Excellent Example of Metadata on a GIS Portal: City of Cambridge
The city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, on the opposite side of the St Charles River from Boston, Massachusetts, USA, is home to over 107,000 people, some prestigious universities such as Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and numerous cultural and physical amenities. The city is exemplary with regards to how it serves spatial data to the GIS community and to the general public. The city’s GIS portal includes a map gallery of traffic, history, watersheds, community development, elections, wireless access, and other themes that are viewable online, downloadable, and many of which are viewable on a mobile device. One unique and interesting mobile map is the “street trees walking app” that allows a person to identify the type of tree species that are nearby as they walk through the streets of Cambridge. The city’s GIS portal includes numerous interactive maps in their CityViewer utility, including a historical viewer dating back to 1947 with imagery and 1865 with maps. GIS data downloads are one of the richest data sets I have seen from any local government, with over 60 layers on infrastructure, public safety, hydrography, topography, health, demographics, and much more.
One of the unique features of the city’s GIS portal is the use of a story map. The story map was created because, in the words of its creators, “The city has all of these great programs and offerings but they aren’t necessarily advertised in the most efficient manner, and the information isn’t always easily accessible.” Besides showing the public where the city services are located, a side benefit for the GIS community is that the story map itself is a thorough and compelling tutorial of how to build your own story map.
Last but not least, the data dictionary for the City of Cambridge GIS is extremely thorough and easy to use, providing shapefiles and file geodatabases. The dictionary contains information on how and why a GIS layer was created, the city’s procedure for maintaining each layer, departments that contribute to the development of each layer, history, and the intended use of the data. The metadata even includes what some dictionaries leave out–a thorough description of the attributes and how the attributes are defined.
In our book, we discuss the costs and benefits of local governments serving their spatial data to the GIS community and to the public. The City of Cambridge has gone to great effort to make their data interesting, relevant, and easy to find and use to a broad spectrum of data users.