Multimedia GIS: A New Tool For Landuse Planning

Markus Weidenbach
Chair for Landuse Planning and Nature Conservation
Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich
Am Hochanger 13
D-85354 Freising
Go to FORAM Design Project
Ulrike Pröbstl
Arbeitsgruppe für Landnutzungsplanung,
Landschaftsökologie und Landschaftsgestaltung
St. Andrä-Str. 8
D-82398 Etting - Polling


This article describes the potential for using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) coupled with multimedia technologies to improve the landuse planning process. The authors demonstrate, using an actual Landscape Master Plan for a rural community in Upper Bavaria (Germany) how multimedia and GIS technologies can be used to improve the communication between a landscape architect and the local people. The technical details on the "multimedia-enhanced” GIS and the procedures used to collect and incorporate the digital data are described. Several computer screen captures from the ArcView GIS presentation software illustrate the information that can be displayed using a multimedia GIS.

This article also discusses how the Internet could be used to further improve communication between all parties involved in a landuse planning process.
Finally, preliminary results are presented from a study which explored the acceptability of using multimedia, GIS and Internet technologies in landuse planning. That study involved both landscape architects and local citizens.
Additional graphics which supplement this article are available on the Internet.

Key words:

landuse planning, multimedia GIS, citizen participation, Internet technology


The Landscape Master Plan (LMP) is a central element of landuse planning in Germany (Kiemstedt 1994). It is one component of what is known as the "Land Use Plan” for a community, and it serves a variety of purposes: Once accepted by the local authorities, the new LMP (which incorporates the landscape architect's proposals and guidelines) is then integrated into the Land Use Plan for the community. The landscape architect's proposals could include: new protected areas, new housing areas, zones for recultivation and tree planting to improve the landscape aesthetics. The Land Use Plan is a mandatory planning instrument for the local authorities.
However, the contents of this 20 year old planning instrument, as well as the planning process itself, are in a constant state of evolution. The planning conditions and circumstances have changed significantly over the years. In response to these changes, the LMP has evolved from a "service-plan" completely designed by a landscape architect, to an instrument in which public participation plays an important role. It has become a focal point for discussions on landuse policy, on ecological issues, and on planning guidelines and objectives.

The Bavarian Ministry for Landscape Development and Environment now regards a democratic and "citizen friendly" process as the central element in improving landuse planning in Bavaria (Bayerisches Staatsministerium für Landesentwicklung und Umweltfragen 1996). Whether or not pre-defined planning goals are achieved is very much dependent on the way in which the issues of landscape aesthetics and ecology (which often compete with other public and private demands) are presented to the town council and citizens.
But not only has the planning process changed. New demands on landuse planning have arisen. Landscape architects can no longer restrict their focus to issues of ecological integrity and landscape aesthetics. The resolution of landuse conflicts and the establishment of long term objectives are now essential tasks in the landuse planning process. Also, there is an increasing amount of data which must be integrated into the planning process. For example, today we have access to more ecological information - information such as the distribution and quality of biotopes, the presence of endangered species, the quality of water and the soil conditions. Innovative landuse planning should therefore meet new standards in at least two areas:

With respect to a democratic and citizen-friendly landuse planning process (Luz 1995), the use of GIS in conjunction with multimedia and Internet technologies offers great potential for improving the clarity of data presentation and in communicating landuse decisions to the community (Cámara 1997, Raper 1997a, Schmidt-Belz et. al. 1997, Shiffer 1995). Digital technologies can help planners, citizens and officials to communicate in a much better way. Where people have been restricted to using analogue, paper-based maps, they can now benefit from the power of GIS and multimedia, requiring only a laptop computer, projector and screen. This is very important for the planning process, because guidelines and proposals for ecologically-sound development will be integrated into the community's Land Use Plan only if the community council accepts them. Consequently, an important part of our research was to identify the methodologies and underlying computer technologies which would be not only necessary, but also available to all landscape architects in Germany, whether they work in a large urban centre or a small village in Bavaria. In addition to feasibility, two areas were of especial interest to us: This study was undertaken as part of the EU funded project, Detailed Visual and Amenity Design Guidelines for Forestry: Optimising Rural Resource Potential (FORAM), at the Chair for Landuse Planning and Nature Conservation of the Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich (Weidenbach & Wild 1997). This initial investigation into the use of multimedia GIS uses an actual Bavarian LMP as its basis.
Fig. 1. GIS-based presentation of the Landscape Master Plan to the community council of the small Bavarian village, Burggen, using a laptop computer and overhead projector.


