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Access for All?: Planning Sector Technological Advances ...

Access for All?: Planning Sector Technological Advances in Galway, Ireland

In the past fifteen years, the technological advances in Galway, Ireland have been nothing short of phenomenal, not only in the planning sector but for life in general. A few years ago one would have to scan through a book of numbers looking for planning applications, but nowadays a click of the mouse on the internet can bring

In the past fifteen years, the technological advances in Galway, Ireland have been nothing short of phenomenal, not only in the planning sector but for life in general. A few years ago one would have to scan through a book of numbers looking for planning applications, but nowadays a click of the mouse on the internet can bring up the same information. Any planning office or architecture studio is full of computers and other digital devices, which is a contrast to fifteen or twenty years ago when everything was done by hand, or through a typewriter.

The majority of citizens have benefited from these technological advances, but not all of society, especially older residents. My father is fifty-two and highly intelligent in terms of general knowledge. He runs a successful construction business, but he does not know how to use a computer. There are many other people who do not know how to use digital technologies, but in my opinion I feel they are not availing of the opportunities available for them to learn.

Picture of Galway, Ireland City Council Offices

People that fall into this category have a chance of falling behind, not just in terms of environmental planning but society as a whole. Most government agencies contact people through post, but I currently work as a Planning Assistant in Galway and have found that nothing is sent in hard copy anymore. All architects' drawings and plans are sent via online sharing websites such as Dropbox and then printed in our office.

I feel that people who are not as technologically literate should take opportunities to learn as there are many tutorials and classes offered to these people, an example of this is the Irish Government's Digital Inclusion scheme. The scheme was launched in July 2013 and offers start-up programs in technology programs throughout Ireland, including Galway.

As part of a planning application, the applicant must send the notice to a local or national newspaper. Perhaps it is time to start providing these notices on social media? Trends have changed, as most people I know don’t read a daily newspaper, but nearly everyone checks their Facebook or Twitter everyday.

These advances are especially prominent in the field of cartography, notably with the use of websites such as Google Earth, Bing Maps, and in Ireland, Myplan.ie. With the use of the site, a lazy planner would nearly be able to conduct a site visit from the comforts of their own office. Google Street View provides an invaluable asset not just for planners but also for tourists; a tourist can now able to "walk" the streets of Galway from the comfort of their homes.

The planning/architecture sector has also benefited from the use of computer programs: Google Sketch-Up, Adobe Photoshop and Auto-CAD, amongst others, have all changed the way we work everyday. Gone are the days where we would sketch or draw, and spend hours making blueprints. This leaves the people who are digitally illiterate behind.  Now we can see a thorough design of a project on a screen. For example, Galway City Museum recently commissioned a video showing a 3-D model of Medieval Galway using the Serial Vision, a method designed by English architect and urban designer, Gordon Cullen.

Galway's main pedestrianised street, Ireland

QR codes have brought a new dimension to technology. One can easily access the Galway City Council’s website through a quick scan of one of their many advertisements on display throughout the city. This easy access to online information is great for those who have the knowledge and capabilities of using it. It has proved to be very successful for Galway's large tourist population. But it is widening the gap for those who are not capable or do not have access to such technology?

I feel the government and local councils are making an effort, but should put more of an emphasis and spend more of their budget on making everyone technologically literate, regardless of age or ability.

We cannot deny that new technologies have proven useful, but how can we work to make them accessible to everyone?

Credits: Images by Alan Bannon. Data linked to sources.

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Alan Bannon is a recent graduate from Queen's University Belfast, in Ireland, with a M.Sc. In Urban and Rural Design. He currently works as a planning assistant for McCarthy Keville O’Sullivan in Galway, Ireland. It was through his work as an apprent...

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