7 March 2004

GIS and the City

On February 6th, 2004, Al Leidner, former head of New York City’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications GIS Program, spoke to members of GISMO about the future of geographic information systems in New York City.

A version of this program was originally presented to the Municipal Data Processing Council. I’ve combined my own notes below with those taken by James Labate.

The GIS Utility: Key Integration of IT

  • GIS marries information technology with the science of geography.
  • The value of information has become the center point of the industry: the quality, amount, and how integrated it is.
  • The technology is there, but the data is lacking. The more combinable data is, the more valuable it becomes. To that effect, the “stove piping” of information is a massive problem.
  • From Data to Wisdom: Increasing the value of data should be the goal of the GIS Community.
  • The “Where Field” - Geography as an ancient science vs. IT as a new industry. GIS people need to bring geography to IT people.
  • We’re still in the early stages of understanding the integration of data. But all data is spatially enabled and therefore can be combined. For example, an automated mapping application can plot a database of 500,000 tree locations off of building and other feature locations.
  • Five basic fields on NYCmap, the City government-maintained basemap, are: postal address, latitude and longitude, street segment, parcel, and building. These are all related and identified with a unique ID.

How Do We Create Value?

  • With a “critical mass” of data support to NYCmap.
  • The Department of Health used a “critical mass” of West Nile identifiers (e.g. infected birds) to created a predictive model of West Nile Disease. (A series of maps were shown depicting the spread of the virus.) Using the maps, they could quickly spray selected areas. Human cases are preempted. Predict death and stop it. GIS can save lives.
  • In 9/11, the NYC Office of Emergency Management lost its office and data when the towers collapsed. Responders to the disaster needed combinations of data. GISMO volunteers and others provided data to responders from an ad-hoc office at Pier 92. Speed and ability to deal with complex interactions were key features.
  • City’s 311 non-emergency hotline uses a GIS engine which geocodes all data that is taken in. With this, can look for patterns and trends in neighborhoods. (Do trash dumping complaints predict a rise in crime?) The City recently mapped cell phone outages using survey info from 311 and the DoITT Web site.
  • My Neighborhood Statistics at nyc.gov, and CMAP’s myCiti expand the knowledge of GIS among non-GIS professionals.
  • 40 City, 35 State Agencies create knowledge from GIS data. (See notes on Al’s GIS Coordination Program).

New Developments

  • Massive sewer and water system mapping project underway.
  • Dept. of City Planning releases geosupport desktop application.
  • COGIS - developing better property tax lot outlines.
  • Homeland security driving Federal, Local GIS integration.
  • FDNY, EMS, NYPD integrating exchange of data for emergency response, sharing with State, FBI.
  • Modeling building and subway systems for emergency response. 468 stations in MTA. PATH and Amtrak next.
  • Aerial photos, from Pictometry, show all sides of every building in NYC. Free to City agencies.

Opposing the Future - Roadblocks to Progress

  • Underfunded IT and GIS.
  • Little understanding of the transformative process of IT.
  • Contempt for Planning - Outmoded stereotyping.

Cultural Evolution

  • What are the combinations of data across service and agency barriers that produce results?
  • What are the analytic and predictive tools that can do it?
  • Combine all capital projects - see where there are synergies, opportunities to overcome problems.

Benefits

  • Revenue: better use of geography will create a higher level of billing accuracy, increasing City revenues.

Public Safety

  • Develop an integrated 911. Fire Dept. and Police should be working off the best geocoding system possible to improve response time, plot fastest routes to sites.
  • CompSTAT - Police Dept. Application - GIS saving lives. Info and analysis brought together with new way of organizing. (See this BBC article on mapping crime.)
  • Hazardous materials and combustibles: combination of previously uncombined data to give firefighters more information before entering a building.

Predictions

  • Every City agency will have GIS. Wireless connections to data applications from sites.
  • 500% staffing increase in City GIS Personnel.
  • Federal Govt. will need and seek out state and local data as it is more accurate and of a higher quality.
  • Spatially enabled information will be the foundation of a 35% increase in productivity and 2% increase in revenues.
  • All City strategic data will be available and the increase of shared valuable information will increase social cohesion and collaboration.
  • Construction time will be reduced 10% and construction costs reduced 5%.
  • Predictive models will reduce violent crime by another 50%.

Al noted that more and more City data is available online, though many in audience noted felt that the City does not share enough of its data. NYCMap is not available to the public for “security reasons,” but is licensed to a couple of Universities and corporations under strict terms.

See also “City Governments Map Trends”¬†from Wired, February 1, 2004, and this 2002 interview with Al about GIS and the emergency response on September 11, 2001.