Space, Time, Internet and Planning
     Internet based instruments for complex planning situations (A case study for the Upper Rhine Valley)

Spatial planning is no longer static. While the range of involved actors become wider and wider and individual actors get dominant roles, planners became more and more solution finders in a collaborative environment rather than plan makers. This collaboration is based on major and complex information flow process. This complication emerges from the huge amounts of information which are circulated among different actors. In addition, these information are fragmented and changing in nature. In such circumstances, getting an overview to major issues and main problems on a region becomes a difficult task for planners. Furthermore, available planning instruments and operative measures do not facilitate establishing such an overview. To work out these facts for decision makers of different disciplines is a key qualification for planners. This paper aims at laying out a methodology for establishing Internet-based collaborative spatial overviews using the Upper Rhine valley as a case study.

This discussion is organized around three main questions. Each emphasizes one of the following aspects:
Conceptually, what are the main characteristics, components and functions of an Internet based overview?
Technically, what kind of Internet based instruments could be developed to facilitate establishing this overview?
Operatively, how to implement these instruments in planning processes?
The demonstration of the proposed methodology will be introduced on a case study for the Upper Rhine Valley.

Overviews should be the operative base for actions in the context of complex spatial planning situations. Dependencies, that are not obvious for different participants, should be shown. If necessary, it should be possible to get informed by more and more detailed information on a specific topic, starting from a large scale and then deeper into detailed topics on a hierarchical information organization.

As planning deals with suppositions and rumors, it is obviously that not all the information is available for free access. Password-protected areas are necessary to ensure, that all the strictly confidential information can only be used by the involved and authorized actors. The above mentioned hierarchical concept is also important to define access rights and where "password-protected" areas are needed.

Working with overviews includes the need to keep them current. Hence, this platform should facilitate updating information with the lowest possible effort. A monitoring concept helps to avoid ignoring something important. Unfortunately, an overview of existing projects, their state of proceeding, costs and involved actors is not existing very often, when planners are talking about cost-intensive and spatial relevant processes.

Components of an overview should at least be:
· Spatial information (Where?)

· Possibilities of realization (When?)

· Recourses (How?) and

· Organization (Who?)

A collaborative information platform can help to establish and implement the proposed spatial overview. This platform should be operating system independent. It should be accessible regardless of place and time. It should support different type of media that could be used in a planning situation.

The Internet with the World Wide Web, as a part of it, could be the base for the proposed information platform should fulfill each of the above mentioned characteristics of the needed collaborative spatial overview:
1. It supports different types and formats of medium while using a standard and simple language (HTML);
2. It links fragmented and distributed information from different resources (the concept of Hypermedia);
3. It utilizes access for different actors apart from time and place with different access rights;
4. It facilitates online updating of information with minimum effort;
5. Using a well structured concept, the same information could be accessed in different contexts; and

The core idea of such platform is to allow different participants, in a specific planning context, to participate in establishing, maintaining and using this collaborative overview. This collaborative nature of the platform requires that each participant can add, edit and use available information, regardless of his location or time and without needing help from a system administrator. To fulfill this criteria, the following rule was adopted in developing this platform "different places, different times and different roles".

Meanwhile, information that are published elsewhere, could be added in form of metadata, without moving the original information from where it is published. To keep this platform as simple as possible for end users few standards was set regarding data and documents types. Naturally, adding, updating and using different areas of the platform should be governed by a user access rights matrix, which defines who is allowed to do what. In addition, this platform should be capable of including different types of information that are needed for creating this overview such as: text, graphics, audio, video, simulation, etc.

As an important step in establishing such a platform, an information model is needed. In general, an information model is essential to set the foundation of any information system and to overcome any difference of standards and structure of information, that each actor use and store. To layout this planning information model, four main interconnected aspects should be discussed. First, definition of basic units of planning information. Second, estimation of the possible information processes that might be needed. Third, setting the rules that governs the whole system in form of user rights, information control, functions control, etc. Fourth, a user interface. Therefore, the proposed platform consists of four main components:
1. problem or problem context relevant information of different media types (textual information, graphics, audio, video, animation,..). These information could be stored in distributed servers.
2. tools and functions, that facilitates input, editing, sorting, searching and visualizing information.
3. rules that governs the whole platform, including information architecture and user rights of access.
4. user interface that facilitates using different tools and function in graphical form.

