Massachusetts Institute of Technology - Department of Urban Studies and Planning

Spatial Database Management and Advanced Geographic Information Systems
Fundamentals of Spatial Database Management (1st half, before Spring Break)
Advanced Geographic Information System Project (2nd half, after Spring Break)

Syllabus - Spring 2010

Subject Website:

Lectures & Labs

To accomodate class conflicts, we have adjusted the class times as follows:

Tuesday, Lab: 3-6 PM (4-5:00 is the important part) in Room 37-312
Thursday, Lecture: 4-5:30 PM in Room 9-251

Room 37-312 is the MIT computing lab in building 37
Room 9-251 is the SA+P School computing lab in building 9

NOTE #1: The 4-5:00 PM portion of the Tuesday lab is the important part when the lab introduction and lab tips are presented. The first hour is open lab time to work on exercises and ask questions. Students with conflicts during the first or last hour of lab can finish the lab exercises on their own at other times.

NOTE #2: After Spring Break, the 11.523 portion of the class ends and the 11.524 portion begins. The 11.524 portion is run as a workshop with all Tuesday and Thursday times devoted to class project work.


Instruction Staff

Prof. Joseph Ferreira
Room 9-532
Admin: Sue Delaney
Room 9-530

Office Hours

Joseph Ferreira: Mon  2:30-4:00 , Thursday 10:30-noon


This semester long subject (11.521) is divided into two halves. The first half focuses on learning spatial database management techniques and methods and the second half focuses on using these skills to address a ‘real world,’ client-oriented planning problem. The first half of the semester may be taken separately using the class number 11.523 and the second half may be taken separately as 11.524.

In order to help shape and utilize the information infrastructure that will support the management and development of our metropolitan areas, planners need a basic understanding of the tools and technology for designing, querying, analyzing, and sharing complex databases and maps. Managing online access to large and constantly-changing spatial datasets can be a powerful aid to planning and can facilitate inter-agency cooperation and collaboration in an increasingly decentralized world. But it requires the use of knowledge representation methods, client-server technologies and access control issues that are quite different from what are needed to model and visualize standalone datasets on a personal computer. Hence, planners should acquire basic skills in database management, digital spatial data analysis, and geospatial services.

The 11.523 portion of the semester addresses these issues while retaining a focus on planning (rather than on computer science).  This is an intensive, hands-on class that stresses learning by doing. Exercises and examples involving real-world data, maps, and images are used to develop skills with database query languages and the design, development, and use of structured databases. Class work utilizes web tools, GIS, and database software with lab exercises primarily in the high-performance PC computing cluster in Room 37-312. Specifically, we will work with database servers (Oracle 11g) using SQL (structured query language) and we will use ArcGIS (including ArcSDE, ArcScene, and Model Builder) for spatial analysis and modeling. We will also use MS-Access, Excel, Google Maps and Google Earth for desktop data manipulation and map mashups. Each week there is one ninety-minute lecture plus another 90 to 180 minute hands-on lab in the electronic classroom. Class lectures will focus on concepts and case discussion, the scheduled lab time focuses on computer mechanics and skill building. Specific topics during the 11.523 half of the semester include: 

The 11.524 portion of the semester will begin after Spring Break and will work with Boston's Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), the State GIS Office (MassGIS), and local agencies on a group project related to measuring the land use and environmental impacts of transportation infrastructure investment and zoning regulations along inner city transportation corridors. The class project will work with parcel-level data about ownership, land use, building characteristics, assessed value, and transportation accessibility. We will also use the MAPC's regional growth planning model (developed used Community Viz and ArcGIS) to estimate the spatial pattern of development under alternative growth scenarios and to provide performance indicators for local agencies and municipalities. The 11.524 portion of the class will be organized as a workshop and the lab exercises and lecture/lab schedule for that part will be adjusted weekly to match the project work schedule.

