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“With geospatial technology, we are no longer ‘rich in data but poor in information'”

Prof. Renzhong Guo
Prof. Renzhong Guo
Deputy Director – Urban Planning, Land & Resources Commission,
Shenzhen Municipality, China

As China firms up its position in the global economy, its cities are undergoing tremendous changes, placing big challenge on municipal governance. Prof. Renzhong Guo shares with Geospatial Media the role of geospatial technology in the socio-economic achievements of Shenzhen, one of the frontrunning cities in the national reforms

According to you, what are the issues in municipal governance that can be addressed by geospatial technology?
In the last few decades, cities in China have undergone tremendous changes. Fast economic development and urbanisation have been a big challenge to municipal governance, where scientific and feasible planning, regulated and efficient management have become the fundamental requirements to support urban development in a rapid and sustainable way. Hence, geospatial technology has been the key to meeting the challenge and resolving the problems of land management, water conservation, public health, public security, environmental protection, traffic surveillance, etc.

Also, when we talk about China’s remarkable achievements in the last three decades since its reform and opening-up, discussion about Shenzhen is inevitable. Shenzhen”s socio-economic achievements today are largely dependent on scientific urban planning and effective land resources management, so GIS application in these fields is surely an important contributing factor.

How is Shenzhen Municipality using GIS and other geospatial technologies?
After years of technical exploration and practical preparation, Shenzhen Municipality has built up a geo-database with multiple scales and full spatial and thematic coverage, including topography, land-use, cadaster, urban planning, underground pipe networks, 3D models etc. By introducing digital surveying technology, object-level dynamic updating of topographic data is realised. Automatic data generalization technology has been developed to provide cascading updates of the geo-database from scaled 1:2,000, 1:5,000, 1:10,000 till 1:50,000. Integrated with geo-data are some relevant non-spatial data forms such as property info, building and construction data. These databases form a solid foundation and support for GIS applications, some typical application cases are as follows:

    • The Environmental Bureau of Shenzhen has established 16 fixed environmental monitoring stations and 400 dynamic environmental monitoring sensors around Shenzhen which can provide real-time, spatial-related environmental monitoring data. All the monitoring data is analysed and published in real time for environmental protection management. • A real-time traffic monitoring system has been developed, based on the acquisition of 15000 taxi GPS signals, 67 radar monitoring fixed-points, and with the support of the road network database, real-time traffic information is gathered, analysed and published through the Web for relevant applications. • For public security and related city management activities, a method named “Urban Management Grid-Mode” has been developed and implemented. With this method, more than ten thousand patrolmen, each equipped with a GPS system use a special GIS system to locate, report and handle contingencies. • For monitoring overall urban expansion and un-authorised constructions, GIS technology integrated with GPS signals, RS data and ground camera data is used. • For property valuation applications, property info and 3D models were incorporated into an integrated system to develop a digital mass appraisal system which has been used for the imposition of property taxes and land administration affairs.

What is the level at which GIS is being incorporated at Shenzhen Municipality?
For quite a long period of time, we were rich in data but poor in information. Now, the use of geospatial technology has brought an end to that situation. In Shenzhen, we can see that tremendous GIS solutions are providing computer-assisted decision-making and meaningful business intelligence to city management which effectively improves the work efficiency and greatly enhances the rationality of government decisions.

At the system integration level, most systems developed and used now are enterprise ones, namely, different government agencies develop systems for their own use, inter-agency operation depends mainly on data exchange. Shenzhen has a plan to build a digital city, data sharing online is quite popular, trans-organisational applications are now more widely used.

The structure of Chinese municipal governments is, in general, quite comprehensive. Shenzhen as a large city of China has a quite large administrative body consisting of many independent executive units in charge of different affairs such as planning, housing, environment, health, trade etc. For a long time, independent units had independent budgets, so they built GIS-based systems independently, which induced somewhat repeated investment and resource wasting. Trans-organisational application systems can easily resolve such problems, and as such are highly encouraged.

Many GIS systems used in local government agencies are not pure geospatial applications, most of them are interlaced with MIS systems and integrated into comprehensive solutions. GIS is indispensable, and plays a very important role, but cannot be separated from administrative procedures. For example, land leasing involves a long and complex transaction within which both spatial and non-spatial information is needed and at the same time updated, so independent GIS and MIS systems are not good solutions for such applications, whereas an integrated one is the best solution. Other examples can be easily listed, such as planning compilation, environmental assessment, construction approval etc.

To coordinate geospatial technology applications for the whole city, the local government has established a specialised information center namely the “Shenzhen Geospatial Information Center” for centralised management of the production, mapping, processing and provision of geospatial data. All other agencies, public or private, of the city may receive or purchase their data and services.

Municipal governance involves efficient flow of information across different city departments. How forthcoming are the departments in Shenzhen city in sharing their data? How important is SDI (spatial data infrastructure) in local governance?
Yes, surely we need efficient data sharing between different agencies, as I just mentioned, the geospatial information centre is the major team in developing Shenzhen’ SDI. The most important project the center has carried out was the building of an “open geospatial information platform”. The principal objective for developing such an open platform for geospatial information is to create a logically centralised geo-spatial database for the whole city and to provide an online service for the sharing and exchange of geo-spatial information. Along with this platform, the government promulgated a series of regulations stipulating the rules of provision, utilisation and maintenance of data and services, outlining the rights and responsibilities of involved parties.

The open platform is a good way of sharing data, which relieved us of much of the negotiation and bargaining for data sharing that occurred in the past. With the platform, we achieved smart cooperation in data sharing among individual agencies and realised collaborative building and sharing of geo-spatial information resources, and applied them into more than 40 different domains and government departments such as urban planning, land resource, industrial and commercial administrations, taxation, emergency response, public security, city management, environmental protection, health, customs, quality supervision and disease control etc. What’s more, the platform itself is a key support for the construction of a digital city of Shenzhen. We could not imagine Shenzhen nowadays, if there were no SDI or an open geospatial information platform.