The Role of GIS in the Planning Process

Nowadays, landscape architects commonly use computers to write reports, maintain databases and perform spreadsheet calculations. The extension of digital technologies to activities in landuse planning (e.g., to cartographic inventories, assessment, planning, and to the presentation of geo-referenced spatial data ) is the next logical step.
The classic tasks of GIS are the analysis and alphanumeric/graphic presentation of spatial data (Bill & Fritsch 1994, Haines-Young et al.1993, Burrough 1986). However, the functionality of a conventional GIS can be significantly enhanced by the addition of several new data types. According to Bill 1996, we can differentiate 3 groups of data based on data source and format: Like the classic GIS, the enhanced "multimedia GIS” is focused on using vector and raster data. That data core is supplemented by alphanumeric, sound, image and video data.

Data Input

At the beginning of the planning process, the availability of digital data must be determined. The release of spatial digital data is still rare in Bavaria. Additionally, the price, distribution and licensing policy is often left unclear. Probably the best spatial data for Bavaria can be found at the State Survey Branch in Munich, which offers different thematic layers of the official topographic map in the common DXF format (Drawing Exchange Format). With the exception of this general data, almost all other landuse and ecology-related data must be digitised by the landscape planners themselves - a process which is still very time-consuming and expensive.

Spatial data can be digitised in various ways: Alphanumeric data can be recorded using text processing or database software. Vector and raster GIS data can be digitised from orthophotos, maps or sketches and - according to Warner 1993 - even from distorted terrestrial photos (an elevation model is needed for this process). New methodologies have been researched by Kias 1996 to digitise site data directly in the field using portable pen computers and geo-referenced background information such as digital maps or orthophotos. Sound, photos and videos can be recorded in the field by means of digital or analogue devices such as standard video recorders and 35mm cameras.
The spatial accuracy of digitised polygons, points and lines is one of the most important issues in GIS. Accuracy here depends primarily on the quality of the available, basic information. The greatest accuracy can be achieved by digitising all sites from aerial stereo photos - something which is not always practical since the planner must integrate a variety of data sources and formats into the GIS. For instance, in addition to the photogrammetric landuse interpretation based on orthophotos or aerial stereo photo models, the mapping of landscape features from existing paper maps still remains necessary. Those maps are often not up-to-date. Further, their scale may differ from the scale of the LMP, and this can introduce additional inaccuracies.

Interactive Data Analysis on Demand

The ability of GIS to analyse ecological and landscape-related spatial data has often been discussed and demonstrated (Reis Machado & Ahern 1997, Bayerische Akademie für Naturschutz und Landschaftspflege 1996, Haines-Young et al. 1993). In our research, we were primarily interested in the ability of GIS to do interactive analysis - that is, analysis on demand. For instance, during a presentation to a local community, a member of the audience may wish to know if any officially registered biotope is located on his/her property, its ecological features and/or its exact size.
Another advantage of using digital data and GIS is the ability to analyse 3-dimensional landscape models which form the basis for visibility, slope, aspect, line-of-sight or watershed calculations. Queries of this nature can also be handled, providing the necessary base data is available (see Fig. 4).

