USC Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute Logo
USC Logo

Why Is GIS Important in Urban Planning?

A geographic information system can have an impact on your life without you ever knowing it. A GIS is a computer system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present a variety of spatial and geographical data. GIS technology is often used in urban planning, and impacts people living in the area in many ways. The benefits of using a GIS in urban planning are numerous, because GIS takes into consideration many different factors to help build an efficient and organized city.


Image Via Flickr nlireland

Multilayered Maps

Urban planning requires including many layers of detail on a single map, and one of the features of a GIS is multilayered mapping. Each of these layers has different types of information and data associated with it. A municipal planning committee can use a GIS to see a variety of different things, including prime agricultural land, surface water, high flood frequency, and highly erodible land. This multilayered capability can make a big difference when developing an area, for example places with high flood frequency could lead to high flood insurance premiums for residents, which may detract from people wanting to live there.


Zoning permits and building permits are based on a variety of things. While a GIS may not be able to cover all of these factors, it can help in a number of ways. In places that are already developed or had been previously developed and are being revamped, the GIS may have the area covered already. This means the GIS can provide information about permits issued in the past, including permit type, when permits were issued, and what type of development they were for.

Business Will Improve

GIS can serve as an analytical tool to help a business decide if it should open in a certain location. Based on customer-provided data, GIS can help a business see where their potential customers might come from. For example, if a produce store opens, and it is 10 miles closer than the previous store, the business owner can conclude that customers will be likely to try his or her store if the quality and prices are comparable.

What is in Store for the Future of GIS?

GIS technology has developed rapidly over the past few decades. 3D mapping has helped in many regards, but in the next decade or so, there will likely be developments that we can’t yet imagine. One likely feature is 4D mapping, which will further help in urban planning as well as many other applications.

GIS is quite a powerful tool, as can be seen through all of its applications in the field of urban planning. A GIS is not run by computers, but rather by people who have been specially trained and received their degree in the field, as there are large amount of analysis, modeling, and a variety of other skills that need to be taught. Using a GIS is not just important for developing an urban area, it is almost necessary in today’s fast-moving and highly technological landscape.