Welcome to the Spatial Reserves blog.
The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data was written to provide GIS practitioners and instructors with the essential skills to find, acquire, format, and analyze public domain spatial data. Some of the themes discussed in the book include open data access and spatial law, the importance of metadata, the fee vs. free debate, data and national security, the efficacy of spatial data infrastructures, the impact of cloud computing and the emergence of the GIS-as-a-Service (GaaS) business model. Recent technological innovations have radically altered how both data users and data providers work with spatial information to help address a diverse range of social, economic and environmental issues.
This blog was established to follow up on some of these themes, promote a discussion of the issues raised, and host a copy of the exercises that accompany the book. This story map provides a brief description of the exercises.
The Los Angeles GeoHub represents, in many ways, the next generation GIS data portal. It is in my view what a data portal should be, and given the population and areal size of Los Angeles, that the portal is robust makes it even more impressive. The data user can search the city’s open data site, and also do something that not all sites allow: “Explore all data”. At the time of this writing, “exploring all data” resulted in 554 results, which one can then add to “my favorites” for later investigation and download. One can also explore the data by category, including business, boundaries, health, infrastructure, planning, recreation and parks, safety, schools, and transportation. Most data sets can be downloaded as a spreadsheet, as a KML file, or a shapefile. These layers include grasslands, fire stations, cell phone towers, road work projects, traffic, parcels, and dozens and dozens more–even bus stop benches and other treasures. Each download is quick and painless.
A unique and very useful characteristic of the GeoHub is that each layer lists the number of attributes, which are easily displayed on the site. Another wonderful feature is that each layer is displayed above its metadata listing as a web service inside ArcGIS Online, which can be opened immediately in ArcMap or ArcGIS Pro or streamed as a GeoJSON or GeoService as a full or filtered data set. Applications based on the data can also be accessed on the site, such as the CleanStat clean streets index and the social determinants of health app. And yet there is even more–charts can be generated straight from the data, and a whole set of ArcGIS Online mapping applications that the city has generated are displayed in a gallery here. Because of these applications, the site can be used effectively even by someone who is not familiar with how to run a GIS to understand Los Angeles better and to make smarter decisions.
If you are a data user, explore the data on the GeoHub today. If you are a data administrator, consider using the GeoHub as a model for what you might develop and serve for your own data users in your own location.
A recent article on BusinessInsider reported the re-launch of Google’s location sharing feature as an update to Google Maps. Originally available as Google Latitude, the first version prompted a report highlighting the risks of inadvertently sharing personal location information. Although the location sharing options seem similar second time around, the focus seems to be on the benefits of sharing this type of information and as the article notes, although the privacy concerns haven’t away, they are a footnote rather than the headline.
What has changed in the intervening years appears to be the perceptions about sharing personal location information. Is this because consumers of such services heeded the warnings and shared with discretion so fears were unfounded, or because the risks were not as great as originally thought? Other location sharing applications, such as Glympse and Swarm, stayed the course and developed their niche products away from the spotlight that tends to focus on Google. Have these services paved the way for Google to try again? Whatever the reason, Google is confident enough of a favourable reception to re-release their location sharing technology as part of their flagship application.
A group of people at the Civic Analytics Network recently wrote “An Open Letter to the Open Data Community” that focuses on topics central to this blog and to our book. The Civics Analytics Network, is “a consortium of Chief Data Officers and analytics principals in large cities and counties throughout the United States.” They state that their purpose is to “work together to advance how local governments use data to be more efficient, innovative, and in particular, transparent.”
The letter contained 8 guidelines the group believed that if followed, would “advance the capabilities of government data portals across the board and help deliver upon the promise of a transparent government.” The guidelines included the following:
- Improve accessibility and usability to engage a wider audience.
- Move away from a single dataset centric view.
- Treat geospatial data as a first class data type.
- Improve management and usability of metadata.
- Decrease the cost and work required to publish data.
- Introduce revision history.
- Improve management of large datasets.
- Set clear transparent pricing based on memory, not number of datasets.
It is difficult to imagine a letter that is more germane to what we have been advocating on the Spatial Reserves blog. We have been open about our praise of data portals that are user friendly–and critical of those that miss the mark–over the past five years. We have noted the impact that the open data movement has had on the data portals themselves–becoming in many cases more user friendly and encouraging adoption of GIS beyond its traditional departmental boundaries. The principles we have adhered to are also mentioned in this letter, such as being intuitive, data-driven, and with metrics. The letter highlights a continued need, the ability to tie together and compare related data sets, which is at times challenging given “data silos.”
One of my favorite points in the letter is the authors’ admonition to “treat geospatial data as a first class data type.” The authors claim that geospatial data is an underdeveloped and undervalued asset; and it “needs to be an integral part of any open data program”, citing examples from Chicago’s OpenGrid and Los Angeles’ GeoHub as forward-thinking models.
On the topic of metadata, the authors call for portals and managers to allow “custom metadata schemes, API methods to define and update the schema and content, and user interfaces that surface and support end-user use of the metadata.” Hear, hear! Equally welcome is the authors’ call to decrease the cost and work required to publish data. Through their point #6 about revision history, they advocate that these data sets need to be curated and updated but also allow historical versions to be accessed.
What are your reactions to this letter? What do we need to do as the geospatial community to realize these aims?
