Home Articles Directions for GIS in Urban Planning

Directions for GIS in Urban Planning

Vivek N Patkar
Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority
Bandra-Kurla Complex, Bandra East, Mumbai, India
[email protected]

Land-use planning for towns and cities in India is governed by the Town Planning Act enacted by respective States. Preparation of existing land-use map, projecting future population and economic activities and accordingly prescribing the zoning pattern, transport infrastructure and reservations for public facilities and amenities along with specifications of Development Control Regulations are the essential elements of this planning process. Master Plan or Development Plan is the term used to denote the end product that governs the future development of an urban area. Preparation of a Town Planning (TP) Scheme for a specific micro area in the given city is another dimension of urban planning.

Manual survey to prepare the existing land-use map has been the traditional way. This very first step in formulating the Plan takes considerable time and efforts, particularly, for metropolitan cities and large towns. In the late 1980s, however, thanks to the advent of Geographic Information System (GIS) technology and Remote Sensing technology, the process of urban planning in India received a new impetus. Capturing the spatial details by remote sensing, either by satellite imageries or aerial photographs and organising that data together with corresponding attribute data under a GIS offered tremendous ease in undertaking some of the urban planning activities outlined above. Several such applications for a variety of towns and cities are available. This is seen from the documented planning exercises for Mumbai Metropolitan Region [2], National Capital Region [9], Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority Area [8], Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation [4] and Mirzapur [3].

This paper advocates the strengthening and promoting the use of GIS in urban planning by overcoming the observed barriers and initiating new activities to improve the urban scene in the country.

Standardisation of GIS Application
On the basis of the experience in the use of GIS and remote sensing in urban planning the following basic activities are recommended for wider adoption:

  • Preparation of existing land-use map.
  • Study of urban sprawl over a given time period to understand the underlying driving forces.
  • Assessment of land use conversion in different parts to help understanding of the impact of the policies pursued.
  • Land suitability analysis based on physical, environmental and accessibility parameters to guide the selection process for opening the land for urban development.
  • Accessibility analysis for proposed major development project like airport, growth centre and stadium.
  • Evaluation of public suggestions and objections on the draft planning proposals.
  • Publication of maps at various scales with relevant details.

Besides the above listed primary tasks there are many other planning tasks that can be gainfully carried out using GIS. Examining net density (density computed as ratio of population and developable area) in different parts for rational allocation of resources, implementation of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) guidelines and reviewing the development status of reservations are some examples [6, 7].
Observed Constraints
A review of the attempts made for introducing GIS based urban planning practices brings forth a set of problems common across our planning organisations. They are highlighted below.


  • Lack of appropriate base maps necessary for micro-level and utility planning.
  • Difficulty in correlating remote sensing data with corresponding cadastre information.
  • Limitation on availability and digitisation of certain data products.


  • Inadequate funds to acquire and upgrade periodically the hardware and software.
  • Absence of provision for repair and maintenance service due to which upkeep of hardware suffers.
  • Inability to procure digital data products and carry out surveys for collection of attribute data.


  • Absence of a dedicated team that would continue for a reasonable period to establish GIS database.
  • Tendency to hold on to information due to which GIS database creation cost is not shared.
  • Lack of support to young GIS professionals by the peers who feel threatened.
  • Rigidity in work culture not encouraging experimentation that is so vital for GIS implementation.

Most of these problems have their origins in the fact that urban planning falls under the public sector namely; State Government and Urban Local Bodies whose limited financial resources and capacity to innovate do not help the cause of the GIS. However, of late, various schemes of the Government of India, promotion of public-private sector joint ventures and interest shown by many international agencies for collaboration in the field of geo-informatics are bringing about some change in the situation. Since the problems are identified it would not be imposible to overcome them, especially since the power of GIS and remote sensing in the field of urban planning is well recognised.

Looking Further
Development Plan or Master Plan for a given area is prepared for 15-20 year period. Its review is usually made after say, 5 or 10 years after the sanction. Obviously, plan preparation or its revision is not a frequent exercise. Nevertheless, the database organised under GIS can prove useful for many allied urban planning and management activities as outlined below.