Choosing 11.521  versus 11.523 or 11.524


The prerequisites for 11.521 (or 11.523) are (a) sufficient understanding of analytic methods, and (b) some background in GIS and database management. For MCP students the analytic methods are covered in 11.220: Quantitative Reasoning and Statistical Analysis I (which may be taken concurrently in the same Spring semester).  For most undergraduates the general Institute requirements are sufficient. The introductory GIS and database management are covered in 11.520: A Workshop on Geographic Information Systems, or 11.188 Urban Planning and Social Science Lab (the undergraduate version of 11.520). However, we have designed 11.521 (and 11.523) to be accessible to students with only the half-semester Fall introduction to GIS: in 11.205 - Introduction to Sptatial Analysis (see Students eager to learn more GIS whose only GIS and database management experience is 11.205 can take at least the 11.523 half of the semester if they have time to do a few extra online GIS and database lab exercises at the start of the semester.


Exercises, class discussions, and projects use real databases and problems taken from current Urban Information Systems work in MIT's Urban Studies and Planning Department and involving local and regional planning agencies. These data include parcel-level maps, tabular data, and digital orthophotos along with land use, wetland, and other enviornmental planning datasets for the state; and detailed information about the neighborhoods being studied for the project. 

The full course includes seven lab exercises (11.523 students complete the first six labs, and 11.524 students do the last one). Each lab includes an assignment to be turned in. To facilitate a quick turnaround on grading, these assignments will be evaluated on a three-point scale: check-minus, check, check-plus. Students in 11.521 and 11.523 will complete two homework sets and have one in-lab test before Spring Break. Students in 11.521 and 11.524 will complete a half-semester group project during the second half of the term that provides an opportunity to apply GIS and database concepts in a more realistic context. The project concludes with an oral presentation to the client and a written report. In addition to preparing paper maps, the group will use a wiki for project collaboration and will build a web site to showcase their work. 


11.521:  Grade is the average of 11.523 and 11.524 grades

  • 6 Lab Exercises (collectively) (25%)
  • 2 Problem Sets (collectively) (35%)
  • Examination (35%)
  • Class Participation (5%)
  • Lab 7 (10%)
  • Project Proposal and lab work (35%)
  • Final Project Presentation (35%)
  • Final Project Writeup (20%)

Lateness Policy

Turning in assignments promptly is important both for keeping current with the subject matter, which is cumulative, and to keep all students on a level playing field. Lab exercises are typically due one week after the lab is scheduled. A late lab exercise will be accepted up until one week after the original due date for a loss of one grade (e.g., a "check" becomes a "check-minus"). After that, late assignments will receive no credit and will not be accepted.  Late problem sets will have two points deducted for each weekday or weekend after the due date. Final project  writeups are due on the last day of classes, Thursday, May 13. However, students always ask for extra time to turn in these writeups. They will be accepted without penalty until Monday, May 17. Writeups turned in later will lose 5 points per day. No project writeups will be accepted after Thursday, May 20. 


If you have a documented disability, or any other problem you think may affect your ability to perform in class, please see me early in the semester so that arrangements may be made to accommodate you.

Academic Misconduct

Plagiarism and cheating are both academic crimes. Never (1) turn in an assignment that you did not write yourself, (2) turn in an assignment for this class that you previously turned in for another class, or (3) cheat on an exam. If you do so, it may result in a failing grade for the class, and possibly even suspension from the college. Please see me if you have any questions about what constitutes plagiarism. Anyone caught cheating on an exam will be reported to the provost in line with recognized university procedures.


There are no required texts and most readings will be available online. Recommended papers and books will be on reserve at Rotch Library.

However, the Oracle documentation site is so cluttered that I find it quite hard to locate Oracle reference documents for these basic SQL queries. Accordingly, we have placed copies of the Oracle SQL Reference and SQL*PLUS Reference in the class locker:

Note: The book is a good introduction to what's under the covers of GIS software. It appears to have been repackaged in 1998 or 1999, but this appears to be the same book regardless as they have the same ISBN.