Multimedia elements can play an important role in visual analysis. For example, a photo taken from a registered viewpoint which appears on the screen when that viewpoint is clicked, completes the visibility analysis. Also, a demonstration of how scenery will change over time can be done by using the multimedia GIS to display photorealistic simulations of successive stages of development (see Fig. 3), or by linking video clips or photo sets (for example, a sequence of images taken over the past several decades). Using the data from the LMP we chose for this study, we used this capability to answer a question on how an afforestation might influence the scenery. We generated a photo animation which ran as a video and showed how the landscape changed as the young stand evolved to become a mature forest (
The use of digital technologies enables the landscape architect to present information to audiences in a flexible and transparent way, even though the amount and complexity of the underlying data continues to increase. One example here is the ability of GIS to overlay selected thematic maps, allowing the viewer to see complex relationships at a glance. Using this technique, landuse conflicts can be quickly identified, and displayed with a level of clarity and legibility that cannot be achieved by analogue cartographic illustrations. Additionally, turning different map layers on or off can be useful in illustrating the various steps in the planning process.

Visualisation and Data Presentation

As mentioned above, a Landscape Master Plan that is easily understood is essential for the acceptance of design proposals. A client-friendly analysis and presentation of planning results has become an important factor in successful landuse planning. A GIS which is able to simulate geo-referenced landscape stimuli is a suitable tool for creating a general awareness of the relevant planning issues. The multimedia computer presentation possible with such a system facilitates the illustration of often very complex planning goals and creates a sensitivity for landuse related conflicts. Sustainable implementation of a landuse plan can only be achieved if citizens are fully aware of all the issues and can make informed decisions.

We selected the GIS software ArcView 3.0 with the Spatial Analyst extension and Netscape Gold 3.0 to present the data in the LMP of a rural community in Upper Bavaria. ArcView runs on Windows95 and encompasses all the multimedia functionality of the platform. We used a laptop computer with two external speakers for our presentation. To project the data on the screen we placed the removable LCD display of the laptop onto a standard overhead projector.
The following paragraphs describe the digital data components of the LMP. The various thematic and planning maps were presented as separate "views" using the ArcView software. The vector data were ArcInfo coverages, ArcView shape files and vectors in Drawing Exchange Format (DXF). The following data types were added to the vector data in ArcView:

Fig. 2. Videos with sound illustrate the conflicts with respect to recreation

Fig. 3. Photoshop simulation of growth of afforestations helps to illustrate future conflicts

Fig. 4. Three-dimensional landscape analysis with line of sight calculations (lower right) and a Virtual Reality Landscape Model (upper left).

Data Dissemination and Exchange via the Internet

In this section we outline our vision for the future evolution of landuse planning. Some of what we describe is already a reality. Other elements (such as an interactive LMP on the Internet) are likely to become a reality very soon, given the speed with which Internet technologies are evolving.

Data storage is a central issue in the maintenance and exchange of digital material. Commonly used storage media and data formats will simplify data handling in the longer term. System-independent data formats, such as most of those used on the Internet, will likely have a longer "life expectancy" than other formats. Although there is already a "next generation" CD on the market (DVD-ROM, Digital Versatile Disk), the ISO standard CD ROM is still a good choice for the storage of data, since it is in widespread use. The data encoded on a CD ROM is write-protected and can be read by most of the newer PC, Macintosh and UNIX workstations.
A key advantage of using digital data is the ability to rapidly exchange information over networks such as the Internet, as well as over Intranets and Extranets (Raper 1997b, Strasser & Wasserburger 1997). The increasing network links between government authorities, landscape architects, communities and private Internet users, opens new avenues for public participation and communication between all stakeholders in a landuse planning process (Werner & Bayerische Staatsregierung 1997). The discussion focuses on three such groups:

