Mecklenburg County, NC, recently utilized their GIS (Geographical Information System) as an open data source for a new website called GeoPortal. Normally a GIS organizes and manages geographical data within a region: property values, districting, zoning designations, property owners, etc. However, a county’s GIS also contains a variety of raw data that has more potential than merely a basic mapping system – and Mecklenburg County created this new tool based on that philosophy.
By visiting mcmap.org/geoportal, you will arrive at a website that includes an address bar at the top, a video explaining what GeoPortal is, a variety of search options on the left-hand side of the screen, and a map/viewer on the right-hand side of the screen. The goal of GeoPortal is for the user to discover new things about their community. They will type in their address at the top, then simply select through the data they are interesting in knowing more about from the left-hand side of the screen. For example, type in “700 North Summit Avenue” in the “Tell me about…” box at the top of the page and the GeoPortal locates it on a map (visible on the right-hand side of the screen). From there, you can click “Schools” on the left-hand side of the screen. It will tell you what elementary, middle, and high school is within the district, with locations, and distances from the user’s current location. From there you can click on the school name and the interactive map on the right-hand side of the screen will show you the best directions to get there.
Schools are just one option to discover through the GeoPortal. Users can look up more information about their property, trash and recycling information and schedules, whether or not they are in a floodplain, water quality information and usage restrictions, voting districts, parks that are nearby, closest libraries, and much more. It is a great tool for someone who is new to the area. By typing in their address they can find out where everything is in relation to them, with directions. It is also good for seasoned residents who need reminders of all the activities nearby, or who want to explore parts of their community they don’t think, or know about. It’s basically a Google Map function with a government-based GIS data source at its root.
This technology is somewhat innovative. You can already accomplish some of this on Google Maps, but with GeoPortal it’s all in one convenient web tool. The best part about the GeoPortal is its potential. The possibilities of using GIS data in collaboration with other municipal departments are vast. For example, a county can partner Environmental Health with this GIS tool to look up restaurants nearby with information on their sanitation grades. Counties can partner the Sheriff’s Office with this GIS tool for interactive crime mapping. Users could discover what crimes have taken place close to their address, where sex offenders live, and what part of the community have the highest crime rate. Municipalities can also utilize the data sets for voting locations, tax information, capital project locations and updates, and in the future, even as a way for citizens to get involved with reporting inaccuracies. Citizens could even add hiking or biking trails as a future use of this tool. The GeoPortal’s uses and potential not only make it easier for citizens to get detailed county information customized to their address, but it can also have transparency applications. By including project information, county-supported non-profit details, and even location potentials for futures projects and funding, citizens will get an inside look at the future of government, discover where it is in relation to their address, and even prepare and provide input or feedback to elected officials.