Boundary GeoDesign Issues in the South China/West Philippine/East Sea

The South China Sea? The West Philippine Sea? The East Sea?  All of these are names that are given to the same body of water. Vietnam refers to it as the East Sea and the Philippines recently started to officially refer to it as the West Philippine Sea. Most of the rest of the world continues to call it the South China Sea.

Given the long simmering, and recently exploding, territorial claims to the small islands that sprinkle this territory, I would guess that we may see more new names emerge.  Perhaps the North Malaysian Sea, or just the North Sea, from the perspectives of Malaysia and Brunei, who also have territorial claims there? Taiwan and Indonesia also have interests in these waters.

Although it has barely been mentioned in the U.S. press, for those who follow international news in general, and Asia news in particular (as I do), the recent disputes over this body of water is alarming.  It started in May when a Chinese ship cut an underwater exploration cable connected to a Vietnamese oil survey ship in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone waters.  The Chinese claim that the survey was in its territorial waters and as such were illegal.

This resulted in anti-Chinese protests in Vietnam, followed by retaliatory attacks on Vietnamese‘s internet government websites by Chinese hackers.  Last week, Vietnam initiated live-fire naval exercises and also chased Chinese fishing boats in the disputed area.

Earlier this month, the Philippine government complained that Chinese ships were posting marker signs on a coral reef just off the island of Palawan, within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines (but also claimed by China).  This has resulted in public (not from the government) calls to boycott products made in China (most of which are actually smuggled into the Philippines to avoid import taxes).

Vietnam has suggested that the U.S. should help to settle these disputes, and the US government has expressed concern over China’s naval activities in the region.  China has rejected any outside intervention, although the issue is  likely to be a major topic of discussion at upcoming ASEAN meetings.

A good map of how China’s claims overlap those of the Southeast Asian countries can be found on the BBC website here:

I see this as a major geodesign issue. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCOLS) was an international effort to resolve spatial territorial claims over sea and ocean waters by establishing guidelines on where to draw territorial boundaries.  It was an effort at designing the earth in a way that would make it more clear and predictable for countries and their citizens.  It was signed in 1982 and became effective in 1994, though only 60 countries have ratified it.

Approaching the current South China Sea dispute as a geodesign teaching moment case study demonstrates the role of international treaties and law, nationalism, and international relations, especially in terms of political power, military power and economic power. Although seldom recognized, these are clearly integral elements of applying geodesign at a regional and global scale.

All territorial boundary lines were created, or are being created, through tensions between one side of the boundary and the other. While these tensions are seldom as dramatic as those of the South China/West Philippine/East Sea, they still exist and need to be recognized in designing a livable and thriving planet.

Alan A. Lew
My other blog: Tourism Place

Incorporating Google SketchUp: Thoughts and Experiences?

We would like to learn about further perspectives and experiences with Google SketchUp (and/or other 3D applications) in various courses, curricula, or professional work. We started to integrate SketchUp two years ago here at NAU, after my colleague Dawn Hawley discovered that it would be an effective approach for our planning students to construct 3D renderings of site plans and traditional neighborhood developments (TND). I was hooked immediately.

Last fall I integrated the tool for the first time in my GSP 303 Community Design and Preservation course (formerly PL 303), a prerequisite to the capstone. As a “first run,” I asked the students to complete a simple tutorial (developed by a previous student) on their own. This provided them with minimal skills necessary to create a simple block diagram of their “Activity Center Redesign” term project (What I refer to as “Extreme Makeover: Flagstaff Edition” on the student instructions). Part of the tutorial included the incorporation of a Google Earth image of NAU’s South Campus, asking them to “construct” a new building shell on an existing parking lot. In the past, students could use computer or drawing tools of their choice for this class, but there was no one “standard” tool that we required. Naturally, I had to learn it, too. Perhaps as expected, some students excelled with SketchUp more than others by the end of the semester, and so we are creating (with student help) another, more elaborate tutorial for next year’s class. I will also spend one day in the computer lab with the students so that I can show them all the basics at once – lesson learned! 

I was still curious about how respectable SketchUp had become in the design professions, and if it would be taken seriously by potential employers and other institutions of higher ed. This was a main question of mine as I headed to the GeoDesign Summit this past January. In short, I was pleasantly surprised. Numerous, well-respected firms spoke about using SketchUp as a normal part of their work, with the consistent story of creating 3D designs and then plugging them back into GIS. One faculty member at the curriculum “Idea Lab” claimed that it was a “lot of fun” for her students – something I confirmed as well, after getting past the students’ learning curve.

