Technology and information are undeniably hallmarks of the 21st century. Now comes evidence that readily available data on the Internet is helping build better neighborhoods.
Geographic information systems (GIS) and Internet-based parcel data inventories are increasingly being used in community development, to revitalize urban areas, target resources for needs such as affordable housing, and even to help curb foreclosures, according to a new report. Transforming Community Development with Land Information Systems, the latest Policy Focus Report published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, includes case studies on Chicago, Cleveland, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., where planners and community organizers used GIS or parcel data systems to guide policy and initiatives.
A task force in Cleveland used data on loan transactions to take action against property flippers, for example. Community groups in Chicago used Web-based GIS tools to support planning for transit-oriented development and to target resources with parcel data so low-income families could better maintain and improve their homes. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society used a parcel data system to rehabilitate 150 acres of Philadelphia's vacant lots into parks and urban greenspace.
Rosalind Greenstein, senior fellow and chair of the Department of Economic and Community Development at the Lincoln Institute, said there was "vast potential" in the use of technology in community development. Sarah Treuhaft, senior associate at PolicyLink in Oakland, Calif., and co-author of the report with G. Thomas Kingsley, research associate at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., said the beauty of these systems is that they are already readily available - up and running on the Internet.
"To make the right choices for their neighborhoods, people need the right information," she said.
Kingsley, director of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, said the use of GIS and parcel data systems creates more efficient, and more creative, action among those engaged in community development. The report, which can be downloaded here, concludes by recommending that foundations and government at the local, state and federal level support continued innovations and best practices in land information systems.