Every inch of New York City
- By Nicholas Morehead
- Jun 04, 2001
In New York City, a massive effort involving numerous city agencies and
academia has produced a wide-ranging, yet intimately detailed, interactive
map of the entire city.
The $5 million NYCMap project is a joint effort between the city's DOITT
Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (www.ci.nyc.ny.us/html/doitt/home.html) and the Department of Geography at Hunter College (www.geo.hunter.cuny.edu).
It involves a complex marriage of composite, bird's-eye view "orthophotos"
of the entire city and precisely corresponding maps of the city's nooks
and crannies everything from streets, alleys, driveways and curbs to ventilation
grates, cemeteries, wetlands and antennas.
Geographic information systems software makes it possible to bring together
those layers with city maps showing water main locations, property ownership
records and census tracts. The result is a vast, multi.faceted view of the
entire New York City area, accurate to within 12 inches, giving people in-depth
views of the city never before possible.
"Basically, since the map is digital, and seamless, you can motor from
the Bronx to Staten Island in a second," said Al Leidner, director of citywide
geographic information services for DOITT.
Visitors to the site will be able to view the entire city in one frame
or zoom in on a patch as small as 17 feet by 27 feet. With a few clicks,
people will be able to do things such as plot driving and boat trips through
Manhattan; study census data by neighborhood; research construction project
sites; track emergency response times; review engineering designs; check
infrastructure maintenance; and locate parks and recreation sites.
The project is remarkable not only because of the details it provides,
but for the way it brings together information that previously was kept
by separate agencies.
Tracking infrastructure maintenance, for example, would not be possible
without the New York City Housing Authority (www.ci.nyc.ny.us/html/nycha/home.html)
supplying its data. Nor would researching water quality by neighborhood
without input from the New York City Municipal Water Finance Authority (www.ci.nyc.ny.us/html/nyw/home.html).
Indeed, the biggest challenge was not the technology, but getting 15
major city agencies to essentially drop their individual preferences and
agree to collaborate on a system that would serve all, Leidner said.
"We really had to work with a lot of people," he said. "The oversight
committees; the funding committees; the Office of Management and Budget.
And then on top of that, getting executive approval for it all that took
some kind of vision."
Procurement for the various aspects of the project also proved to be
a major challenge. With the ortho.photo shoots alone, they had to contract
with someone for the flights, handle the photos and their analysis, and
then get the proper clearance from the city authorities and local air traffic
control, "let alone the usual time delays that always arise," Leidner said.
The $5 million cost quote for the project is for the base map alone.
Add to that costs for agencies to fine tune and, in some cases, create databases.
Then there's maintenance and general upkeep of the map all together, it's
slated to run another $5 million, according to Leidner.
Though the map is still a work in progress, people are already using
certain parts of it.
Health officials, for example, are studying the deadly West Nile virus
on Staten Island by using the map to determine how closely clusters of dead
crows correspond to human infections.
The map's history dates to 1996 and came from work by the city's Environmental
Protection Department and the City Planning Department.
The City Planning Department was working to combine a full-scale map
of streets and addresses with separate information on citywide tax blocks
and tax lots from the city's Finance Department records. At the same time,
the Environmental Protection Department was working on a citywide sewer
diagram, trying to expand it to contain water mains as well.
With computer and GIS technology blossoming, it became apparent to DOITT
that it would make sense to put everything on one map.
"We were pretty much the co.ordinators," Leidner said, "but by bringing
everyone else together, we found that everyone could help everyone else
out. The agencies were helping us, we were helping the agencies, and agencies
were helping each other."
Though NYCMap may represent the most advanced case of local government
using GIS technology to better perform its duties and serve constituents,
it's hardly the first.
Officials in Fort Collins, Colo., are working with different GIS media
to assist the city in determining flood plains. North Carolina has embarked
on a similar program.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture uses GIS to study gypsy moths
and their defoliation effects on tree species around the state. And the
city of Norfolk, Va., and the Norfolk Department of Utilities are using
GIS to map more than 860 square miles of water and sewer data to help with
a $100 million water treatment plant upgrade.
"Let's face it people don't want to sit around and read spreadsheets,"
said Randy Johnson, commissioner of the Local Leaders for GIS Consortium
(www.llgis.org). "But when you can see that information mapped out in front
of you, you get it."
"GIS is moving out of the offices of the surveyors and the tech nerds,
and moving into the boardrooms and the city council offices and being
used by people who don't write code for a living," Johnson said.
Two to three years from now, he believes the general public will be
the ones really using this technology.