UIX Blog: The world at your fingertips, with the right data

Of all the free mapping resources available online, ArcGIS is by far the most robust and functional. You could say it's like renting a satellite, but even that would still fall short in ability.

Of all the free mapping resources available online, ArcGIS is by far the most robust and functional. You could say it's like renting a satellite but even that would still fall short in ability.

This software, which is quite expensive, but does allow for a 30-day trial, can compile a massive amount of geographical data into a single layer that can be shared across the world, letting others see a scene from that specific point of view.

There are topographical, transit, and municipal boundary basemaps already available on the ArcGIS server, but the skeleton of any informative map layered above that requires a dataset, which can be translated into points, lines, and regions on a 3D map of Earth. All maps, layer data, mapping applications, and more are shared from the ArcGIS server, which only licensed (or trial) users have access to.

Many of the maps made available by people across the world on ArcGIS apply to a specific region but some are driven by global data and can be applied to any view. For example, someone looking for areas in economic need could apply the median household income layer to a street map and see how different regions relate to each other in terms of earning opportunity. Differences in population growth, unemployment rate, age, and even average alcoholic spending can be visualized using ArcGIS' "Living Atlas Layers."

Grand Rapids Open Data hosts a wealth of information that can be mapped in ArcGIS. Apart from budget and millage information, GROD holds waste management data, refuse routes, parking facilities, and more, all of which is of some use to the ArcGIS Interoperability module, which simply means you can use the files to notate a map in meaningful ways.

Say you wanted to know how the landfills in Grand Rapids are filled, and where that waste comes from. By applying the shapefile for refuse routes hosted on GROD to an ArcGIS street map, you can see the area from which Grand Rapids' trucks collect trash. Apply other GROD data and you can evaluate the information based on neighborhood, school district, and even proximity to alternative fuel stations.

The Free Grand Rapids Data Project also hosts the Rapid's General Transit Feed Specification datafeed. GTFS feeds are the format public transit agencies use to publish their transit data, which can be used in different applications applications. From the Rapid GTFS feed, longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates for every stop are available on separate text files, which ArcGIS can extrapolate into a visual route.

Layered over economic data, transit routes can be very telling. While most of the urban areas of West Michigan are fortunate enough to have mass transit access, the bus routes in other cities may not be planned out as well. In our next UIX blog, we will explore the many ways ArcGIS can point out areas where residents of a city may be lacking access to crucial resources.

Urban Innovation Exchange highlights the people and projects transforming West Michigan through sustainable efforts. To see more UIX stories, you can check out the entire series here. Have thoughts or ideas about UIX? Contact UIX Grand Rapids Editor Matthew Russell at [email protected]