Shenzhen Municipality is incorporating 3D technology significantly. Can you tell us more about it? How have you evolved 3D systems?
We have explored the application of 3D technology for many years. In an earlier stage (1999-2003), we developed the first version of a 3D System which ran on stand-alone workstations with poor performance and covered about only 6.7 sq km. In the growth stage (2003-2006), we upgraded the standalone workstations to pc-clusters and developed a new multi-channel Urban Simulation System, and the 3D scene covered the whole city of about 2000 sq. km. with DEM of 12.5 meter resolution. In the mature stage (2007-2009), along with the building of the open geospatial information platform, we developed a Web-based 3D system which could provide 3D terrain and model services to other departments of Shenzhen Municipality. In the developing application stage (2009-now), by integrating a 3D city landscape model and VR technology, the applications of 3D technology have expanded from urban simulation into many new fields such as real restate assessment,environmental protection,3D cadastre,public security,etc. At the present time, the 3D scene covers the whole city of Shenzhen with about six hundred thousand 3D models, at accuracies of 2 meter DEM and 0.2 meter DOM. Some good application examples of 3D technology like 3D cadastre show a promising future in the construction of an e-government and a digital city.

The Municipality has recently undertaken a project on application of geospatial information technology in urban planning and land management. What was the need for this project and what does it incorporate?
A project named “Urban Planning and Land Management Information System” was launched by the Shenzhen municipal government. The project aims to establish a comprehensive framework for digital technologies, technical standards, specifications, business processes, databases, and management information systems in the context of surveying mapping, urban planning, land management, and government approvals etc. Through this System, we are constructing an urban spatial information infrastructure supporting online data sharing and collaborative work amongst government organisations and other enterprises including professional surveying agencies, urban planning and design agencies, and land assessment agencies.

The project incorporates numerous development and research works. The achievements of project are as follows: by integrating GIS and MIS technology, the Municipality developed and implemented China”s first distributed large-scale spatial information system supporting online collaborative work for over 2,000 government staff in the planning and lands departments (since 1998); by integrating 3D city landscape model and VR technology, developed an operational system to support digital city design; studied 3D-cadastre technology and related standards, rules, regulations, and developed an operational 3D-cadastre information system. This made Shenzhen the first Chinese city to develop and deploy 3D technology to represent and register land titles. Shenzhen developed a geo-coding technology and system for full scale geographic space. The Municipality has realized automatic integration and fusion of spatial data and non-spatial data to facilitate GIS applications in space-related fields, such as urban planning, transport, property valuation etc.

Is there any mechanism in place to facilitate information sharing with the citizens?
The civil right to know is one of the basic rights of citizens in China. Take Shenzhen for example. On Sept 1, 2006, the Shenzhen municipal government issued a decree ‘Government Information Public Rule’to strengthen the governments’ information publishing system, enhancing the transparency of the government and safeguarding the civil right of the citizen to know. Now laws, regulations, and all kinds of government information are published in a timely way in government gazettes, government websites and the mass media.

As to geospatial information, the Chinese government is very open. In 2009, Shenzhen municipality built a map web site for citizens to browse two dimensional maps, search place names, locate positions, and set driving routes. Additionally, China’s online map service, called MAP WORLD (www.tianditu.cn), was officially launched in 2011 to provide comprehensive spatial data.

What are the challenges in successful implementation of municipal GIS and the use of geospatial for city management?
Nowadays we are living in the“big data” age, facing explosive growth and wide availability of spatial data pouring into our computers, data storage devices and networks every day from sensors, business, transactions, surveying, and almost every aspect of our society. However, there are still many challenges to the successful implementation of a municipal GIS.

Firstly, there are challenges in the automation of complex spatial analysis. Some complicated decision making processes like location selection or regional planning are under the constraints of different factors and objectives. In municipal GIS, the spatial assistant decision support analysis could be important and also necessary, and knowledge-based GIS is the key for an automatic interpretation of implicit information in the spatial data and the solution of complex spatial analysis problems.

Secondly, challenges lie in adaptive data processing. Different users have different requirements of geo-data, current GIS cannot satisfy a user’s increasing personalized demands due to the deficiencies of manual, static and batch procedures of map design and map production. The upcoming availability of adaptive generalization procedures is expected to make a significant breakthrough.

Another challenge is the integration of spatial data into uniform and standard databases. In a municipality, departments produce a variety of spatial data according to their business rules, data from different sources pose serious problem of consistency. The achievements of OGC only led to standards in describing and accessing spatial data on the geometry level, but not on a semantic level. So not only data integration but also business integration is needed to standardize and qualify data resources which are very important for refined city management and scientific decision-making.

In your view, how can an effective municipal GIS contribute to economic growth of a city?
There are multiple factors, which may contribute to the fast development of an economy, such as the spatial pattern of business and household, optimum sites for proposed industries project, best status of industry structure, convenient transportation etc. For economic developers, GIS offers effective decision-making tools to help conduct analysis, disseminate results and make optimal decisions.

In Shenzhen, geospatial technology is being used by many government departments to create efficient ways to further the economy. For example, we have annotated all the firms in Shenzhen on our maps and analysed several characteristics of how the firms impact on the economy. Also,based on the spatial analysis of the industrial chain,we will design marketing mix countermeasures,such as the regional forces of attraction, pricing, distribution and investment promotion. Another good example is in urban planning. For many years, we have used urban GIS to analyse the rational spatial distribution of Shenzhen,through the spatial plan and the construction, to form a reasonable spatial development pattern, to promote the coordinated development of our regional economy.