Mapping Government Essentials

GIS is proving to be a significant aspect in all levels of government. Earl Blumenauer is the biggest proponent of mapping Oregons governmental trails.

by / October 30, 2000
By Andrew Noel | Special to Government Technology

GIS is proving to be a significant aspect in all levels of government. Earl Blumenauer is the biggest proponent of mapping Oregons governmental trails.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., has been an Oregon-elected official for over 25 years. He was born, raised and educated in Portland and has been a life-long resident of the 3rd Congressional District. Blumenauer was drawn to political and civic action out of the civil rights and anti-war activism of the 1960s. He began his political career while still in college, chairing a statewide campaign to lower Oregons voting age in 1969.

In 1972, at age 23, Blumenauer was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives by winning every precinct in his district. After completing three terms in the Legislature (1973, 1975, 1977), Blumenauer was elected and served eight years (two terms from 1978 to 1985) on the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, specializing in government reform, budget, finance and transportation.

Blumenauer was first elected to the Portland City Council in 1986, winning re-election in 1990 and again in 1994 with 70 percent of the vote. While on the city council, Blumenauer showed his strength as an innovative and effective leader, contributing to Portlands reputation as one of the countrys most livable urban areas.

What does GIS offer for state and local governments in the United States?

Governments, at all levels, collect a massive amount of data -- everything from the census to the distribution of public funds. GIS is a powerful tool for elected officials, planners and community activists to better understand and visualize the impacts of investment decisions, development and demographic trends, and the complex nature of environmental ecosystems. GIS can provide easy-to-understand computer maps that show different aspects of a region or community -- which can help state and local governments make more informed [and] collaborative decisions about regional growth, public investments, land-use and natural resource management.

Currently, great efforts are being made by the public and private sectors to improve the quality of the data being collected and also to improve our ability to use multiple sources of data in a single application. GIS is one of the most exciting means of achieving both goals. For example, numerous communities are using information collected by HUD on its state block grant programs and overlaying this with geo-coded census and infrastructure information to uncover
economic-development trends and opportunities in lower-income neighborhoods.

Federal agencies have been working with communities to improve data collection and develop GIS applications for a variety of uses. The Federal Transit Administration recently completed geo-coding all of the fixed transit routes in the country and overlaying this data with
census information and hours of service information. This information is available on the Internet and can be used by communities to determine potential route or scheduling changes or determine the overall effectiveness of a transit system to serve targeted populations.

The Department of the Interior, working with communities across the country, is developing GIS databases for use on a wide array of applications to address locally determined environmental concerns. Examples include mapping potential seismic activity in the Pacific Northwest and overlaying this with emergency evacuation routes and projecting the long-term environmental impacts of mining in northeastern Pennsylvania on water quality and regional ecosystems.

What are the greatest benefits of using GIS in urban planning?

The fact that accredited planning programs now require graduate students to learn GIS demonstrates its importance as a tool in the planning process. Urban planners have the difficult task of taking a comprehensive look at a variety of factors influencing the future and long-term health of a community such as projected development, demographic projections, environmentally sensitive areas and the condition of the built environment. GIS not only assists in mapping all of this information, but allows planners to analyze the trade-offs between urban land-use policies, investment decisions, and fiscal incentives or regulations.

For example, GIS [is] used to illustrate a communitys transportation system [and] can aid in determining the relative connectivity and identifying the important destinations, preferred routes of travel and barriers that may exist. This information can then help identify what
measures are needed to improve accessibility as well as enhance livability. For example, it can help planners determine where there is a need to provide better facilities for bikers and walkers. Image mapping can also help in the advocacy of such improvements.

Has GIS been used to help reconcile timber and conservation interests in Oregon? What does GIS bring to the table in such a case?

In Oregon, GIS is used for natural habitat issues, among other uses. GIS is used extensively to refine the states target areas, such as the Metro Greenspaces Bond Measure. GIS is used to map the presence of different wildlife species and to map stream corridors to determine where to implement limitations on urban development.

Can GIS improve the interaction between constituents and political figures? How?

The use of such data can improve government accountability, and also provide the tools for enhancing our ability to understand the linkages between policy decisions and locational impacts. The end result is that better information will hopefully lead to better decision-making. Maps are powerful tools that help us visualize the geographic effects of government policies. Mapping the data that we collect can help both politicians and constituents to see the impacts of our investment decisions, pinpoint areas of environmental concern or to see the uneven
pattern of costs and benefits that impact our communities. The only requirement for what can be mapped with GIS is the extent to which data is collected and geo-coded. The possibilities for its use as a planning and information tool are almost limitless.

Part of our work here in Congress is to ensure that the federal government does its job to provide data that is accessible and usable. Included in the fiscal year 2001 budget proposal is a request of $50 million for the Community/Federal Information Partnership Program. This
inter-agency program would provide communities with greater access to information about their communities and regions through making informational tools such as GIS more readily available at the local level. Of the money being requested, approximately half would be available to local, regional and national nonfederal organizations to build local capacity to create geo-spatial data and use GIS technology.