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The Revolution Will Be Mapped
January 4, 2010 8:36 AM   Subscribe

The Revolution Will Be Mapped. "GIS mapping technology is helping underprivileged communities get better services — from education and transportation to health care and law enforcement — by showing exactly what discrimination looks like."
posted by chunking express (40 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite

 
Here's your pull quote:

while black communities were systematically wiped from the landscape to make way for land uses that generated more tax revenue.


The rest is just about maps showing how it's done.
posted by spicynuts at 8:51 AM on January 4, 2010


Also, stuff like this is the true meaning of 'information wants to be free'.
posted by spicynuts at 8:53 AM on January 4, 2010


Last year, I worked for the Clean Air Council, and this was becoming a big deal in environmental activism. It's great for tracking environmental problems in communities, and especially for engaging communities in the process that wouldn't otherwise become involved.
posted by greekphilosophy at 8:55 AM on January 4, 2010


"I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever."
- Thomas Jefferson

Heh. Great article.
posted by mullingitover at 8:55 AM on January 4, 2010


while black communities were systematically wiped from the landscape to make way for land uses that generated more tax revenue.

Not only unjust, but also insufficiently enlightened self-interest. Now you are beholden to those corporations with the tax revenue held to your head. If instead you bring up the poor communities you get the tax revenue along with everything else having committed, engaged citizens brings.
posted by DU at 9:02 AM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I first learned about ESRI (the company behind your GIS link) a few months ago when I was doing GIS research for a client, and damn, they still fascinate me/freak me out. It's been privately owned by the same guy (awesomely named Jack Dangermond) since its foundation in 1969. They have their hands in everything from archaeology to shady Washington earmarking to social justice stuff (see: this FPP) to big business.

...and I basically just made my own really boring FPP here. Thanks for the article; that was interesting.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:05 AM on January 4, 2010 [11 favorites]


If instead you bring up the poor communities you get the tax revenue along with everything else having committed, engaged citizens brings.

This would require long horizon thinking. Not something politicians at the local level are exactly known for (not that the ones at the national level are much better). It's odd, given how much incumbency exists at these levels (at least in my experience in Upstate, NY).
posted by spicynuts at 9:21 AM on January 4, 2010


If instead you bring up the poor communities you get the tax revenue along with everything else having committed, engaged citizens brings.

Assuming 'you' are the communities and their governements, explain how these brought up (until recently) poor communities are fiscally sustainable?

I'm not picking on the poor, as no shade of residential use is fiscally sustainable. I'm also saying nothing to the problems of towns beholden to private interests, as that's a pickle too.

But what do you mean there?
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 9:25 AM on January 4, 2010


I believe what he means is that if you take care of the basic needs of these communities like water, access to banks, public transportation, municipal services, access to schools, you remove a good portion of the reason they are a drain rather than a contributing factor to your tax base. If people who can't afford a car live beyond walking distance to a place to find work, and you don't provide a way for them to get to work, how are those people ever going to become contributors? That's just one example. The idea is that not everyone who is poor is poor cuz they are no good, lazy, alcoholic, ignoramus criminals. Some of them (probably a vast majority) are stuck in circumstances that are impossible to get out of because they weren't fortunate enough to be born in a place where the town is willing to pick up the kids in a school bus.
posted by spicynuts at 9:36 AM on January 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


GIS is a huge part of aboriginal land and justice movements. Two main resources include the Aboriginal Mapping Network (mainly Canada) and the Indigenous Mapping Network (US and global). Google, of course, is getting into this niche as well though there are concerns about uploading a giant swatch of sensitive cultural information to their servers.

Thanks for the interesting post.
posted by Rumple at 9:38 AM on January 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I really love1 that "sustainable" is being co-opted by the right to mean "stuff we want to pay for". There's a huge difference in living in such a way that the Earth will continue to support human life on the one hand and limiting oneself to an arbitrary "fiscal" limit that's a made-up human construct on the other.

1And by "love" I mean "hate"
posted by DU at 9:52 AM on January 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


Yeah I'd also like to know how far this idea of 'fiscally sustainable' as a criteria for 'worth providing resources to' extends. Because as a taxpayer I see I have probably two choices:

1) accept that a portion of my earned money goes to keeping those less well off than I educated, sheltered, fed, able to take advantage of opportunities for advancing themselves if they so desire

or

2) accept that a portion of my earned money is going to go to feeding, housing, etc an ever increasing portion of society in prison or in treatment programs or for paying for law enforcement to handle the domestic violence, alcoholism, drug problems and other such issues that increase around poverty and desperation.