Infrastructure planning
Land-use plan identifies roads in different categories (e.g. arterial, major, highway etc.) that are to be developed over the plan period. Next stage is to implement those proposals. Quite a few of the existing roads in the urban areas thus need widening. For all such road network expansion work, land acquisition becomes critical. Ownership database under the GIS would prove very handy in such matters. Moreover, use of innovative measures like Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) and Accommodation Reservation (AR) for development of road and other reservations can be evaluated in both visual and analytical terms by the standard GIS utilities such as buffer generation, overlaying and clipping,

Planning for utilities like water supply, sewerage and storm water drain within the framework of Development Plan is an equally important task. Augmentation of their capacities in relation to the projected population and economic activities in different urban pockets is a major responsibility of the urban local body. This gives rise to design challenge that can be adequately addressed by GIS functions. Some of these provisions are made by other specialized agencies like water supply and sewerage Board and sharing of GIS database by various departments of a local body or with different agencies can therefore prove economical.

Solid waste management in urban areas is emerging as a major issue. Identifying new dumping sites, evaluating the residual potential of the existing sites, formulation of waste collection and transportation strategies are some of the critical components of this task and GIS can substantially assist in these activities [5].

Planning Disaster Mitigation Measures
Natural disasters like earthquake, flood and fire and now man-made disasters like building collapse due to faulty design and use of sub-standard material and terrorist attack can paralyse the city life and economy to a large extent. Contingency planning is necessary to meet such likely disasters. Appropriate spatial database showing the historic monuments, transport terminals, office complexes and other important places and transport network in their vicinity can help identifying the escape routes and rushing the relief measures by network analysis utilities normally available in a standard GIS software package.

Urban Renewal Planning
Presence of a large chunk of land under obsolete use is a common feature in big towns and cities in India. Closing down of medium and large manufacturing units, textile mills and market yards are such examples. GIS would facilitate assessment of redevelopment plans for such areas keeping in view their citywide impact. In particular, planning the landscape and visualising the effects of regeneration proposals would be simplified.

Planning of Urban Services
Spread of computer and the use of the Internet are expected to increase in future in our urban areas. Posting of planning information on suitable web site by the urban local bodies would therefore become essential. Access to modern and responsive service will be the demand of the urban residents in future.

This can be initiated say by posting of Development Plan, first at the draft stage and then after its sanction at a web site to facilitate wider dissemination of information and public participation. On-line availability of planning proposal details at survey number level would be a great service for all those concerned. Its scope could be extended to issue on-line zone confirmation certificate. Wandsworth Council in the United Kingdom offers such services under its Pathfinder Project, for instance. (Visit www.wandswoth.gov.uk/pathfinder/ for details). To drive all these applications GIS processed database would be at the core. However, such graphics-heavy web-enabled GIS applications, generally suffer from slow retrieval rate. To devise suitable schemes in this regard is one challenging task and to incorporate local language query system module for those applications is another need.

Interfacing with Expert Systems:
Scrutiny of development proposals under the Development Control Regulations forms one more aspect of urban planning. Automation of this time consuming process is extremely desirable. This can be attempted by constructing a suitable Expert System i.e. a product of advanced researches in the computer field called Artificial Intelligence. Proposed Expert System will have GIS database engine storing spatial and attribute data and Inference Engine drawing upon the Development Control Regulations with suitable user-friendly front end tool to examine the proposal and produce remarks on the basis of logical interpretation of the rules and regulations. Promotion of such efforts needs be done on a priority basis.

Concluding Remarks
Urban planning and development is a continuous process and involves planners, administrators, developers, investors and of course, the residents. Their perceptions, expectations and actions sions, expectations and actions szation for complex analysis and rich envisioning capacity of GIS are found helpful to bring in transparency in planning desired by the above groups. It is therefore high time to consolidate on the reported gains of the GIS application in urban planning. In other words, the urban planning authorities and agencies in the country should adopt standard usage described in this paper at the earliest. Necessary support for acquiring hardware, software, database creation and manpower training to the State agencies and urban local bodies should therefore be provided. These bodies, for instance, should take advantage of the GIS infrastructure provision scheme formulated under the National Resources Information System (NRIS). Urban Reforms Incentive Fund (URIF) and City Challenge Fund (CCF) proposed by the Government of India with suitable guidelines can also help accelerating the use of GIS in urban planning.