From information technology viewpoint, the above mentioned components could be developed using the following technologies
1. At the back end, a database application to include information and meta information. This database include different tables corresponding to different classes of information. This database could be regarded as a translation of the first components of the information model, namely, information units and its attributes.
2. The tools and functions are server and client side scripts, that are written using a scripting language such as JavaScript or visual basic, etc.. Each function and tool is considered a component that runs independent from other components (e.g. a component for input, a component for overlaying, a component for search, etc.). The whole application runs on Active Server Pages (ASP) environment which runs most operations on the server side and sends standard HTML to the client. In addition, some client side functions are sent to the client, so that he can make some operations without making more connections to the servers.
3. The rules are also organized in tables on a database where there is a record for each user where his access right are defined. For example, a user that have no right to add information to the platform will not get a user interface without the input function and so on.
4. The user interface (UI) has two function. First, it gives a user access to all possible functions according to his rights. Second, it is a visual environment to present results of user's queries and requests. This UI is also a combination of ASP, scripts and HTML or Dynamic HTML. This UI should be graphical and user-oriented.

This technical general specifications of the platform was considered as it fulfills one of the predefined criteria that: any user could use the platform with only a web browser. To do that, the following criteria were adopted:
1. Using standard markup and scripting languages.
2. Keeping a cross browser platform.
3. No use of specific programs. For example, the database could be established using almost any standard database application, the scripts could be written using any scripting language, and could be generated using standard applications (WordPad for example).
4. No Plug-ins are allowed to be used in the platform.

However, as mentioned before the discussed concept is independent from technique. Hence, similar results could be achieved using any other technique other than the above mentioned.

Common subjects in planning are used to be solved in routines: Granting building permission, making investor projects or infrastructure ventures. But it's obvious that not all planning problems could be solved that way. Working in routines often means that problems will be solved by compensations beyond the actual problem space. For example a lot of conflicts are solved by expanding the planned space so to build in unsettled space instead of reactivate brown fields. An other example is to expand the negative effects beyond the planned space. Or with a high density of regulation, which becomes more and more unenforceable. An other commonly used way is to concentrate from the first moment only to the own scope and so to reduce the solution space to minimum.

But in complex planning situations these way of planning is not successful or not successful any more. To ask the right questions and to establish working hypothesis in order to find robust and integrated answers is especially in complex planning situations a job beyond routines. Complex planning situations with a wide range of actors and unclear problem situations, where individual problems are not identified yet, could not be solved satisfactory with well ordered routines and methods and tools of routines. To identify key actors and to have a look at knockout facts or details, which might become a stumbling block for the whole solution, is a strategic planning task in almost the same manner as to identify the main problems and their relations among each other.
Such a self-conception of planning is far away from believing that plans have to become reality only because of they are plans. Planners become more and more solution finders not only plan makers any longer.

Therefore, planning process with different actors and a lot of individual problems comes to the spot. To have solutions in mind, to network actors and to design planning process means on the methodological side to deal on one hand with data and information and on the other hand to deal with communication and organization. And it means on the material side to find single realizable solutions that fits into the big leading strategy. On the informational side this means collecting data, verify them, store them and make them accessible for others, so to build a common ground to work together. But this also means simplifying matters and visualize data and coherence to make them understandable for all. On the communicative side it is dealing with an wide range of actors with all of them watching their individual interests. It is known that a special composition of actors will only have their themes and their solutions in mind. As a result, each actor formulates his demands from the planning process out of his own role. The coordination of interests is always a view from the inner side of the own organization structure.

To get the overview of resources, problems and ventures and to come to a collaborative view to identify and to evaluate the situation is an important step in complex planning situations. By doing this step Internet based instruments can be a helpful tool. These tools can assist the process with Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). This means to identify points of contact between main actors and main layers of problems and to use it as a hinge. The focus is not to get an overall and complete collection of data and to control the process in every detail. The focus is a planning tool with information in layers to identify by means of key figures the key problems. Hence, to formulate an overview for strategic decisions. This includes information and decision processes of the actors altogether and it may include information and decision processes of some individual actors.
To demonstrate the above mentioned concepts in action, they were applied in a real complex planning situation to evaluate their applicability and validity. The Upper Rhine valley, as a major living space and traffic corridor, was selected as the regional context for applying this methodology. Upper Rhine case study is aimed at establishing an overview for the major spatial relevant issues. Hence, defining a framework for forming planning process that adopts this overview as the operative base for solving existing spatial problems. This includes in one hand, specifying interdependencies and collisions among actors, and problem-layers. On the other hand, identifying key projects for a sustainable spatial development.

