By Rich Grady, President

In 1969, Waldo Tobler posited his First Law of Geography, that: “Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things.”  That was fifty years ago, when we first landed on the moon, and the Woodstock Music Festival happened. It was at this time when a couple of very influential companies in the development of computerized mapping and geospatial technology were founded:  Intergraph (now owned by Hexagon), and Esri. Tobler’s First Law still resonates today, and Hexagon and Esri are still market leaders in the geospatial industry along with relative newcomers such as Google, HERE, MapBox, and Carto.

What does it mean when someone says “from a spatial perspective”?

Near not only refers to things that are physically close, but also, to things that are closely connected or related, or close in interests.  When Marshall McLuhan first talked about the “Global Village” in the 1960’s and 70’s, it was in the context of telecommunications and satellites “shrinking the world” by making it more connected.  The Internet was a more recent phenomenon in this regard, but the impact of it was foreseen by McLuhan. Companies like Hexagon and Esri have helped to tech-enable practitioners of the spatial perspective on the Internet by developing web-based hardware, software, and content.

There are so many ways in which this perspective manifests itself as a way of thinking about and seeing the world and its interconnectedness.   In advance of McLuhan and Tobler, Rachel Carson voiced a world view in her landmark 1962 book, Silent Spring, of the interconnectedness of all living things and systems, and the risk of destroying the very systems and natural communities that support us as humans.  In Silent Spring, she wrote that:  “In nature nothing exists alone.”  I believe that this is also true of our political-economic systems and societal interactions — we are interconnected more than we are isolated from one another. This can be discussed from a spatial perspective, and also from the modern capitalist perspective of “Creating Shared Value” (Porter, Michael E., and Kramer, Mark R., HBR, January-February 2011).

Michael Porter has helped corporations and investors understand the meaning of strategy and value chains for decades. He has also helped nations and regions understand global competitiveness and regional advantage, is now helping leaders of businesses and governments to understand that “societal needs, not just conventional economic needs, define markets…it is about expanding the total pool of economic and social value.”  In pursuing his own understanding of this phenomena, Porter applies economic geography and cluster mapping — both rooted in Tobler’s First Law!

A spatial perspective helps us to:

  • Think about where we live, and the connectedness to the surrounding region
  • Understand the natural and built environments and the processes that shape and effect the earth
  • Explore the role of transportation corridors and intermodal networks for the movement of people and freight – including multiple modes of transportation (i.e. water, rail, road, and air)
  • Apply geoanalytics to determine strategies for place-based policies to improve the opportunity for regional economic advantages, thereby achieving sustainable success for your community and its constituents

When you apply the spatial perspective to where and how you live, you gain insight into how value is created in your region, and how you can better capture it — for you, your children, and your grandchildren. There is an opportunity window in everyone’s lifetime to understand and do something about creating shared value, increasing the benefits to everyone, and assuring the sustainability of a healthy and prosperous way of life — the spatial perspective can help you know it when you see it!