The next time you turn on your cell phone, look up an address online, or check the weather forecast, you can thank someone working in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Since the 1990s, these quiet data wizards have transitioned from providing basic global directionality to supporting essential technology in daily lives.
The City of Huntsville’s GIS team is only 12 members strong, but they cut a dashing digital swath across every aspect of municipal operations, which in turn significantly impacts the community’s quality of life. Gatekeepers of the “address,” they recognize geospatial data is the key driver for everyday things like permits, work orders, trash collection and emergency response.
“GIS is much more than mapping,” said Amy Kenum, GIS Director for the City of Huntsville. “This technology allows us to see and model complex relationships and patterns to more intelligently respond to needs. For example, we use geospatial technology to create urban greenways, provide detailed property information, determine food deserts, healthcare needs and other important objectives.”
To recognize the importance of GIS’s role in improving lives, the City of Huntsville is celebrating GIS Day on Nov 15. It’s part of a national effort to educate the public on the significance of GIS and to inspire others to use this technology for good.
“GIS has evolved from a niche field powering things in the background to playing a key role in everyday tasks,” said Nick Haney, GIS Program Specialist, City of Huntsville. “A lot of people today participate in GIS and are not aware of it, such as using their smartphones, which have a lot of apps powered by GPS data.”
In the City, the use and application of geospatial technology are critical to operating infrastructure, sustaining natural resources and stimulating growth. The technology better informs decision-making and makes useful geographic information open and easily available to the public as a platform for innovation. Open source data sets are readily available on the GIS webpage.
Huntsville’s GIS team has also created a series of apps for residents to use in its Web Map Gallery. They have taken vast databases of information, paired it with directionality, and parsed it for the public to access. For example:
- If you are looking for a species of tree that grows in Madison County, try out the Native Species app.
- For information about a particular piece of property, check out Detailed Property Information. This robust application includes details such as ownership, site map, environmental features (sinkholes, streams), traffic counts and travel times, property taxes and more.
- See who is buried in Maple Hill and where a specific grave is located using the Cemetery Burial Locator.
- View images of the City of Huntsville back to 1937 with Aerial Imagery.
These apps, along with bike routes, greenways, historic markers, community watch areas and FEMA maps are just a few of the over 100 user-friendly data applications GIS has created for residents, some of which were developed at their request.
“Someone will call us up and ask for a particular dataset, and we’ll see what we can do,” Haney said. “We really take pride in being able to fulfill a need.”
GIS Game Day
And just for fun, in recognition of GIS Day, try out these games:
Is this in Huntsville? tests your knowledge of locations across the city.
When Was That? is a game of local history and geography.