Part I: Spatial Information and Database Management

Tuesday, 2 February

Class 1: Introduction the Course
Lab 1: Lab Introduction using ArcGIS, Oracle, MS-Access and Excel


Thursday, 4 February 

Class 2: Relational database management, geospatial data ( jf)

Readings :


Tuesday, 9 February

Class 3:
Land Use and Land Value Patterns in East Boston: Getting Comfortable with Relational Queries and Map-Database-Spreadsheet Interaction (Handling One-to-Many Relations - Grouping & Aggregation)

Lab 2: Intermediate Oracle and SQL 

Out: Lab Exercise 2
Due: Lab Exercise 1

Reading: Trimble and Chappell, Chapters 5, 7, and 8.


Thursday, 11 February
Class 4: Advanced SQL – Subqueries and Complex joins (jf)

Reading: Trimble and Chappell, Chapter 6.


Tuesday, 16 February NO CLASS (use Monday Schedule this day)

Thursday, 18 February

Class 5: The Zoning Variance Database &  Advanced Query Construction (jf)

Out: Problem Set A (expansion of Lab 3): More SQL -- The Zoning Variance Database & Categorization via Lookup Tables
Due: Lab 2


· Zoning variance database help pages

· Ferreira, Joseph Jr., "Information Technologies that Change Relationships between Low-Income Communities and the Public and Non-profit Agencies that Serve Them," Chapter 7 in MIT Press Book, High Technology and Low-Income Communities, D. Schon, et al. (editors), 1997. This Chapter 7 is online at:


· Top-down and bottom-up strategies for ‘cleaning’ official administrative databases

· Using lookup tables to interpret read-only city data

· Strategies for encoding, accumulating, and utilizing local  knowlege

Tuesday, 23 February:

Class 6: Model Builder and Community Viz (jf)

Lab 4: Mapping  Boston Parcels and Zoning Variances


Thursday, 25 February:
Class 7: Advanced SQL, Referential Integrity and Relational Database Design (jf)

Due: Lab 3 exercises (first part of Problem Set A)

Reading:Worboys , pp. 68-84 (Optional: pp. 84-95).


Part II: Integrating Mapping and DBMS

Tuesday, 2 March

Class 8: Distributed Databases and Map mashups (jf)

Lab 5:   Raster Modeling with ArcGIS's Spatial Analyst and Model Builder
Due: Lab Exercise 4


Thursday, 4 March
Class 9: Database Design, Distributed GIS, and Urban Modeling

Due: Problem Set A (extension of Lab 3)


Tuesday, 9 March
Class 10: In-Lab Examination

Thursday, 11 March
Class 11: Integrating Mapping with RDBMS Tools II ( jf)

Tuesday, 16 March

Class 12: Using ArcGIS Spatial Analyst (jf)
Lab 6: Community Viz and Boston's MetroFuture planning model (using Community Viz)
Due: Lab Exercise 5

Thursday, 18 March
Class 13: Using ArcGIS 3D Spatial Analyst and Geospatial Services (jf)

Due: Problem Set B (Referential Integrity and Relational Database Design)

11.523 Ends

Tuesday, 23 March: NO CLASS (Spring Break)
Thursday, 25 March: NO CLASS (Spring Break)

11.524 Begins -  GIS Project

Tuesday, 30 March

Class 14: Spatial Analysis Modeling Tools
Lab 7: 
ArcGIS Model Builder Exercise (jf)

Due: Lab Exercise 6 (for 11.521 and 11.523 but not 11.524)

Thursday, 1 April - Class 15:  Introduction to Project and Meeting with Clients ( jf)

Tuesday, 6 April - Class 16:  Project Work

Due: Lab Exercise 7

Thursday,89 April - Class 17:  Project Work

Tuesday, 13 AprilClass 18: NO CLASS Patriots Day--Vacation

Thursday, 16 April - Class 19:  Project work

Tuesday, 20 AprilClass 20: NO CLASS Patriots Day--Vacation

Thursday, 22 April - Class 21: Project Work

Tuesday, 27 April - Class 22: Project Work

Thursday, 29 AprilMay - Class 23: Project Work

Tuesday, 4 May - Class 24: Project Work

Thursday, 6 May - Class 23: Internal Project Presentation

Tuesday, 11 May - Class 24:  Project Writeup and Class Wrapup

Thursday, 13 May - Class 25:  Project Presentation

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Last modified: 1 Feb 2010 [jf ]