Community Planning – Seeing Through The Lens of GIS

GIS, also known as Geographic Information Systems, is a software platform bringing understanding to our projects. This platform provides a variety of tools to perform data manipulation. For us at RDG, GIS is a foundational tool utilized in all of our community and regional planning work. From topography and flood zones to home value and travel times, this technology is primarily used to track where public facilities are located and allows us to better understand communities. It also speeds up our workflow through linking multiple sources of data together in one graphic, which allows us to visualize patterns across the landscape. Every piece of data has a location tied to it and can be mapped and analyzed. RDG has used GIS technology over the last 15 years, allowing us to make the communities we work in better.

In every community we work in, we create “lenses”. Think of it as looking at the community in a unique light. These lenses highlight a particular aspect of a community with either successful attributes or areas of improvements including health, equity, critical natural resource areas, park service, and development suitability and green infrastructure sustainability.

“With GIS technology, we have the power of viewing community systems through a variety of lenses. As an example, for the LiveDSM we were able to begin to understand the impact of institutionalized racism that effects communities across the nation and start to explore strategies to address this challenge through the use of meaningful GIS-generated data – that’s another possible theme.” 

– Pat Boddy, Sustainability Strategist

In the image located below, you can see an example of trail access, equity, and park access lenses. Each of these maps provides a deeper understanding of “hotspots” within the community including gaps within the trail system, where new parks should be located, and where people need more public support. Together, these three lenses allow us to analyze the gaps.

Existing Conditions and Land Use
Existing conditions are the current quality of the community where you have good housing stock or housing that needs improvement. This information is gathered by actually visiting the community and documenting within GIS. Land use is more about the use of the land including vacant, apartments, home, commercial, and agriculture. This highlights for rehabilitation, infill development, or redevelopment. The image below depicts existing land use in Ames, Iowa.

It is important to see the median values of age, housing values and household incomes as this provides a sense of the life stage the area is at. Young families to empty nesters to retired couples, and everything in between – these are example life stages. People live and work in cities, therefore, it is important to understand the people who reside there. How old are they? Do they have kids? Ages, income, life stage, spending potential – what are the opportunities of the population and how does it impact the community as a whole. The image below highlights the different life stages across Douglas and Sarpy County in Nebraska. 

“GIS allows our project communities to be data driven – making the most of every tax dollar, bettering their city and making it the best place to live.”

– Greg Jameson, GIS Specialist
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