On the other hand, moving further, interfacing of urban planning models with GIS should now receive due attention. Incorporation of land-use transportation models, water distribution network analysis, simulation of urban activities to evaluate different urban development alternatives in the GIS framework needs to be explored for added advantage. Evaluation of urban policy by model-based GIS approach provides a useful insight to guide the development process and this is another area of application [11]. Study of the relationship between sustainability and the compact city development in the new information economy age done by land-use pattern creation under GIS for 116 cities in Germany is another useful example [10]. Collaboration between public, private and academic and research institutions is expected to lead second generation of GIS application in the urban field. It is our belief that a systematic programme to involve the post-graduate students from relevant disciplines in the development of GIS database by the planning bodies would be greatly beneficial.

Planning and managing cities in the new era of globalisation and economic liberalisation would be a demanding task calling for new skills and approach. Indian cities will have to compete with others to attract investments and, therefore, issues like quality of infrastructure, energy efficient services provision and environmental conditions in a city besides economic viability would play a significant part in such competition. Urban planning profession in general will have to address these issues and respond rapidly. It is worthwhile noting that spatial dynamics of cities is complex to fathom and urban theory is still static. For example, relationship between urban economics and urban geometry, which governs the travel demand, housing stock occupancy rates and population density needs in-depth and continuous study. Under these circumstances tools like GIS that offer flexibility in analysis, interface with simulation and other models, power of synthesis and presentation variety are expected to help urban planners meet the new challenges.

Note: Views expressed in this paper are those of the author alone and not of the organiisation to which he belongs.


  • Adams, D. (1994), Urban Planning and the Development Process, London: UCL Press.
  • Bombay Metropolitan Region Development Authority (1996), Draft Regional Plan for Bombay Metropolitan Region 1996-2011, Mumbai: B.M.R.D.A. (Final Report is in press).
  • Gibbon, S. (1999),”Mirzapur: A GIS that Works”, [email protected], Vol.3, No.1, pp. 39-43.
  • Pathan, S.K., Patel, J.G., Bhanderi, R.J., Arya, A.S., Navalgund, R.R., Shimpi, P.B., Dhawale, A.K. and Landge, S.D. (2000), “Remote Sensing and GIS Based Inputs for the Preparation of a Development Plan of Pimpari-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC) Area for the Year 2018”, Proceedings of Geomatics 2000: Conference on Geomatics in Electronic Governance, 21-22 January, 2000, C-DAC, Pune, pp. UP22-UP33
  • Patkar, V..N. (1994), “OR Models, GIS Applications and Innovative Practices for Solid Waste Management”, Nagarlok, Vol.26, No.4, pp. 25-34.
  • Patkar, V..N. and Sampathkumar, D. (1999), “A Facelift to Mumbai: Courtesy GIS”, [email protected], Vol. 3, No.1, pp. 16-19.
  • Space Applications Centre and Bombay Metropolitan Region Development Authority (1992), Macro-Level Urban Information System – A GIS Cas Study for BMR, Report No. SAC/RSA-NRIS/URIS/PR-18, Ahmedabad: Space Applications Centre.
  • Space Applications Centre and Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority (1997), Revised Development Plan of Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority (AUDA) Area, Report No. SAC/RSAG/TR/12, Ahmedabad: Space Applications Centre.
  • Surendra, S. and Aggarwal, R.C. (2000), “Geomatics in Urban and Regional Development – A Case Study of National Capital Region”, Proceedings of Geomatics 2000: Conference on Geomatics in Electronic Governance, 21-22 January, 2000, C-DAC, Pune, pp. UP4-UP14.
  • Thinh, N.X., Arlt, G., Heber, B., Hennersdorf, J. and Lehmann, I. (2002), “Evaluation of Urban Land-Use Structures with a View to Sustainable Development”, Environmental Impact Assessment Review, Vol.22, No.5, pp. 475-492.
  • Worrall, L., Ed. (1990), Geographic Information Systems: Developments and Applications, London: Belhaven Press.