuela and her master's degree in urban design at the University of Pennsylvania. She was a professor of architecture at Zulia University for 23 years. All of her urban designs have won national competitions. She is the director of ESRI Venezuela and lives in Maracaibo.

Ramón Pérez received his master's degree in architecture from the University of Los Andes in Mérida, Venezuela, and his master's degree in urban design from the University of Pennsylvania. He was the Director of the Instituto de Investigaciones de Arquitectura y Sistemas Ambientales (ISA) at Zulia University for five years. He has consulted on GIS projects throughout Central and South America. He is the president of ESRI Venezuela and lives in Maracaibo.

Analyzing Urban Poverty: GIS for the Developing World (ISBN 978-1-58948-151-0), 125 pages, $29.95) is available at online retailers worldwide, at, or by calling 1-800-447-9778. Outside the United States, contact your local ESRI distributor. Visit for a current distributor list. Interested retailers can contact ESRI Press book distributor Ingram Publisher Services.


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