Being a betting man, I'd rather bet my tax money on giving people opportunities, rather than betting that they are all worthless, lazy bums and paying for their prison sentences.
posted by spicynuts at 9:58 AM on January 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Your love of the right can be a conversation for another time.

"sustainable"

When I say fiscally sustainable, from a municipal perspective, I'm talking about how much certain land uses generate in revenues compared with how much they are estimated to cost in city services.

You're exactly right that it's a politically charged analysis. However, rather unambiguous and defensible measures can show that a multi-family dwelling is (net) more expensive than a comparable density of office space.

I'm still new to city planning, but the strategy seems to be to have the private subsidize stuff like utilities, schools, police&fire.

It sounded like you were hinting at something else and I was really intrigued.


(Btw, being a not-asshat, I'm completely on board with strategies that improve accessibility of transit, education, job opportunities and open space to disadvantaged neighborhoods regardless of the fiscal situation. The hope is to institutionalize such programs by making them funded for the long term, hence the interest in money)
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 10:05 AM on January 4, 2010


However, rather unambiguous and defensible measures can show that a multi-family dwelling is (net) more expensive than a comparable density of office space.

Is profit the goal of a town?

I'm just going come out and say it: Taxes. It's not a bad word. It's certainly a better word than "bulldoze the slums to build a Wal-Mart".
posted by DU at 10:20 AM on January 4, 2010


Is profit the goal of a town?

This is the US; profit is the only worthwhile, decent, godfearing goal of everything.

Anyone who claims otherwise is some kind of crypto-syndicalist thug who probably wants to stomp Baby Jesus with a hobnailed boot while making out with his/her gay mixed-race illegal-immigrant lover in public on Christmas.
posted by aramaic at 10:25 AM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wonderful article-thanks for posting.
posted by PHINC at 10:43 AM on January 4, 2010


I think the point is that some people in this thread are operating on the assumption that poor people are a net drain on the municipal coffers but successful middle-class people are net contributors, when in fact, in any decent-sized city, all of us as individuals, except for a statistically insignificant number of the ultra-rich, are net drains on a city budget paid for largely by large downtown business interests and major owners of commercial real estate. Getting every single person in a poor neighborhood a fancy education and a six-figure job where he gets to read Metafilter all day is not going to come anywhere near doing for the tax base what razing the neighborhood and building an office tower will. If, like me, you think that cities should not go around throwing people out of their homes to build office towers, the problem is the revenue-maximizing self-interest itself and the acceptance of the profit motive as legitimate in the administration of public policy, not that that self-interest is insufficiently enlightened.
posted by enn at 10:47 AM on January 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


I think the point is that some people in this thread are operating on the assumption that poor people are a net drain on the municipal coffers but successful middle-class people are net contributors, when in fact, in any decent-sized city, all of us as individuals, except for a statistically insignificant number of the ultra-rich, are net drains on a city budget paid for largely by large downtown business interests and major owners of commercial real estate.

Possibly some people are operating on that assumption, but not me. My point is that "amount one contributes to the city budget" is an insufficient measure of human worth. And city activities should not be judged solely on what they do to the tax base.

Which you agree with your last sentence, I guess. Although I maintain that a properly set up tax system would NOT require HugeCorp's tax dollars. How did this used to work in the pre-personal-taxes-on-the-rich-are-satan era?
posted by DU at 10:59 AM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was going to skim the article, but I was distracted by this cover image advertising their magazine. For the article "Can China turn Cotton Green" they chose some stock photo of a hot Chinese girl wearing a cotton shirt and a come hither look.

I'm going to have to take them a little less seriously.

What is this magazine anyway. Seems like a "Policy-porn" version of how wired and fast company are "Business porn" Rather then "This great product will make your life/company better" it's "This great product will solve your social/environmental problem!" The same obnoxious, breathless enthusiasm, uh, ensues.