The landscape architect frequently co-ordinates planning steps with the responsible authorities, and obtains the basic information required. In future, the use of digital data could facilitate the information flow between authorities and the planner via the Internet. Questions and disagreements over proposed measures could be handled verbally or graphically by e-mail, using the latest GIS online maps. The final LMP could be submitted to the responsible authorities digitally over the Internet, thus saving the costs of copying and mailing paper-based maps and other documents.
Normally, all citizens of a community in the study area are informed about the planning stages and procedures at public meetings of the community council. In the federal state of Bavaria, the LMP must be approved by the community council. There is a legal time limit for citizens to file any objections. If the proposed LMP were published on the Internet, access by interested parties would no longer be restricted to office-hours, public gatherings and official meetings late in the evening, as is now the case. Thus, Internet publication of the LMP, along with the time limit for public response, makes good sense. Even filing an objection by e-mail would be possible, although there are legal issues which would have to be addressed.

Answers to the technical issues of Internet publication can be found on the Internet itself. The file formats currently in use on the World Wide Web (WWW) have now become reasonably standard, and can be read by a wide variety of computers and operating systems. Most Web Browsers are now able to process JPEG and GIF images, and replay sound (*.wav) or video (*.mpg, *.avi) files. The recent extension of Browser capabilities (through Plug-Ins, Java Applets and Scripts or Active-X), enables users to navigate 3-dimensional landscape models most commonly in the VRML-format in real time, to play sound and music, to make phone calls via the Internet, or to send e-mail messages directly through the Browser.
The ”helper” programmes and Java scripts required to display and interact with digital maps on the Web can be downloaded from the Internet. This includes, for example, the user shells from Autodesk ( and Esri ( internetmaps.html) which can be used to receive and read vector and image (*.GIF) data. The zoom command of these shells enables the receiver to ask for more detailed data from the server, which then delivers the information appropriate for the chosen scale. Additionally polygons and points on the online map can be linked to reports or tables.

General Acceptance of New Digital Media

Landuse planners have taken their first steps into the digital world. Their acceptance and expectations of new technologies are important factors in stimulating the adoption of those technologies. However, using the latest computer techniques does not necessarily guarantee their acceptance - neither by professional planners nor by citizens, the "end consumers" of the planners' work. Many people are still not familiar with computers and, therefore, might react negatively to the adoption of GIS and digital technologies. The extent to which these technologies can be successfully implemented - at least in the near term - is still an open question.
The successful implementation of a multimedia GIS in landuse planning work depends on its acceptance by two groups: We therefore carried out a study to gather feedback from the two groups, and learn the extent to which they felt the new technologies might improve the public planning process (Weidenbach, in preparation). Preliminary results from that study are presented below.

Material and Methodology

In our study, we used a multimedia GIS to give presentations to five groups of people. The data we used was from two sources: (1) the previously-mentioned LMP for the village of Burggen, and (2) a comparable GIS project in the Upper Danube Valley Nature Park. After the presentations, each group openly discussed their feelings and general impressions. A questionnaire was then distributed to collect data for a subsequent statistical analysis. The results of the survey will be published when that analysis is completed in mid-1998. In this paper we discuss only the methodology we used, and present results from several of the group discussions.
Guided discussion with an audience (sometimes called ”group exploration”) is an essential tool for uncovering emotionally-influenced concerns, fears, preferences and dislikes, and doing so in a very deep and individual way. Misunderstandings and the reasons underlying a people's responses can usually be brought to light. Our methodology was based on similar work done in May 1997 by Prof. M. Keppler, who researched preferences of forest visitors as part of the above-mentioned EU FORAM project (Keppler Konsumforschung GmbH 1997, Weidenbach & Wild 1997). Prior to each of our presentations, the test group was told that there would be a group discussion following the presentation, and was therefore asked to follow the presentation very carefully. These discussions were guided by the authors using a prepared framework of questions and topics. Some examples follow. Each group discussion took about 30 minutes. Sessions were tape recorded and written notes were taken.
One important criterion for the selection of study groups was familiarity with the regions being presented. Three of the five groups had this familiarity. This was helpful for obtaining critical feedback on the realism and clarity of the presentation.

