Spatial Reasoning for Effective GIS


     Joseph K. Berry, Colorado State University






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Most desktop mapping and GIS applications have focused on mapping and spatial data management for viewing and geo-query of mapped data.  However, in many ways geographic information systems (GIS) technology is as different from as it is similar to traditional map processing.  Map analysis and GIS modeling involve entirely new spatial reasoning concepts and procedures that are not reflected in our paper map legacy. 


This compilation, based on Joe Berry’s popular "Beyond Mapping" columns in GeoWorld magazine from 1993 to 1996, discusses the new breed of map analysis tools and how they can be used to better characterize and communicate spatial relationships. It is written for GIS professionals, as well as novices, in a witty style that entertains as well as informs. 


Spatial Reasoning for Effective GIS (Berry 1995) discusses the fundamental elements of GIS that make it different from traditional map structure, content, processing and use.  This incisive and witty book describes the development of geographic information systems (GIS) technology from maps that simply tell us “Where is what?” to systems that help us determine “So what, why and what if?”  It encourages new understanding of mapped data, data analysis procedures, and the uses of maps, fostering an appreciation of GIS as an effective analytical tool in many complex processes.  GIS is a new and rapidly evolving technology, and as such it presents new opportunities as well as new pitfalls.  This book engages the reader through perceptive and relaxed discussion that investigates why GIS technology is “as different from as it is similar” to traditional map processing.


The book also contains a valuable treatise of The Most Beautiful Formulae in GIS by Nigle Waters and an extensive resource appendix.



Spatial Reasoning for Effective GIS


This is a collection of Joe Berry’s popular "Beyond mapping" columns published in GIS World from 1993 to 1996.  It builds on an earlier book, Beyond Mapping: Concepts, Algorithms, and Issues in GIS and is similar in its lighthearted style and extensive use of examples to convey underlying GIS theory.  In Spatial Reasoning, Berry extends, and in some cases elaborates on, the discussion of the map analysis “toolbox” used in GIS modeling and its creative application.  As Will Rogers noted, “Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there.”  This second book in the series is intended to keep you moving beyond basic mapping. 


The material presented in Spatial Reasoning is cross-referenced to the companion GIS Concepts Digital Slide Shows (gCON) and Tutorial Map Analysis Package (tMAP) software.  The gCON system is designed for self-learning map analysis concepts through slide sets demonstrating GIS procedures and applications.  The tMAP software program is designed for self-learning map analysis concepts through "hands-on" experience.

Note: The original gCON Digital Slides Shows have been replaced by the online MapCalc Description and Examples document and the tMAP software has been replaced by the MapCalc Learner software (free download at, under “Software”).


-         Introduction Is the GIS technology cart in front of the horse?  Data mining, predictive modeling and dynamic simulation are new applications of GIS used to uncover spatial relationships and sensitivities among mapped data.   This section discusses the revolutionary procedures identifying the driving forces, trends and forecasts of the a spatial paradigm.

-         Topic 1 Understanding GIS As GIS moves from graphical inventories to spatial reasoning, new procedures must be developed to communicate the logic that supports GIS models.  An end user must interact with a model—a spatial spreadsheet—that can present alternative perspectives.   This section describes the interactive use of a map pedigree linking GIS commands to a flowchart of model logic.

-         Topic 2 From Field Samples to Mapped Data In the simplest sense, statistics are merely a collection of numbers.  Traditional statistical analysis characterize the "typical response" in a data set, whereas spatial statistics seek to map the data’s distribution in geographic space.  This section compares the two approaches and investigates various techniques of spatial interpolation.

-         Topic 3 Implementing GIS GIS technology begins with a through understanding of its intended applications and operating environment. This section presents an applications-driven procedure for assessing GIS information needs within an organization and establishes a hierarchy of questions it can address.

-         Topic 4 Toward and Honest GIS By their nature, maps are abstractions of real conditions.  They approximate the positioning of tangible or conceptual features on our landscape with varying degrees of certainty.  This section introduces the concept of using a "shadow map" of certainty to track error propagation in GIS models.

-         Topic 5 A Framework for GIS Modeling The use of GIS to model complex spatial relationships is increasing rapidly.  Our understanding of the types and approaches of models, however, is based on decades of nonspatial modeling experience.  This section presents a classification framework for GIS models and a flowcharting methodology.

-         Topic 6 Alternative Data Structures At the heart of GIS is data. How data are structured, in large part, determines a system’s performance, capabilities and breadth of applications.  This section describes alternative approaches to vector and raster data structures.

-         Topic 7 Organizing the Map Analysis Toolbox What GIS can do depends on the depth of the spatial information available to the computer, tempered by the depth of understanding of the analytical operations by those who use it.  This section discusses spatial topology and its extension to the classification of analytical GIS operations.

-         Topic 8 The Anatomy of a GIS Model Although GIS models address a wide diversity of applications, the basic structure of most models are quite similar.  This section compares several GIS models to illustrate different modeling approaches and varying levels of results they generate.

-         Topic 9 Putting GIS in the Hands of People The Global Positioning System (GPS) focuses on real-time positioning in space while remote sensing (RS) technology focuses on monitoring and classifying the landscape.  This section covers the underlying principles of these related fields and their integration into a GIS/GPS/RS field unit.

-         Topic 10 A Futuristic GIS Spatial Analysis is more than mapping and spatial database management.  It involves deriving new information to express relationships based on the relative positions of map features.  This section establishes a framework for spatial analysis and demonstrates several of its import aspects.

-         Epilog GIS technology is thought of as hardware and software.  However, the "humanware" component often determines the usefulness of the system.  This section discusses the human factor in GIS and the linkages and distinctions among data, information, knowledge and wisdom.

-         Appendices Appendices are included that describe the companion software for self-learning GIS concepts and applications, a listing of GIS resources, and a collection of mathematical formulae used in GIS by Nigel Waters.


The Spatial Reasoning for Effective GIS book can be purchased online from and

For more information about the Spatial Reasoning book and supporting materials, contact:

 Berry & Associates // Spatial Information Systems (BASIS), Fort Collins, Colorado

 Website    Email






Also see the online Beyond Mapping Compilation Series posted at