Digital World: An Infobahn Tourguide to Planning Information on the Internet

By Richard B. Stephens

[This paper is accompanied by a PowerPoint Presentation and 80x120cm poster]


Planning is an information-based endeavor, and the expansion of information technology and communications (ITC) offers unique opportunities that will change planning in ways we may not imagine. This paper will briefly examine current online planning practices; consider some of the issues facing online planning information; and ask questions about the future of planning.


Information has a life of its own. It is no longer a static object, but a dynamic entity with dimensions in space and time. The expansion of the Internet has compared the information flow with a tsunami or tidal wave. This is a dramatic visualization of the deluge of information, but implies a discrete rather than continuous event. With the completion of the Irridium satellite system, for the first time, global communication was a reality.


Website Design


Who, what, where, when, why?

The Internet provides an ideal medium for transmitting basic planning information such as organization name, function, constituency/membership, schedules, and announcements. The vast majority of planning websites focus on this type of “push” information. Another type of “push” information is mailing list membership based on organization membership or subscription.



The interactive nature of the Internet allows for communication between the organization and “visitors” through email addresses listed on the website. This allows for “pull” information—contacting other planners to exchange specific information of interest. Website forms allow visitors to participate in surveys or prepare applications. Online forums offer planners, discussion groups, and newsgroups offer venues for group interaction that is not bounded by time (atemporal) or geographic place (non-spatial).


IT Applications

More websites are employing features that allow visitor to search and manipulate data. Individual search engines facilitate locating specific information topics within large websites. Combined with hypertext links, planning information can be more easily located and correlated. More advanced websites allow the information to be manipulated in various ways. For planners, the advent of online GIS mapping will offer new possibilities in analysis, design and decision-making.


Internet Issues



Information is power, and there is speculation that the Information Age will replace the Industrial Age with information replacing goods as the commodity of value. Who has access or owns information and how it will be protected, sold and purchased is an issue that is currently under strong debate. “Digital piracy” has a billion dollar economic impact. The hacker expression “Information must be free” illustrates the opposing view. How will planners determine and handle proprietary information?



Related to proprietary issues is the concern for privacy. To what degree is personal information accessible? Beyond medical and financial records, marketing data is being collected on consumers creating personal profiles that are sold to businesses and organizations. What could an “Open Kimono” policy mean for advocacy planning?



We often assume that information on the Internet is current, true and accurate, but there is reason to question each of these attributes. A growing concern for websites is the validity of the information. What sources provide “the truth; the whole truth; and nothing but the truth”?



Related to veracity, there is a growing concern on the Internet about verification of sources and contacts.  How can a planner know where or who the source is?



Information is becoming more and more biotic. That is to say it emulates many features of living organisms—conception, evolution, susceptibility to pathogens (viruses/pollution), and decay. There is also an issue of “signal to noise” ratio. There is so much information of varying degrees of veracity and authenticity, how does a planner separate the wheat from the chaff?





As we move towards becoming an Information Society, there will be a growing concern for information access equity and empowerment. How can planners play a role in ensuring cyberjustice?


Sense of Place and Community

Placemaking is an essential component of planning, yet the Internet does not have any traditional concept of place. An increasing number of citizens or “netizens” consider cyberspace their “home.” Cyberjustice considers who will ‘live’ in cyberspace; “sense of place and community” is concerned with ‘how’ they will live there. Is there a role for planners in creating “sense of place and community” on the Internet?


The Digital Age

It is clear that no matter how the various issues described are resolved, information will become more prevalent. “Smart” houses, wearable personal digital assistants, embedded chips, and so on will add “intelligence” to every facet of living. With the advances in voice recognition and translation software, global information will become a seamless part of everyday life. It appears that the virtual and real worlds will intersect and merge in ways we cannot imagine. How will this change the nature of land use, transportation, energy, and other elements of the “pattern language” of planners?


The following international websites illustrate various curent approaches to online planning information:


50 International Websites


1.        American Planning Association (APA)

2.        Arab Planning Institute-Kuwait (API)

3.        Asian Planning Schools Association (APSA)

4.        Associación Española de Técnicos Urbanista (AETU) [Spanish Association of Planning Technicians]

5.        Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP)

6.        Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP)

7.        Beroepsverenigung van Nederlandse Stedebouwkundigen en Planologen (bnSP) [Dutch Professional Organization of Urban Designers and Planners]

8.        Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP)

9.        City Planning Institute of Japan (CPIJ)

10.     CORP Computergestützte Raumplanung [Austrian Computer-aided Planning]

11.     Cyburbia [Internet Resources for the Built Environment]

12.     Deutsches Institut für Urbanistik (difu) [German Institute for Urbanism]

13.     European Academy for the Urban Environment (EAUE)

14.     European Council of Town Planners (ECTP)

15.     Federação Nacional dos Arquitetos e Urbanistas (FNAU) [Brazilian National Federation of Architects and Urban Planners]

16.     Fédération Nationale des Agences d’Urbanisme (FNAU) [International Federation of Urban Planning Associations]

17.     International City/County Management Association (ICMA)

18.     International Federation for Housing and Planning (IFHP)

19.     International Making Cities Livable (IMCL)

20.     International Network for Urban Development (INTA)

21.     International Planning Events

22.     International Society of City and Regional Planners (ISoCaRP)

23.     INTERPLAN [American Planning Association International Planning Division]

24.     Istituto Nazionale di Urbanistica (INU) [Italian National Town Planning Institute]

25.     Japan Association for Planning Administration (JAPA)

26.     New Towns (NWMA)

27.     New Zealand Planning Institute (NZPI)

28.     Nordiska Institutet for Samhallsplanering (NORDPLAN) [Nordic Institute for Studies in Urban and Regional Planning]

29.     Pacific Rim Council on Urban Development (PRCUD)

30.     Periferia [Architecture and Urban Design in the Caribbean]

31.     PlaNet [Student Planning Network]

32.     Planetizen [Your digital source for planning]

33.     Planners Network Online

34.     Planners Web [City and Regional Planning Resources]

35.     Planning Online [for the national and built environment]

36.     Planum [The European Journal of Planning]

37.     PlanWeb [The Internet Information Resource for Town Planners and the Land and Property Professions]

38.     Regional Science Association International (RSAI)

39.     Resource for Urban Design Information (RUDI)

40.     Royal Australian Planning Institute (RAPI)

41.     Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) [United Kingdom]

42.     Sociéte Française des Urbanistes (SFU) [French Association of Town Planners]

43.     South African Planners (SAP)

44.     Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) [Planning for People and Places since 1899]

45.     United Nations Centre for Habitat Settlements (UNCHS)

46.     United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

47.     United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

48.     Urbamet

49.     Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA)

50.     Vereinigung für Stadt- Regional-, und Landesplanung (SRL) [German Association of Town, Regional and State Planning]



Richard B. Stephens


Planning Director, AEI-CASC Consulting

Adjunct Professor/Advisor, Cal Poly Pomona

Instructor, University of Redlands

Planning Commissioner, City of Riverside

Alternate Commissioner, Riverside County Airport Land Use Commission

Editor, American Planning Association Information Technology Division

Editor/Webmaster, American Planning Association Resort & Tourism Division

Editor/Webmaster, American Planning Association Private Practice Division

U.S. Bureau Member, International Society of City and Regional Planners

Board Member/International Advisor, Japan Association for Planning Administration

Member, California Planning Roundtable

Contact, International Planning Events


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