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Municipalities open their GIS systems to citizens

By Marco Fioretti on December 30, 2008 (2:00:00 PM)

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Many public administrations already use open source Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to let citizens look at public geographic data trough dedicated Web sites. Others use the same software to partially open the data gathering process: they let citizens directly add geographic information to the official, high-quality GIS databases by drawing or clicking on digital maps.

For instance, the online burning permit sales service of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) allows citizens to declare precisely where they would like to burn woody debris. High precision is essential in deciding whether a permit is obtainable, as well as when and under what conditions: if there is a high fire risk in the area and day for which a user asks for a permit, the software must refuse it. The Web site, however, makes it easy to enter the location with the greatest possible resolution: users first type an address into a form to get an approximate location on the map, then zoom at will and finally click on the exact spot for which they are applying for a permit.

There are three immediate benefits in this procedure. Single citizens save money and trips to the local fire warden. The community as a whole saves money too, since permits are managed via computer, and also gains in safety. All burning locations appear on one separate digital map as soon as their permits are granted, giving to emergency response teams "a synoptic, real-time view of who is burning where which was simply never available before", as DNR employee Steve Lime puts it.

Another DNR application works in a similar way to capture locations where tagged fish were caught: you zoom in until you can click on the exact point of the lake or river where you found the fish, then enter a code found on the fish's tag and other relevant details. The Web site also won an Award from the Organization of Fish and Wildlife Information Managers for the best wildlife-related GIS Web-based Technical Application.

In Italy's Tuscan province of Arezzo a new GIS system, announced at the 2008 GFOSS day in Italy will soon let selected, registered citizens enter more complex geographic data. Single professionals and employees of environmental or professional associations will be able to draw single points and polygons to enter the exact location, shape, and approximate area of several landscape features or hazards, such as natural resources and landfills with environmental or geologic hazards.

All of these portals run well-known open source software. The common part is MapServer, developed in Minnesota by Lime and others, which can build digital maps on the fly and serve them over the Web. Both DNR Web sites use custom scripts in Perl or Ruby on Rails that connect all the other parts to PostGIS or MySQL database back ends. Besides MapServer and PostGIS, the Arezzo Web site will run on Java and Apache Tomcat as servlet engine. The DNR Web pages communicate with MapServer through the dBox DHTML Web mapping library, developed by Lime and others at DNR. Lime says DNR plans not to use dBox for any new development, since "there are now better tools, such as OpenLayers, available." For geocoding -- that is, mapping street addresses to geographic coordinates -- DNR uses the Yahoo! Maps geocoding API, which the organization found more accurate than Google for rural areas of Minnesota.

The process

A non-technical but important characteristic of all these services is their integration with existing infrastructures and needs. None of these applications was invented just to impress taxpayers. They either solve well-defined, concrete problems or replace non-digital versions of procedures and services already adopted in public administrations.

More than anything else, these Web sites are relevant because of the way they create public GIS data or implement, as they call it in Arezzo, "participated planning": that is, what they allow citizens to do, how, and where. These are all cases in which citizens outside the public administrations can directly add to official GIS databases coordinates, areas, or other spatial data in natural formats that need no further conversion and are easily reusable in the future. What is open here is the data management process, not just the software.

The success of initiatives like OpenStreetMap or the availability of Yahoo! and Google Maps APIs may make you think that people may create services like these and many more all by themselves, without getting any bureaucrat involved. However, in order to benefit the most from digital maps and other spatial data, citizens need such data to be officially inserted in, and completely integrated with, the maps and databases public administrations use to plan roads, zoning, and everything else.

Citizens may use Web sites like those mentioned here to request services as different as bus stops, trekking permits, or new post offices. Other uses may include signalling construction abuses, damages to public property, or illegal dumpsters. We may draw our preferred public bus routes on a map in our City Council official Web site.