Well, I only looked at the title of this article and the cover, so maybe I'm being unfair. But I don't really care.
posted by delmoi at 11:06 AM on January 4, 2010


Did I just go back in time to the early 90s when GIS was a new(-ish) thing?
posted by electroboy at 11:27 AM on January 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, I only looked at the title of this article and the cover...

Oh Slashdot MetaFilter, how I love you.
posted by chunking express at 11:30 AM on January 4, 2010


Semi-related question: if a fella wanted to make his own GIS system, how does he get started? I know that openstreetmap.org is one way to get a free, surprisingly accurate open source map of the world.

But that's just the map; there's the separate problem of how to overlay one or more arbitrary data sets of information that are linked to addresses and/or coordinates. I know the hot thing a few years ago when Google Maps launched was to make your own GIS using their map system and some API. Is there an open-source software system that exposes a similar API to the public or your own private openstreetmap instance to do the same thing?
posted by hincandenza at 11:47 AM on January 4, 2010


I'm just going come out and say it: Taxes. It's not a bad word. It's certainly a better word than "bulldoze the slums to build a Wal-Mart".

Not if you a) have a lot of taxable income, and b) don't live in the slums. There's a reason why they never propose to bulldoze a field of McMansions with three-car garages to build that Wal-Mart.

I majored in Geography and minored in Urban Affairs too (Jesus, is everyone on Metafilter suddenly going to pull out a dusty urban planning background?!) and the key lesson I took from it is that the major problem with America since at least the end of World War II is the belief of the middle and upper classes that it is both possible to avoid the social problems of poverty by just moving away from the poor, and cheaper to do that than to pay taxes for a bunch of programs that will help them a lot less than they'll help other (i.e. poor) people.
posted by Naberius at 11:50 AM on January 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Anyone who claims otherwise is some kind of crypto-syndicalist thug who probably wants to stomp Baby Jesus with a hobnailed boot while making out with his/her gay mixed-race illegal-immigrant lover in public on Christmas.

No, they want to do all that on The Day Formerly Known As Christmas, now known only as Pagan Secular Humanist Gaia-Worship Day #83.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:57 AM on January 4, 2010


My point is that "amount one contributes to the city budget" is an insufficient measure of human worth. And city activities should not be judged solely on what they do to the tax base.

Please stop the deluge of red herrings, please. No one is arguing about human worth here. If you want to play I'm a snowflake, enjoy. Some of us are trying to make things better by actually you know, understanding stuff. The reality is that the city budget often serves as a large (but not exclusive) factor in developing city policy. I can't see why this is a shock to people.

How did this used to work in the pre-personal-taxes-on-the-rich-are-satan era?

It didn't. Quality of life was a fraction of what it is now, cost structures were completely different, mostly because everyone did everything for themselves.

Oh and the poor people were kicked to the damn curb along with ethnic minorities, women, children and people with disabilities, etc.

It's actually quite difficult and expensive to implement policy that works against some of our worst prejudices while still maintaining a high quality of life and civil liberty.

Maps can help.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 11:59 AM on January 4, 2010


hincandenza: Quantum GIS is a good open-source desktop package that lets you read in lots of georeferenced file types and arrange them in layers and perform analysis. But with many GIS projects, tracking down the data is 90% of your effort.
posted by bendybendy at 12:03 PM on January 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow, not every day you get such a clear view of how institutionalized racism works. Worse, that it still exists to this level. Messed up.
posted by no_moniker at 12:07 PM on January 4, 2010


My own town/county has, in fits and starts, begun to make some* of the taxpayer information in the regional GIS system publicly available.

It's an encouraging trend not only for things as mentioned in the article, but for much more mundane things like water tables, tax lot assessments, easements, etc.

If you live in the U.S., your area likely has a bunch of information locked up in government GIS systems. I encourage you to free it.

* only some, but it's a start.
posted by madajb at 12:13 PM on January 4, 2010


If you live in the U.S., your area likely has a bunch of information locked up in government GIS systems.

DC's got their own DC GIS website, for example. Been a while since I looked at it, but last time I did it had some pretty interesting information.
posted by inigo2 at 12:37 PM on January 4, 2010


I'm finishing my undergraduate degree in Geography and these projects are commonly chosen as final project topics. One person in one of my classes studied the placement of payday loan centers compared to socioeconomic data in St. Louis. Not surprisingly, most of the loan centers were located in crappy neighborhoods. Another classmate looked at how the new bridge in Cape Girardeau would increase travel time for the residents that lived adjacent to the new bridge. Not only were most of those residents (IIRC >90%) minorities, but most did not have cars and the bridge doubled their travel time.

