Transforming Cities through GIS Technology and Geospatial Analytics

It is often time-consuming, expensive, and tedious to compile the extensive data sets needed for geospatial analysis. But governments may be able to reduce some of the complications by promoting citizen involvement in various ways.

November 2013 | by Jack Kuhlman

We’re all familiar with using maps to figure out where to go, or how to get from point A to point B. But now we can also use maps to figure out where and when burglaries are most likely to occur in a particular city, the parts of a country most in need of prenatal health-care clinics, and where a parking spot just became available in a congested neighborhood. The rapid retrieval and presentation of such highly specific, extremely valuable information is possible because of one innovative technology: geographic-information systems (GIS).

GIS technology allows users to integrate and analyze large, disparate data sets that involve geospatial information—in other words, location data—and non-geospatial information like population density or customer preferences. Through GIS, users can quickly detect patterns and trends that might otherwise be overlooked—a perspective that helps them develop innovative solutions to long-standing problems.

Planning and Analysis

Just as geospatial information helps companies find the best locations for their stores, bank branches, or other businesses, it also helps governments determine where to place publicly funded facilities, such as hospitals, clinics, sporting arenas, subway lines, police stations, and community centers. In Uji City, Japan, for instance, planners used GIS technology and geospatial analytics to reduce the time and effort required to determine where new child-care centers should be located. Through their analyses, they could rapidly identify areas with the highest density of young children and then visualize the information.

Beyond facility placement, GIS technology and geospatial analytics can also help with a number of other planning decisions. For instance, Boston has created a GIS map of renewable-energy sources, such as solar and wind systems, to guide investment decisions, track clean-energy progress, and meet the mayor’s goal to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020. City planners designed the map to show the location of the energy source and details about each site, such as the name of the installer and the kilowatt rating. As another example, the National Library Board (NLB) in Singapore uses geospatial information to analyze public-library visitorship and book-loan transaction trends. By geocoding millions of transaction records, the board can identify hotspots of library usage, such as the most popular branches, and develop strategies for targeted outreach and optimizing book collections. New York City is also very active in using GIS technology to improve the lives of its residents.

GIS in Government:

What needs to happen Governments with extensive GIS experience may have sufficient skills and resources needed to implement new initiatives rapidly. Those with less experience may find it helpful to proceed in phases, running pilots and developing detailed business cases before building capabilities at scale. This approach can allow governments to build robust databases and supporting systems, as well as a fully functional GIS team, before beginning large-scale projects.

City governments are increasingly open to GIS initiatives, partly because of the impact they are observing in the private sector, but few have embraced their full potential. To achieve the potential, we see a major role for geospatial analytics in three areas: information dissemination, urban planning, and service delivery. Governments can strengthen their performance by ensuring that key enablers are in place before launching extensive GIS programs. As GIS adoption grows, it could potentially have an even greater impact in the public sphere than the private sector, given the scope and scale of government services.


Executive Editor

Ms Anna Sullivan

Ms Anna Sullivan