Summer 2007

Fostering a Sense of Place: Using GIS to explore data in the Land Based Classification System, Student Michelle Scott identified parts of Milwaukee’s historic Fifth Ward where beautification projects could improve the area’s “sense of place.”

Class Evaluates New Tools for Land Use Analysis

By John Karl

Last semester, in a special topics class in urban and regional planning, David Hart and 10 students explored ways geospatial technologies and a sophisticated new land use classification system can work together to analyze land use in a complex urban neighborhood. Hart is the geographic information systems (GIS) specialist at UW Sea Grant and adjunct faculty in the UW-Madison Urban and Regional Planning department.

The class used the Land-Based Classification Standards (LBCS), a “multi-dimensional” classification scheme developed by the American Planning Association in 2001. The system is the first comprehensive update of land use coding and classification since the 1960s. It characterizes land according to activity, function, structure, site, and ownership. While some planning departments have adopted LBCS, many view it as too complicated and time-consuming, according to Hart.

“We wanted to document just how much time and effort an LBCS survey takes,” Hart said. “Also, we wanted to showcase the types of maps and reports we could create by using geospatial technology with LBCS. We hope our work helps planners decide whether they should invest in the new system.”

The class selected Milwaukee’s historic Fifth Ward/Walker’s Point neighborhood as its study area. The complex, rapidly-changing neighborhood lies just south of downtown, bounded by the Inner Harbor, the Milwaukee River, I-94, and National Avenue. It includes residences, retail outlets, and industrial sites. It boasts one of the highest concentrations of jobs in the city, and it has a strong Hispanic presence. The city of Milwaukee has just started a development plan for the area, hoping to expand its job base while following smart growth principles.

“The complexity of the neighborhood and the fact that a plan is just getting started made the historic Fifth Ward a perfect place to test out LBCS,” said Hart.

On a sunny Saturday morning in March, Hart and his ten students piled into a van and headed to Milwaukee to conduct their survey. Students tackled the challenge of documenting properties ranging from restaurants with apartments above them to loft buildings and vacant industrial sites. Walking the sidewalks and meeting people who live and work there gave the students a taste of life in the neighborhood — literally, in one case when one team was offered a product sample at a local brewery.

After boiling down the real-world complexity of the neighborhood into a database of LBCS codes, students set to work exploring and presenting the data in a variety of ways with GIS maps. The results showed everything from parcels with mixed uses to the owners of multiple parcels. Other maps identified coastal dependent uses and sites for “catalytic projects” — those that would spur desired development in the area. The students also mapped the smart growth principles of creating walkable neighborhoods, fostering a “sense of place,” and preserving or expanding open space.

Students presented the results of their work twice at the end of the class — once on campus and again to planners in Milwaukee through a WisLineWeb session originating from the Pyle Center. WisLineWeb is UW Extension’s Web collaboration software.

The final products of the course will include a report on the best methods for conducting an LBCS survey and a tutorial that demonstrates exactly how to use GIS and LBCS to conduct land use analyses. Course products will be available on the class Web site:

Hart says he and his students learned a lot — and he hopes others can benefit from their experience.

“I think the students really demonstrated the flexibility of the LBCS system and the power of GIS to display that data in helpful, insightful ways,” Hart said.

The Aquatic Sciences Center is the administrative home of the
University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute & University of Wisconsin Water Resources Institute.

©2011 University of Wisconsin Board of Regents