In this blog, we have reviewed many international, national, regional, and local data portals over the past 5 years, those that are useful and those that still need “some work.” One of the oldest USA state data portals is from Utah’s Automated Geographic Reference Center (AGRC). I remember as a young US Census Bureau geographer, working with the AGRC on building the TIGER system back in the late 1980s, and they were thinking about data distribution even back then. As GIS has evolved, so has the AGRC, and they remain one of the organizations I respect most in GIS. Besides the wide variety of raster and vector data sets they offer for download, the AGRC also provides geocoding and point-in-polygon map queries via their own APIs, from api.mapserv.utah.gov. In addition, the AGRC provides access to Utah’s TURN high resolution GPS base station network.
Utah has also established an open data site with a wide variety of data sets, in a multitude of formats, with extensive metadata, for download and also in GeoJSON and GeoService formats. In short, the Utah portal is everything a geodata portal should be, modern and responsive, with links to web based GIS services, designed with the data user in mind. I am not surprised by this, as I have long had a high regard for the way that those in academia, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, private companies, and even primary and secondary schools work closely together in the Utah GIS community, as I document in this video on one of my trips there.
This Utah story map created by my colleague at Esri shows how some of these data sources can be used to tell the story of demographic change and the natural resources of Utah. Scroll down to the links at the end of the map to explore the data sources behind the map. I encourage you to give the Utah AGRC data portal a try.
Today’s guest blog essay comes from Linda Zellmer, Government Information & Data Services Librarian, Western Illinois University. Linda can be contacted at LR-Zellmer @ wiu.edu.
Several years ago, I worked with a class in our Recreation, Parks and Tourism Administration department. The students in the class were getting their first exposure to GIS, and used it to analyze the populations served by a park to develop a plan for managing and expanding its services. At the time, students had to obtain geospatial data on park locations and boundaries from local or state government agencies or download Federal lands data from the National Atlas of the United States. Then they combined the park boundary data with data from the Census Bureau to learn about the population characteristics of the people in the area. Finally, they visited the park of interest to get information on park usage and amenities. A new data set, the Protected Areas Database of the United States (PAD-US) will make this class and related research much easier, because it provides data on all types of protected areas for either the entire United States, a U.S. Region, by landscape region, or by US State or Territory. PAD-US data is available for downloading, viewing and as a web map service from the PAD-US website.
The PAD-US data was developed as part of the Gap Analysis Program of the U.S. Geological Survey. The Gap program collects data on land cover, species distribution and stewardship to determine whether a given species’ habitat is protected, so that plans for further protection (if needed) can be developed. According to the PAD-US Standards and Methods Manual for Data Stewards, the data set contains geospatial data on “marine and terrestrial protected areas” that are “dedicated to the preservation of biological diversity and to other natural, recreation and cultural uses.” The data set contains geospatial data showing the extent and location of Federal, State, Local and private lands set aside for recreation and conservation. It also provides information on the owner name and type, whether the site is publicly accessible, and information on whether the site is being managed for conservation.
The position of spatial data librarian is not commonplace at universities, but it is growing. I have met at least 10 new librarians in this position over the past several years. The small but expert and energetic group of spatial data librarians has been making headway in several key innovative projects germane to the themes of this blog and our book. These include the creation of useful data portals, moving the digital humanities field forward, and coordinating data production, dissemination, and use–not only between departments on their own campuses, but between universities, government agencies, industry, and nonprofit organizations. A group of these spatial data librarians recently met at a “Geo4Lib” camp, for example, and among other topics, explored a solution called GeoBlacklight to host geospatial data.
One group from Colorado is considering the use of GeoBlacklight tools to host a statewide Colorado GIS data portal. Colorado is sorely in need of such a portal as Colorado has no curated and supported statewide data organization or portal as exists in Texas with TNRIS or Montana with NRIS, for example. To see GeoBlacklight in action, see Stanford University’s instance of it here, led by my colleague Stace Maples.
Try the Stanford University instance of GeoBlacklight. What are your reactions to its usefulness, as a geospatial data professional? Do you have a geospatial data librarian at your local or regional university? What can the GIS community do to advocate that universities hire such staffpersons in the library?
Open Data continues to make progress as manifested in data portals, organizations adopting it, and associated literature. Are private companies also involved in Open Data? Yes. As early as two years ago, we wrote about Esri’s initiatives in ArcGIS Open Data. Imagery and geospatial data company DigitalGlobe have created DigitalGlobe’s open data portal, as part of their efforts to provide “accurate high-resolution satellite imagery to support disaster recovery in the wake of large-scale natural disasters”. This includes pre-event imagery, post-event imagery and a crowdsourced damage assessment. Associated imagery and crowdsourcing layers are released into the public domain under a Creative Commons 4.0 license, allowing for rapid use and easy integration with existing humanitarian response technologies. For example, their imagery for areas affected by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 is available here.
On a related note, I have worked with DigitalGlobe staff for years on educational initiatives. They provided me with high resolution imagery for an area in Africa I was conducting a workshop in, and more recently with imagery in Southeast Asia that I needed in conjunction with helping Penn State prepare exercises for their GEOINT MOOC (Massive Open Online Course in Geointelligence). They have always been generous and wonderful to work with and I salute their Open Data Portal initiative. In the MOOC we also used their Tomnod crowdsourcing platform with great success and interest from the course participants.