When the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District (MMCD) needed to find accurate data to identify city and parcel boundaries, it used to be a pain. But then the MetroGIS collaborative started providing a place to gather and download that data easily.
“Before MetroGIS I had to go around to the seven counties individually,” said Nancy Read, the MMCD’s technical director. “It got to be a real hassle.”
MetroGIS is an award-winning, regional geographic information systems (GIS) initiative coordinated by the Metropolitan Council. It promotes and facilitates widespread sharing of commonly needed geospatial data – such as parcel data – among organizations that serve the region.
“Having this resource that everyone uses and everyone agrees upon enables us to focus on the issues, like long term planning and development, rather than arguing about the accuracy of the data,” said MetroGIS Coordinator Geoff Maas.
‘Good for the region, good for the business community’
The concept for establishing a regional GIS was proposed in 1995, and over the last 18 years MetroGIS has remained a stable and consistent resource. Its services help to focus the issues with planning and data sharing among the seven metro counties. By sharing data, stakeholders maximize the value of GIS systems and minimize the costs, especially when issues are complex and may go beyond jurisdictional boundaries.
“MetroGIS strives to be a solid and consistent resource for the region, for any sector of the economy, private or public, that wishes to utilize geospatial data,” said Maas.
Geospatial data is the data or information that identifies the geographic location of features and boundaries on Earth, such as natural or constructed features, oceans, and more. Spatial data is usually stored as coordinates and topology, and is data that can be mapped. Spatial data is often accessed, manipulated or analyzed through Geographic Information Systems.
Data is collected by cities, counties and state agencies for their internal business purposes but also has tremendous value to other agencies for their various uses. Sharing this data has helped cities coordinate everything from emergency services to aerial photography.
Maas indicated that the ‘MetroGIS approach’ is to “to get people to understand that data is truly a form of infrastructure, it is funded publicly, useful to many kinds of consumers and by making it as widely available as possible, it maximizes its utility and impact.”
MetroGIS maintains the DataFinder.org resource where data from agencies at all levels are ingested and made available for download.
Reducing public costs, increasing communications
David Brandt, the Washington County GIS coordinator, has experienced the benefits of this data sharing first hand. “The collaboration part has been huge just to bring communities together,” said Brandt.
When Washington Country needed aerial photography done they collaborated with bordering counties to coordinate the services, saving each of the counties money by not having to hire the firm for two separate flights. The data was then made easily accessible for all the counties on datafinder.org
The MMCD uses GIS information to track mosquito breeding and hatching areas in over 70,000 wetland areas throughout metropolitan region. They are also able to use parcel data to locate property boundaries when spraying for mosquitoes.
“If MetroGIS didn’t exist we would probably be reinventing it,” said Read. “Without MetroGIS, the district would be struggling for all of the reference base data we use.”
MetroGIS has not only created a data collaborative but also enabled cities and counties to create better lines of communication when it comes to development projects.
David Bitner spent many years working with MetroGIS before starting his own GIS consulting firm. His position as the chair of the MetroGIS Coordinating Committee has put him in a unique position to see the positive effect that MetroGIS has provided.
“It has helped as a catalyst between the counties,” said Bitner. “Communication has, and will continue to be, a huge part of what MetroGIS does. “
Address database will help emergency responders
MetroGIS is currently in the process of developing and launching a comprehensive regional address point database that will contain addresses within the parcel data that is already available. This will enable emergency agencies to pinpoint addresses within specific data parcels that may contain multiple addresses.
“Having a constantly updated, sustainable address point is going to be of tremendous benefit to emergency response providers as well as a host of other uses,” said Maas.
Looking towards the future, Maas said that the Council is committed to continuing to provide support to the MetroGIS collaborative. Future projects include roadway data and examining the potential of subsurface infrastructure data sharing. Maas believes that MetroGIS persists as a useful forum for exploring the issues and maintaining a high-quality and trusted regional database of commonly needed data that will help communities openly communicate and plan for growth within their region.
“People generally work together and do so better in an environment that fosters authentic interaction,” said Maas. “My hope for MetroGIS is that it continues to be a stable platform where our participants can be heard and their needs can be documented and addressed. There’s accountability, consistency and continuity to the process and the projects. “
The Council has fiduciary and administrative responsibilities for the collaborative but MetroGIS accomplishes its mission through a voluntary collaboration made up of diverse stakeholders. A Policy Board and Coordinating Committee made up of members from federal, state, regional, county and municipal governments, as well as private and non-profit stakeholders, help to guide the collaborative’s direction.