The following table summarises our test groups and presentations:
Date Location  Audience n  Content of Presentation 
04.06.97 Nature Park Centre Upper Danube Valley in Beuron  Participants of symposium: Nature Conservation and Tourism  14 ArcView project of Nature Park Upper Danube Valley 
11.06.97 Community Centre nearby Bruchsal  Participants of symposium: GIS in landscape planning  44 ArcView project of Nature Park Upper Danube Valley 
24.06.97 Community Centre Burggen in Bavaria  Public meeting of the community council  14 Landscape Master Plan of the community of Burggen 
04.07.97 University of Salzburg  Participants of GIS symposium: AGIT97  32 Landscape Master Plan of the community of Burggen 
26.07.97 Nature Park Centre Upper Danube Valley in Beuron  Participants of student excursion: Upper Danube Valley  30 ArcView project of Nature Park Upper Danube Valley 

Table 1. Date, location, audience and content of presentation

For purposes of this article, we will focus on the responses of the professional planners (from the three symposium groups), and of the citizens from the village of Burggen. The groups differed mainly by age and profession. People in the symposium groups were mainly in the 30-50 age group and were mainly employed or self-employed landscape architects, and government planners. Most of the people in the Beuron group had no GIS background. GIS experience was more common in the Bruchsal and Salzburg groups. The citizens of Burggen were mainly self-employed people and farmers. They were somewhat older than people in the symposium groups, with a higher percentage of people in the 45-65 age group. About two thirds of the participants in all groups were men.

Results of the Group Explorations

The following paragraphs briefly summarise the feedback we received from four of the five study groups, namely, the citizens from the village Burggen and the professional planners in the three symposium groups.
In general, feedback on the multimedia GIS presentation was positive. No one rejected the presentation outright, although there were a number of critical comments.
Viewing the computer screen projection with its various maps, images, videos and tables was, for the most part, not a problem for the audience. Only two people complained that their eyes became exhausted. The generally positive feedback here probably indicates that people are becoming used to electronic images, by working increasingly with computers, or perhaps even from frequent television watching.

Among both landscape architects and citizens, there was high general acceptance of the new technologies, albeit for two different reasons:

The second opinion was most often expressed by people who already had some experience with GIS (e.g., the symposium groups in Bruchsal and Salzburg).
On the other hand, people who had no prior experience with GIS (chiefly the symposium group in Beuron and citizens from the village of Burggen) felt that computers and GIS were tools for the future, rather than for the present. For the citizens of Burggen, the presentation was novel and strange. They liked it chiefly because of the ability to present different themes in succession, and because of the photorealism of the simulations (e.g., showing the impact of afforestations and new housing developments). The ability of certain presentation elements (e.g., geo-referenced photos, videos, shaded and virtual landscape models) to help people visualise impacts of changes was a frequently mentioned advantage of the multimedia GIS over analogue maps. Even though the citizens of the village Burggen felt that the digital technologies improved the clarity of the presentation, most of them were reluctant to do away with analogue paper maps on the wall!

In summary, both professional landuse planners and lay citizens alike identified three significant advantages of the multimedia GIS:

The citizens of Burggen criticised the quality of the sound videos. They also expressed a concern that planners could unscrupulously manipulate data to suit their own ends (for example, by selectively editing a video clip). In the critical comments from all study groups, there were three items which repeatedly surfaced:
  The professional landscape architects and government officials were asked about their expectations with respect to multimedia GIS technologies, and about catalysts and barriers to their adoption. Self-employed landscape architects especially expressed concerns about the cost of the new technologies, and about the time they would need to invest in order to use them effectively and efficiently. The need to be competitive with other planners was often mentioned as a driving force and catalyst in the adoption of new technologies. The most frequently expressed expectations from a multimedia GIS were improving the planner's ability to: Finally, groups discussed the potential use of the Internet (chiefly the WWW) to exchange and communicate spatial data, such as an LMP. Predictably, those who already use the Internet professionally, or who were most likely to use it in the future (e.g., government officials and some of the landscape architects) were much more receptive to its potential use in landuse planning than those with no Internet experience. Current Internet users felt that it saved them time in their daily planning work, and that its use in exchanging data with planning authorities could shorten the planning cycle.
Group members with little Internet experience - primarily the citizens of Burggen and the landuse planners in Beuron - were sceptical about its usefulness. They argued that the Internet is a future technology, and that few people in the general population currently use it. They also felt that it is complicated to use. Experienced Internet users criticised the poor maintenance and documentation of much of the data available through the Internet, pointing out that data could easily out-of-date, and that often it is not clear who is responsible for what is published.