Of course, to make all this work in practice, public administrations should also clarify the data ownership situation. Who owns data directly and freely provided from citizens? What license should apply to those data or any derived ones? This, however, is a separate issue, not really related to open source software.

Open source GIS software is already good enough to run official, mission-critical GIS sites and services. These examples prove another, probably more important point: open source GIS can be used to get citizens directly involved in the management of public data and property. Indeed, it may be the only feasible way to achieve such a goal.

Marco Fioretti is the author of The Family Guide to Digital Freedom and contributes regularly to Linux.com and other IT magazines.

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Municipalities open their GIS systems to citizens

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 216.130.129.70] on December 31, 2008 02:36 PM
Peachtree City, Georgia uses a mixture of opensource and 'closed' source to deliver GIS content to its citizens. Utilizing the Google API, javascript, php, mysql, and postgis/postgresql - coupled with opensource webserver Apache. The response from citizens has been very positive. I agree with the author here that Opensource can utilized as a very viable solution to getting your data out to the public in both a useful and user-friendly manner.

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It's a new day Mit Romney President in 2012 . . this is the message, we're driving it home

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.12.31.33] on January 04, 2009 11:16 PM
Gangus . . wa ut? News reports state a million new bankruptcies. Good job democrat majority U.S. congress. - As democrats revel in the utopian image of J.F.K. an adimant voice to lower taxes to spur the economy perhaps more so than Ragan who only promist not to raise taxes. Can Obama live up to the standard of cammelot set by a professed beloved Kennedy ican to creat a lean efficient American economy. -Open souce is promoted by contributions yet they need to be compatible for the most part with previous work. I would like to suggest a list of links or a wiky type tutorial that not only disscribes the kernnel but provides assignments to construct virtual layers allowing them to interact or operate a generic virtual cpu or bios. A stamp or micro controler could be used as a simple system to write an OS using simple methods with a histoy of more complex methods, like demonstrating a sort algorythm by a buble sort and then insertion or merge. Thus allowing a general perspective to help block info. if 10 million lines of coad seems to danting to persue unless thats the intent? - Interesting how volitility in markets a hallmark of socialist terianies that can't prevent feast or famine because of the to course or broad strokes of centralized government. Cap and trade could be the economies death nell.

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Municipalities open their GIS systems to citizens

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.12.31.39] on January 06, 2009 12:29 AM
I think the sierra club places note books in cans on the top of mountains, if you have some interest or vital comment or log your summit a little pencel is ussually available. If a new web sight is being constructed a hidable option mite allow articals to be rated with an index of top stories and, while these results may be squewed by multiple rating perhaps like loggin in to make an artical you mite need an log in moniker and, while it mite not provide the best info there mite be value in what people respond to. comments on the cis system mite note hazards or warnings.

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Tolerating uncertainty

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 143.188.101.65] on January 07, 2009 06:17 AM
Traditionally spatial data is gathered by well trained experts who still occasionally make mistakes. Not an issue for geocaching, but a disaster if you run your boat onto an unmapped rock while at sea. Like Wikipedia, publically collected spatial data will need a range of masures to quantify and manage data quality provided by a more diverse provider base. This will need a range of tools spanning from the input end (data quality) to the output end (appropriate use).

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. . blicka blicka blicka blicka . . . ummm . .don't gimmy no!

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.12.31.38] on January 08, 2009 01:37 AM
U.S. congress trying to creat gov. jobs instead of lowering taxes on those that pay taxes and reducing legislation that hampers a vital economy is like getting more people to push your broken car instead of fixing it. Interesting how VW made its can system available to open source now one could write software to controle door locks or the trunk latch or blinkers. A feature could be added to mobil devices like a phone or umpc that allowed infered broadcasting so your phone could operate lights and TV remote controlers or TV could have a blue tooth or wireless controle option. Acording to the great one liberals have their own deffinition of democracy that dosen't jibe with the constitution . . . a shame :(

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Re: . . blicka blicka blicka blicka . . . ummm . .don't gimmy no!