If you are in the state of Missouri, there is a ton of data available from the Missouri Spatial Data Information Systems (MSDIS). There are likely analogous data systems in other states, but in my experience they are not as well run. There is a national data system available from USGS at seamless.usgs.gov but the interface is maddening.

The US census provides most of their data online as well.
posted by schyler523 at 12:45 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


For a less ESRI-centered view of GIS, maybe... things on delicious... Google.. etc.

Note that the revolution that's happening in GIS is happening in large part because the web has inspired tools for 'GIS' which aren't ESRI, as in, are accessible to the masses. I guess they're kind of fascinating in the way that Microsoft at its high point was, but Dangermond's shaping of the term 'GIS' has made it into an intractable buzzword inextricable with his high-priced often-kludgy products and 'solutions,' which are intelligently marketed by selling cheap licenses to schools and encouraging an ecosystem of 'GIS scientists' who vary from brilliant to simply capable of running the overcomplicated software ESRI markets.

/rant over. Check out QGIS, PostGIS, and GRASS. They're young (except for GRASS), and a little immature, but I'm telling you, they're good kids.
posted by tmcw at 1:08 PM on January 4, 2010 [11 favorites]


GIS systems are not intuitive, so it pays to get the foundation right if you want to try them out. Get yourself an introductory book on the subject and read at least the first parts of it before diving in.
posted by Harald74 at 1:28 PM on January 4, 2010


If you live in the U.S., your area likely has a bunch of information locked up in government GIS systems.

Almost every state (in the US) has someone whose job it is to make sure that GIS data is effectively used and shared among different levels of government and with the public. That's my job here in Delaware. I run an organization called the Delaware Geographic Data Committee.

And I am part of a national organization of GIS coordinators called the National States Geographic Information Council. We work closely with a number of the federal agencies, including the Census, the USGS, and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. And with Google, ESRI, OSM and others in the private sector.

(Jack Dangermond is, in fact, a fascinating man)
posted by mmahaffie at 1:29 PM on January 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I cut my teeth on ESRI, but now it's all about PostGIS, R and QGIS - all of which are free and open source.
posted by Jimbob at 1:48 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the link to the NSGIC, mmahaffie. Census nerdery!
posted by oinopaponton at 1:54 PM on January 4, 2010


This many posts and no mention of OSGEO? For shame!

Also, ESRI software sucks from a keeping-it-running standpoint. How much of my company's time has been lost because SDE couldn't properly reconcile and post a version, or that SDE was down and broken, or a compress didn't work completely and clear out the A&D tables. This video sums up my feelings.
posted by SirOmega at 4:38 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, ESRI software sucks from a keeping-it-running standpoint.

Requisite SLYTDownfall
posted by bendybendy at 5:05 PM on January 4, 2010


I believe what he means is that if you take care of the basic needs of these communities like water, access to banks, public transportation, municipal services, access to schools, you remove a good portion of the reason they are a drain rather than a contributing factor to your tax base.

I remember some years ago, Toyota was debating between opening a factory in Toronto or North Carolina. NC offered Toyota 5 years without taxes if they opened a plant there.

Toyota ran the numbers and decided, based on general education standards alone, it would be too expensive to train Americans up to the standards they needed.

If only schools gave kickbacks, right?
posted by yeloson at 8:20 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


omg omg omg a GIS post! thank you! can't wait to read when I get home.
posted by desjardins at 2:46 PM on January 5, 2010


OK, I finally got a chance to read this. I'm so happy this has come up on Metafilter. I have a Master's degree in Urban Planning with a concentration in GIS. One of my grad school projects looked at racial segregation in the Milwaukee metropolitan area and how it affected access to employment. (Spoiler: black people farther away from employers.) GIS is one of those things that proves a picture is worth 1000 words - people have read the newspaper articles about social inequity, but they're shocked when you show them maps that show how bad it is. I worked on another project that explored gentrification in a historically black neighborhood, and how it was jacking up the house prices so that residents were forced to move out. People get bored with numbers and articles, but maps are intuitive.
posted by desjardins at 7:04 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


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