Dawn has since required SketchUp renderings for her senior studio capstone course (GSP 405C), now recently completed. I intend to increase student competence in my GSP 303 class next fall so that students can later incorporate it more seamlessly into their GIS and studio capstones. At this point we are settling on SketchUp as our 3D tool of choice, though there are notable others out there as well. I believe that as long as students are able to navigate and incorporate one such tool, they should have an easier time learning others in the future (i.e. setting them up for “life-long learning”). Does that assumption seem reasonable? After I learned Aldus Freehand some two decades ago, for instance, it was not a big jump later to move into Adobe Illustrator and others.

As potential prompts for discussion, then, I wonder what employers and others think about incorporating SketchUp into a GeoDesign-oriented curriculum, as we would welcome other perspectives. Is this type of tool (and/or this one specifically) the type of skill that various employers find attractive for their new recruits? For what reasons (either way)? What other 3D software/packages are  you relying on for your own courses or professional work, and why?

Another issue of mine (can’t resist – sorry)  involves to what extent we allow students to “drop in” example buildings/designs from their version of “collective commons” on SketchUp? That’s what I’m allowing now, as students can search for “representative” architectural styles and building types to “drop in” to their diagrams. Should we require that students create their own buildings and facades from scratch, and if so, for what specific purposes? We look forward to your comments with thoughts and/or experiences regarding any of these questions above, if anyone would like to share them here.

– Tom Paradis

Defining GeoDesign

I feel as though I have a good understanding of what Geodesign is.  However, like with most things, my definition is often different than others.  I searched for a few definitions and came across these from Philip Murphy….

1) GeoDesign is anything that has artistic visualizations of the landscape or features on the landscape

2) GeoDesign is designing actions that change a landscape (this seems to be Jack D’s favorite)

3) GeoDesign is using maps to tell stories

4) GeoDesign is any time you do landscape planning where you iteratively develop by a) sketching (prototyping, visualizing) a design on a map, and b)having an analysis capability that can calculate (in real time) consequences of that that sketched design, and c) elicit feedback (in real time) to improve the design.

Interesting how they cross over.  Our new undergraduate curriculum at NAU focuses on geographic sciences and community planning.  What do you think?  Sounds like geodesign to me……

– Mark Manone

What makes an academic program a GeoDesign program?

Based on your own understanding of GeoDesign and what it has to offer, please comment on some attributes, pedagogies, outcomes or other aspects that you would hope to see in a Geodesign-related curriculum, whether graduate or undergraduate, or both. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be comprehensive, as we expect others to add their own perspectives.

– Tom Paradis

Birth of a GeoDesign Curriculum at NAU

Celebration with appropriate food.

On March 1, 2011 the University Curriculum Committee approved our new undergraduate degree program, called Geographic Science and Community Planning (or GSP for short). This was an ambitious effort to combine three former degree programs into one (see The NAU Approach). After a year and a half of countless meetings, emails, and documents, this final UCC meeting seemed a bit anticlimactic. After a brief presentation, a few questions and some successive votes, it was a done deal. During the UCC meeting, one question got to the heart of the matter:

“So, why didn’t you call your new degree GeoDesign?”

After shoving my jaw back in place, I quickly realized that this UCC member had carefully read our new catalog “blurb” that explains a bit about the degree for students. This is the first place where we are embedding the concept of Geodesign into our promotional materials. As approved, the catalog introduction reads:

  • This major integrates geographic knowledge and GIS mapping technologies with the problem-solving fields of community planning and urban design. Known as Geodesign, this educational framework will prepare you to create more livable and sustainable communities while contributing to a better world. We focus on small class size, high student-teacher interaction, on-site field experiences, and diverse learning opportunities outside the traditional classroom.

My colleagues and I had only learned about the concept of Geodesign in November, 2010 when Mark Manone announced that the second annual GeoDesign Summit was going to take place in January, hosted by ESRI. My schedule allowed me to attend, so I volunteered to represent the department at the Summit and, of course, to return with a full report (which I REDUCED to six pages). By February, our full faculty was aware of the concept to varying degrees, and discussions continued about the new name of our degree program.

Ah, the name… Why not “GeoDesign”? Perhaps an indication of how young this concept is on the national scene, our faculty agreed unanimously (with some more adamantly than others) that it was too early to identify an entire undergraduate major around the concept of GeoDesign itself. Still, we had played with names such as “GeoDesign and Community Planning,” and “Environment, Community, and Geodesign” (I liked variations of the latter). Our employers and students still recognize the titles of “community planning” and “geographic science,” for instance. So, despite the lengthy name for the new major, we kept it.

The UCC member who asked the question seemed to understand our rationale, and followed up with, “Perhaps you’ll be back in a couple of years to change the name,” smiling. I replied with a simple, “Perhaps”. For now, we are enthusiastic about finding ways to teach and promote concepts and applications of GeoDesign within our curriculum which, we believe, lends itself very well to the notion of integrating the design professions with the geographic sciences and technologies.

Chair Pam Foti announces the cause for celebration after the final UCC meeting.