The Upper Rhine as a traffic corridor, plays a major role in three different levels:
* On the European level it is a central European north-south axis for transit and the point of departure for the Swiss Alps crossing
* On the national level (France, Swiss, Germany, with Netherlands and Italy at the very edges) it is an interstate traffic corridor that has national interests.
* On the regional level it is an axis for local traffic, where regional railways are organized in another way than national railways.
Consequently, different countries and regions have diverse and competitive aims regarding this corridor, even when the results are disadvantageous for all participants.
The proposed collaborative spatial overview, for the Upper Rhine valley, consists of two main components. The first, a hierarchical overview that allows exploring the Upper Rhine valley in its different domains (European, regional and local). Starting from the European level, a user can explore different important spatial activities and its relation to the Upper Rhine. In parallel, some background information about each of these activities are presented (such as actors, costs, description, and time plans). A more detailed level, is the regional level, where the user can concentrate on the Upper Rhine itself. What are the main ongoing and planned spatial activities and where are bottle necks are existing. Then, a furthermore detailed level, the local one, presents how the activities on the European and regional level have effects on the local level and how this level could hinder activities of the other levels.

Hierarchical structure of the spatial overview

Another example is the German part of the Rhine and Upper Rhine valley. On the segment Cologne-Frankfort, upgrading the railway is expected to result in a shorter travel-time and a higher capacity. Thus, this part as an important national transit corridor has higher priority for the operator, while in the southern part (Offenburg-Basel) presents less pressure, and hence less priority. However, on a longer term, consequences might be remarked in form of a lack of capacity, especially for the regional traffic when the Swiss NEAT-projects are realized in 2008/2012. Using this overview the user can point out, that problems can only be solved by understanding the planning process as a teamwork of different actors, respecting their different interests. A balanced solution with a win-win-situation should be the result of complex planning situations, assisted by Internet based planning instruments.

The user interface consists of five areas as follows:
1. The Navigation Bar: Using this navigation bar the user can navigate between different components of the case study.
2. The Map Area: In this area different maps are shown according to the current component that is selected from the navigation bar.
3. The Text Area: Is a different frame where explanatory text about the current components is shown.
4. The Information Area: In this area some information about the current layer is shown.
5. The Legend Area: In this area a list of layers in the current level are shown. The user can use this list to turn layers on and off according to his convenience. On turning a layer on, some information about this layer will be shown in the information area.

The User Interface

The second component of the platform is the spatial ventures overview. Here, ventures that have regional importance are included. These activities were classified into different classes: projects, problems, potentials and issues. Later on, other classes were included where important information exists, for example documents and map and images. The platform could include different background, satellite images or aerial photos. This background maps are used to create the spatial context of the region. Over these maps different elements in the overview are illustrated either in abstract form as symbols or in detailed form that presents the physical form of an element. The overview starts from a general and abstract level and gives the possibility to go on details regarding a specific sub region or a specific element. This hierarchy of organizing the overview contents facilitates including large amount of elements and information. At the same time the user is not lost in details that are not very important for his purposes in a specific time frame, but may be important later. The modular structure of the overview allows combining different elements and graphics together to concentrate on a specific issue or a specific spatial context.

Concerning the above mentioned Case Study the requirements for an overview were:
· Where are the (inter-)related projects for the Upper Rhine Valley (within or without the region itself)?
· When could/will these projects be realized and what are the consequences when the timetable is not up to date? What kind of level is reached for the legal bounds?
· What are the resources of these activities? How much do they cost and how many people are working on them?
· Who are the involved actors? What kind of organizations (public and private) are "playing their games" and what are their interests?

An Internet based spatial overview should show interdependencies among ventures and actors. It should include at least information about space, time, resources and organization on hierarchal and modular structure. This overview should be graphical oriented.
The proposed solution should sustain the basic concept of hypermedia. Therefore, it should keep the rule "different places, different times and different roles". An information model serves as the common language among participants. It includes information elements, functions and rules. It also covers the structure of a user interface. It is operating system and software independent.
This overview is a strategic tool in complex planning situations, and to implement it different aspects of the planning process should be regarded. Namely: Methodologically, Materially, Communicative and information.
M.Sc. Hany Elgendy, Email Homepage Institute for Urban and Regional Planning
University of Karlsruhe (TH)
Dipl.-Ing. Dirk Engelke, Email Homepage
Dipl.-Ing. Torsten Beck
Email Homepage