University of New Orleans Launches GIS@UNO
UNO-PLUS plans to celebrate the national Geographic Information Systems (GIS) day on Nov. 20 with a presentation by guest speaker Allen Square, chief information technology officer of the City of New Orleans, said Associate Professor of Planning and Urban Studies Michelle Thompson. The event is sponsored by the Louisiana Chapter of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association in cooperation with national GIS-leader ESRI and the University of New Orleans. Students are invited to participate in a poster presentation contest that offers both cache and a cash prize of $100.
Thompson is president of the New Orleans-based URISA chapter and oversees as a board of four, which includes the head of the city's 911 information office and the head of the Louisiana GIS office, located in Baton Rouge. In September, the chapter will co-host GIS-Pro 2014: URISA's 52nd Annual Conference.
"I really wanted the University to be out in front of this national issue," said Thompson, who said the local URISA chapter "is really for students, academics and professionals, anyone who is interested in learning about and sharing information and ideas about technology. It's not just about GIS. It is technology."
A geographic information system or geospatial information system (GIS) captures, manages, analyzes and displays geographical information, according to ESRI. GIS allows researchers and residents to explore data in ways that reveal relationships, patterns and trends—translating information, for example, into maps, globes, reports and charts. GIS technology typically involves hardware, software and data and a GIS simplifies data in a way that is quickly understood and easily shared.
In 2009, UNO-PLUS created WhoData.org, which Thompson describes as "a public participation geographical mapping project." Since then, WhoData has created or made accessible to the public more than a dozen key neighborhood studies. The web-based community data mapping application provides organizations throughout the city a platform to map and analyze the information they collect on properties in their area. It allows residents to assess their own neighborhoods, highlight properties that show indicators of blight, create their own maps and property lists, and share this information with the public.
"That's the power of the data: how can we get information and do it in a way that is systematic and organized and provide a way for the residents to take action," said Thompson. The whole point is the idea that 'How do you get information and use it in a positive way that is going to help you advocate?'"
Thompson and fellow researchers are now collecting information about residents and buying power in the lower Ninth Ward and mapping it online in a way that she believes will be helpful to community efforts to bring a supermarket to the area. The lower Ninth Ward currently has no large grocery.
In 2012, researchers used the WhoData collaborative community mapping application to create a new map that identifies parcels of land in New Orleans whose owners received Road Home money to rebuild their dwellings. The map and accompanying analysis represented a previously unseen geographic portrait of properties whose owners took the rebuilding option, or Option 1, across New Orleans.
Two years ago, the mayor started a mowing program in the Ninth Ward, said Thompson. She and fellow researchers performed a survey providing data on 100 percent of the district's properties and identifying in particular where poor condition lots were located.
"That was our big coup de grace. You are democratizing data but you are using it in a way that the residents can use it and the city can use it," said Thompson. "And in terms of UNO and our connection back to students, our students learn how to engage the community, they volunteer in the community and they are able to really skill build around community and urban planning issues."
UNO-PLUS researchers have worked with the Lakeview Civic Association to collect information about street conditions and locations of potholes, then used the WhoData application to map problem areas for use by city workers and advocates, said Thompson.
In 2010, UNO-PLUS researchers helped to jumpstart revitalization of the Hoffman Triangle area, by mapping redevelopment and future opportunities, as well as blight, dumped tires and other conditions thwarting the area.
"We're not just mapping all the bad stuff. We're also looking at places to invest," said Thompson. "It's about collecting data, mapping it and giving organizations access to resources that they wouldn't really have in order to best help their community."