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 75.45.123.2] on January 08, 2009 06:58 AM
You're modded down -999. Learn to read and write English first.

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Re(1): . . blicka blicka blicka blicka . . . ummm . .don't gimmy no!

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.82.87.191] on January 09, 2009 02:24 AM
....... um yea......
http://dd4tech.blogspot.com

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Herr, lehre doch mich

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.12.11.231] on January 13, 2009 12:37 AM
Just a suggestion for the eggnogural for all the partial birth aborted babies after Obama takes office. With a new term for a majority of democrats who so often ralley and recieve support from education unions, now is the best time to creat open expired copywrite educational matterials that comply with graduation requirements. The board of education could work with colledge students getting degrees in education and working professionals to create (I think there called units) lessons that would also bennifit home school as democrats and unions and school districts are allways asking for more money for an assortment of things that are suposed to aid and creat a better learning ambiance. Instruction could be vidio taped and an animai could be used if identity was a concern. This would also help hadicap, extended illness and could be used by the incarserated. It's nice to see Obama in good health and spirits presenting what appears to be a practical administrative detachment from a varriety of assignments and a prudent attempt to remove himself and the public from the calamity of office, while his frount men potray an utter abbsence or awarness of historicaly viable and workable remmedies to a flaging ecconomy. As Mr. Obama is preparing the largest stimuluss packedge in history, news reports the black community and groups are caucussing around the country. It's refreshing and dramatic how the eye of Newt can inject such ergent reality and perspective upon the political landscape bourn of wisdom and experience produced by a rear blend of book learning and street smarts. Democarats don't realize that handouts rather than opportunity are morraly bankrupt, that the successes of bussiness pulls education and responsibility through and creats the market place. When the audacity to lower taxes and gov. regulations is absent, the hopes of the least afforded are dashed as they become the phsycological equivalent of lobatamized sombie democrat voting robots trained to equate libralisms hand outs as there only opportunity for susstainance. And, that money has no inherent value nor creats wealth, it only represents the knowledge diligence and tenacity the adds value to available reasources. When manufacturing, including water managment for farming and mining for manufacturing including enery production is stymied by unneccessary and what appears to be incompetent legislation, the ecconomy suffers and poverty trickels down. A lord over poverty is no more than a brut and ussully removes any members evidencing themselves as no less abject than himself/herself.

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Municipalities open their GIS systems to citizens

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.12.35.32] on January 14, 2009 10:11 PM
Could a shovel ready storm drain installation able to be retrofitted with ellectric rail to transport 55gal. berrels help brick and mortar compeat with online merchandisers. And, allow cities to collect per use tax from vendors that use the transport system like an ice cream truck maintaining vehicles in the system to provide emmediat respons allowing bussiness opportunity to any one successfull enough to pay the user fees obviating the need for a store front if any other criteria is met. could only one municipality in the whole of the United States test this idea? - If the FFTC is going to disallow movable serface in the P30 class shouldn't an open class be applied with vessels specified by demensions and total available energy such as oz. of fule. This would allow the genneral public and introduction to physics, fluid and thermo dynamics, and allow configurable profiles to evolve optamal proportions. In the '30s wings were allowed to fold back and cantilever forward at apogee. A rocket assist lauch class could be allowed with ejectable or carry back as payload the engine case. Events could be officiated by a pr. branch of a countries armed forces and associate with ROTC. Pizoellectric possitioning could be used in science robotic courses to provide local stability in controle systems and allow allgorythms for gluid path, speed and loft. - TV media makes a bold stratigic move puting its most popular talent show toe toe against conservitive talk radio primtime Mark Levin, Lavin?? who will win the ratings war? Stay tuned!