The computer is neither able to replace a field trip with a landscape architect, nor reproduce the complexity of an individual's landscape perception in a satisfying way. But we can use computer technology as a tool to raise the public's awareness of the importance of nature and landscape protection, as well as to involve people in the planning process itself. If this can be accomplished, there is a much greater chance that the public will accept and be willing to support the implementation of landuse planning proposals.

The digital presentation of multimedia-enriched landscape data combines the realistic illustration of a landscape with the ability to obtain site-specific data in an ad hoc, interactive manner. This is something which cannot easily be done using conventional analogue maps and separate slide or video presentations. Another advantage of digital presentations is their flexible handling of scale through the 'zoom' feature of the GIS. Using this, one can easily combine small and large scale maps of the same area. This can be useful in, for example, helping a viewer better understand the importance of ecological ”microstructures” within the larger ”macrostructures” of a landscape.

Working with a GIS means an additional investment of time and money for self-employed landscape architects. A detailed record of the time we spent preparing our digital presentation of the LMP was not kept. Although our prototype presentation took several months to complete, this can be expected to decrease considerably when digital presentations become routine part of landuse planning.

Discussions with the test groups revealed that a digital presentation - through elements such as sound, images, colour and interactivity - can influence an audience more than can a conventional analogue presentation. The use of background music, and the manipulation of images, sounds and videos must therefore be looked at very critically.

Our study indicates that use of the Internet is not a viable alternative for people who are unfamiliar with computers. In spite of the present popularity of the Internet, regular use of the WWW in Germany is not yet widespread among the general population. One of the reasons may be that there are currently only a few Internet services (e.g., home banking) from which the general population can benefit. However, the growing number of recently installed Community Networks (Bürgernetze) in Bavaria (Werner & Bayerische Staatsregierung 1997) indicates that interest in using the Internet and the WWW (for purposes other than entertainment) is increasing. The group discussions in this project have shown that people with little or no Internet experience are leery of what appears to be a complicated and strange technology. New techniques recently presented in Berlin in the exposition Internationale Funkausstellung (Haas & Tunze 1997), which integrate Internet and television technologies, have the potential to deliver Internet services to people in a more "familiar" format. This may be an important factor in the broadening the acceptance and usage of the Internet and WWW.

Digital technologies make it easier for landuse planners to manipulate data to suit their own ends. These technologies will play an important role in landuse planning only if planners use them with a sense of responsibility.
The expense of preparing a digital LMP is justifiable providing the digital data is not converted back to India-ink drawings in order to make future revisions. The data must remain in its digital form for future processing, dissemination and presentation.


We wish to thank Gordon Runtz in Vancouver and the anonymous revisers from Forest & Landscape Research for the critical review of the article.


List of Tables and Figures

Table 1. Date, location, audience and content of presentation
Fig. 1. GIS-based presentation of the Landscape Master Plan to the community council of the small Bavarian village, Burggen, using a laptop computer and overhead projector.
Fig. 2. Videos with sound illustrate the conflicts with respect to recreation
Fig. 3. Photoshop simulation of growth of afforestations helps to illustrate future conflicts
Fig. 4. Three-dimensional landscape analysis with line of sight calculations (lower right) and a Virtual Reality Landscape Model (upper left).