A lot of the conversation around GIS-supported advancements focuses on military and intelligence advancements or even how GIS can help us to better understand climate change. It is easy to see why as in those contexts, GIS supports problem-solving for large-scale issues. However, for the everyday person, GIS impacts our daily lives the most in the context of city infrastructure. It affects everything from how easy it is to get around the city, to the accessibility of local government services.
What Is City GIS
City GIS uses geospatial data to plan city infrastructure and service delivery. Residents expect quality services in return for the taxes they pay, so GIS gives the various city departments insights into how to make each of the services as efficient as possible. Richard Tuinstra, the GIS Manager for the City of Wilmington, North Carolina, gave the following examples of the services they analyze:
- Police services
- Paramedic and fire services
- Flood and stormwater systems
- Park maintenance
- Trash pick up
- Road maintenance
These are just some of the city services that use GIS for their planning; Richard Tuinstra believes that every city department uses the data they provide. Each of these services is essential to the efficient running of a city. While inefficient emergency services are a matter of life or death, Richard predicts that for most people, the most noticeable absence of GIS will be trash collection services.
City GIS is also commonly used in city planning. Anytime a city wants to add new developments, check tax billing, or even allocate additional resources to city jails, they rely on GIS data to inform the project planning.
Recently, the City of Wilmington has been looking into whether the city’s stormwater drainage infrastructure can handle extreme weather events. GIS is helping them to see which areas are likely to flood and the probable damage in various degrees of flooding. GIS data will even allow them to analyze different ways they can mitigate or prevent flooding in critical areas like highways. They can compare the benefits and costs of using stormwater pipes or drainage ponds versus rebuilding in a more elevated area. In the future, city planners will be able to use digital twins supported by GIS data to model these solutions.
How Digital Twins Advance City Planning
Richard Tuinstra describes digital twins as SimCity for city planners. This new technology allows city planners to make a digital version of their city that acts as a testing environment to see the impact of changes. For example, a city planner could test adding an apartment complex to an empty lot and use the digital twin to see how that development would affect traffic and public services.
Digital twins are predicted to use city GIS data as well as other types of data like economic and climate data to look at the various impacts of decision-making. The goal is to be able to see what will happen to the city if you add things, remove things, or change things.
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The Barriers to Creating Smart Cities
Smart cities are cities that have used city GIS to optimize the allocation of resources. Taxes would be allocated in the most efficient way to balance the multitude of needs and priorities of the community. Roads, transport infrastructure, and the city layout would allow for the easy movement of people. City services would be comprehensive and cost-effective. These are just some examples of the utopic conditions that City GIS Managers are trying to create.
As in any other field, the success of city GIS relies on both the quantity and quality of data that can be collected. This requires a large number of sensors that collect various types of data.
Every person has a phone and can essentially become a sensor. This is the way crowdsource apps like Waze gain data. They make it easy for users to input GIS data about obstacles, potholes, and hazards. Richard Tuinstra would like to see city governments use similar methods to identify maintenance needs. The easier city planners can make it for people to report potholes or broken park benches, the more likely people will be to report necessary maintenance.
Richard Tuinstra also suggests that cities could do better in advertising the fact that they would find information about required maintenance useful. Most people assume that the city will know when things need to be fixed. That is not always the case. Potholes, for example, will spring up after heavy rain. The city fixes them as quickly as possible, but if people were to report potholes, the process would be much quicker.
What Does a City GIS Manager Do?
Richard Tuinstra’s workday varies significantly, but it usually starts the same way. The first thing he does when he gets to work is to check that all the GIS infrastructure is collecting data and that everybody who needs to can access the data. Once those checks have been done, a city GIS manager will usually address the various requests they receive throughout the day. Check out the short video below that describes the most important tasks of a City GIS Manager.
On any given day, that could be answering requests from city departments that need access to GIS data, or it could be fixing system crashes. The latter rarely happens, and luckily, they have premium support teams to get the systems running again quickly.
This article was taken from a conversation with Richard Tuinstra about city GIS and smart cities on the NDS Show Podcast. Watch the full episode on YouTube to learn about the history of city GIS and unexpected city GIS touchpoints. Subscribe to The NDS Show on YouTube to stay up to date with the latest in the geospatial intelligence field.