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Municipalities open their GIS systems to citizens

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 212.95.119.32] on January 15, 2009 11:09 AM
i mean that sounds really interesting ... there are gonna open some door with many possibilities. Whats about commercial use of the data? i think about some special services on websites with it... please let us know if there are some more news about this topic.
thank you ... Natasha from http://www.flussreisen-zentrale.de

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Municipalities open their GIS systems to citizens

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 88.245.145.22] on January 20, 2009 01:55 AM
Open souce is promoted by contributions yet they need to be compatible for the most part with previous work. I would like to suggest a list of links or a wiky type tutorial that not only disscribes the kernnel but provides assignments to construct virtual layers allowing them to interact or operate a generic virtual cpu or bios oyun indir http://www.oyunindir1.net oyunlar oyun In the '30s wings were allowed to fold back and cantilever forward at apogee. A rocket assist lauch class could be allowed with ejectable or carry back as payload the engine case.

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Stage 2: Meanwhile . . ting mew rear, chkchk . . click . . . ?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.12.31.34] on January 22, 2009 01:12 AM
There were birds in the trees . . . gooven! new to linex? Some times when ideas or what appear to be mutually exclusive reasources are argued over, means and methods can get lowdown and dirty yet, as I understand democracy, the force and violence reserved for war is directed at safegaurding an arena were ideas, practices, reasources can be faught over short of bloodshed. It is in this context I would like to applaud Mr. Obama for using his first news anouncement to apply a cap on government jobs. And, not to sound like a winer, lets look at some of the consequences. On the possitive side a market of supply and demaned has been squewed by gov. regulations arbitrary application to force equality. I would be willing to pay 3 or 4 times as much to atract a government employee willing to support the U.S. constitution deffending personel property (lower taxes and fees), the right to own and bear arms, and the freedom of speech. And if I could aford to pay much more to provide for the national deffence. So, as a cap as presented in the arena of democracy is but one of many possible means to redress a percieved inequality between government and private employment compensation, alternatives such as lower taxes and stifeling regulations if only directed toward energy policy to provide a more work friendly environment. I belive democrats will feel sold out if Obama advances policy ammeanable to republicans as republicans will never feel comfortable with a democrat pres. like Ragan and democrats despite his concessions. - as the secret measage appears on the jumbo tron - do I have to spell out how this relates to linux? Thanks! goovy . . .

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could a computer run the country?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.12.31.33] on January 27, 2009 01:26 AM
Ok maybe a good flow chart. What if someone did a study correlating legislation, companies driving the economy, tax rates, interest rates, ratio of democrats to republicans. Using a vector aproch I would look at inreastructer interms of recomended maintainence ranked by hazard should a failure occure (probly has little to do with shovel ready unless thats what you'll need if the current stimulus pakadge gets passed) then for every neccesary civil project I would take bids and perhaps garentee gov. loans to pay for a coal, natural gas, or nuclear power plant since claims suggest that these fules can provide over 80% of the countries energy compard to wind and sollar only providing about 7% (get real). The jobs and the multiplier effect of real mfg. and industry rather than hiring a bunch of button clerks would provide the tax base to pay for civil repair. Then look at taxes and then stimulous incentives. Oh,you have to press enter or nothing will happen....

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Permit to burn? Huh?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.131.41.49] on January 27, 2009 01:52 AM
People need a permit to burn stuff? Seems odd to me. We have times of year when no outdoor burning is allowed, but we never need a permit.
OTOH, I don't live inside the city limits, but I do live in a highly developed county.

From a performance standpoint, has anyone ever seen a java application that actually performed well for the given hardware? I haven't, but perhaps I never get brought in to work on those apps. I recall having a vendor claim that performance would be improved by:
a) rewriting in Java (from C++)
b) migrating to Sun hardware from Intel/Windows

The app was floating point bound. And it turned out they were opening a new "log" window for every thread started. Rather than commenting out the openwindow() call and recompiling (which was $100k) they convinced a not-so-smart-customer-with-money to port for $100k. Odd how this price always came up.

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