When you think about Urban Planning, drones are not normally one of the first things to come to mind. Interestingly enough, unmanned aerial vehicles are beginning to be used to get images of cities from a bird’s eye view. Because drones are able to obtain high-resolution aerial images very quickly for a reasonable price, they are becoming especially useful in poor third world countries where satellite images are very expensive or are not of sufficient quality.

Piotr Sasin, the country director at People In Need (PIN), believes that drone technology is a starting point to improving Cambodia’s urban planning issues. Cambodia currently has a weak planning department, and although the local authorities have prepared a master plan they do not have local land use plans. Construction in some of the cities in Cambodia is not regulated and is developer-driven, who rarely consider environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive designs. PIN is attempting to use drones to prepare detailed flood risk maps and map informal settlements. These maps will be used to prepare local upgrading and mitigation plan and to review the current land use. PIN expects that mapping is the first step to upgrade the settlements and provide for improved living conditions as they assess people’s land rights.

Unfortunately, local authorities don’t trust drones, and the term has come to have negative associations with spying. Additionally, drone battery performance is relatively low, only lasting around forty-five minutes before needing to come back and swap out the battery to return to the point it left off to keep mapping. Jan Gehl, a Danish architect and urban planner said, “first life, then spaces, then buildings – the other way around never works.” This means that although drones are a technology that can be helpful in urban planning, it will never replace a process that needs to be put in place to develop good urban plans and keep the needs of the people first.

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In urban planning, aerial imaging is one of the most important aspects of any project. Photographs are used to show the planning board what the site currently looks like, what is around the site, and potentially what the site will look like after the project is completed. Photos from above help give the planning board an idea of how well the project will fit in with the characteristics of the surrounding area. Drones are great tools for taking aerial pictures, but currently there are many regulations and permits that are needed if you are going to be taking photos especially in major cities in the United States. Nevertheless, drones are great tools and will definitely be making their way into the urban planning world soon enough.

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