Planning Without Politics

GIS Decision Maps to help Philadelphia make the most of rehabilitation funds.

by / August 1, 2006 0
Philadelphia Mayor John Street took office in 1999, promising to revitalize the city's neglected areas with his Neighborhood Transition Initiative (NTI).

"We had a lot of buildings that were falling down -- a lot of social ills that were very apparent in many neighborhoods. NTI is a comprehensive strategy that has been funded through bond proceeds to address a lot of these issues," said Beau Bradley, GIS analyst for the Philadelphia Mayor's Office.

The GIS team at the Mayor's Office used a spatial model to decide which areas of the city needed demolition. From this experience, the team developed an application called Decision Maps, which is currently being rolled out, that will help City Council members systematically determine where blight in the city exists and concentrate limited rehabilitation funding on those areas.

"It enabled us to take the politics out of a lot of these discussions and really frame them in terms of where the need was, based on this information that was coming back to us from all these departments," Bradley said.

Decision Maps is based on ESRI's ArcGIS Server and uses services to pull info from various departments such as Revenue, Water, BRT (assessment), Licenses and Inspections, and several others.

"Our enterprise GIS is a federated system, meaning every layer in the system is maintained by a department as part of the department's business process," said James Querry, GIS director of Philadelphia. "For example, parcel maps are maintained by the Records Department because their business process deals with parcel ownership and the boundaries involved."

ArcGIS Server allows components to be used separately and programmed into other applications so departments can tailor them to their business needs.

For example, the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Shelters and Services is seeking ways to use Decision Maps for planning the location of homeless shelters. The office must determine a potential shelter's proximity to public transportation, commercial areas, how it will affect its neighbors and several other criteria.

The ability of these geospatial services to work with systems across the city has already helped city organizations save time and money, and with Decision Maps more departments and community organizations will be empowered to meet their specific challenges.

"When the Records Department or the Police Department went about creating new applications, they had services to use as a resource," said Clinton Johnson, senior GIS programmer for the Philadelphia Mayor's Office. "They saved tens of thousands of dollars in new application development efforts."

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