AAG 2013

Last week I was in Los Angeles for my first ever Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting. I think I hadn’t been before because the US-IALE annual meeting is around the same time of year and attending that has made more sense in the last few years given my work on forest modelling in Michigan. As I’d heard previously, the meeting was huge – although not quite as crazy as it could have been.

Most of my participation at the meeting was related to the Land Systems Science Symposium sessions (which ran across four days) and the Agent-Based and Cellular Automata Model for Geographical Systems sessions. It was good to discuss and meet new people wrestling with similar issues to those in my own research. Unfortunately, the ABM sessions were scheduled for the last day which meant it was only late in the conference that I got to properly meet people I’d encountered online (e.g., Mike Batty, Andrew Crooks, Nick Magliocca) and others. Despite being scheduled for the last day there was a good turnout in the sessions and my presentation (below) seemed to go down well. Researchers from the group at George Mason University were most well-represented, with much of their work using the MASON modelling libraries (which I’m going to have to looking into more to continue the work initiated during my PhD).

It’s hard to concentrate on 20-minute paper sessions continuously for five days though, and I found the discussion panels and plenaries a nice relief, allowing a broader picture to develop. For example, David O’Sullivan (whom I’m currently visiting at the University of Auckland) chaired and interesting panel discussion on ABM for Land Use/Cover Change. Participants included, Chris Bone who discussed the need for better representation of model uncertainty from multiple simulation (via temporal variant-invariant analysis – coming soon in IJGIS); Dan Brown who suggested we’re missing mid-level models that are neither abstract ‘toys’ nor beholden to mimetic reproduction of specific empirical data (e.g., where are the ABM equivalents of von Thunen and Burgess type models?); and Moira Zellner who highlighted problems of using ABM for decision-making in participatory approaches (Moira’s presentation in the ABM session was great, discussing the ‘blow-up’ in her participatory modelling project when the model got too complicated and stakeholders no longer wanted to know what the model was doing under the hood).

I also really enjoyed Mike Goodchild’s Progress in Human Geography annual lecture, in which he reviewed the development of GIScience through his long career and where he thought it should go next (‘Old Debates, New Opportunities’). Goodchild argued (I think) that Geography cannot (and should not) be an experimental science in the mold of Physics, and that rather than attempting to identify laws in social (geographical) science, we should aim to find things that can be deemed to be ‘generally true’ and used as a norm for reducing uncertainty. This is possible because geography is ‘neither uniform nor unique’, but it is repeating. Furthermore, he argued it was time for GIScience to rediscover place and that a technology of place is needed to accompany the (existing) technology of space. This technology of place might use names rather than co-ordinates, hierarchies of places rather than layers of coverages, and produce sketch maps rather than planimetric maps. The substitution of names of places for co-ordinates of locations is particularly important here, as names are social constructs and so multiple (local) maps are possible (and needed) rather than a single (global) map. Goodchild exemplified this using Google Maps, which differs depending on which country you view it from (e.g., depending on what the State views as its legitimate borders). He talked about loads of other stuff, including critical GIS, but these were the points I found most intriguing.

Another way to break up the constant stream of 20-minute project summaries would have been organised fieldtrips around the LA area. However, unlike the landscape ecology conference there is no single time set aside for fieldtrips, and while there are organised trips they’re scheduled throughout the week (simultaneous with sessions). Given such a large conference I guess it would be hard to fit all the sessions into a single week if time were set aside. I didn’t make it to any of the formal fieldtrips, but with Ben Clifford (checkout his new book, The Collaborating Planner?) and Kerry Holden I did manage to find time to hit the beach for some sun. It was a long winter in the UK after all! Now I’m in Auckland it’s warm but stormy; an update about activities here to come in May.

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