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Spring 2010
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GIS Gives Residents the Tools to Map Their Own Parcels

The Beacon of Hope Resource Center Maps the "New" New Orleans

Highlights

  • GIS analyses were graphically presented to residents and local government.
  • Standard ArcGIS functionality seamlessly integrates public and community data.
  • Residents are empowered through the use of ArcGIS.

In the direct aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Beacon of Hope (BOH) Resource Center, a nonprofit focused on residentially driven neighborhood recovery, was founded on February 14, 2006, in New Orleans, Louisiana. The BOH started as a place where returning residents could find information about contractors or insurance companies and use a phone or fax machine, and it provided a physical locale for residents to meet and share information. From the outset, the BOH M.O.D.E.L. (mapping, outreach, development, empowerment leadership) for sustainable neighborhood revitalization and community empowerment was based on a community-led framework. It is implemented in each of the 12 Beacon neighborhood sites citywide. The Beacon of Hope administration and staff provide support services and training to residents that are active and engaged in their communities. One of the most important tools used to assess neighborhood conditions is parcel-level property condition surveys.

  map of Oak Park, Louisiana
This Oak Park map was brought to neighborhood meetings, and residents were impressed by the spatial representation of their survey data.

Setting its approach apart from the countless condition surveys that have been conducted in post-Katrina New Orleans, the BOH has always maintained that neighborhood surveys be conducted by the residents of the affected neighborhood. Interested neighborhoods contact the BOH to establish a new "Beacon" and are provided with supplies, training, and support to develop a "survey captain" system. The 2006 neighborhood condition surveys and maps were produced by hand, and results were discussed during community meetings to give residents an immediate picture of their neighborhood's recovery. Residents began to identify and report trouble areas to city authorities and act in a coordinated effort by utilizing the administrative structure put in place by the BOH. By conducting the surveys with neighborhood survey teams, residents controlled the data and its quality. During the summer of 2008, Milissa Orzolek, a University of Washington geography graduate student, helped BOH bring its survey production into the digital world by introducing the organization to the capabilities of ArcGIS Desktop software. While these maps and surveys were immensely popular, the growing time constraints of producing such maps and surveys, along with the more complex analyses residents now demanded, was too time intensive for BOH.

In August 2008, a successful pilot community-university collaboration called the Beacon of Hope/University of New Orleans Community Recovery Project (BUCRP) was started to assist the Beacon of Hope with mapping. Under the direction of Tina Marquardt, BOH Operations, and with the help of Dr. Michelle Thompson and graduate student Brian Baldwin, the BUCRP was able to continue the BOH mapping program. After an initial assessment, BUCRP determined that it should assist with development of a program to standardize survey instruments and data collection, as well as provide on-site training and implement BOH GIS protocol and practice.

After using a free, one-year trial license, the BOH purchased an ArcView user license through a Tech Soup Donation to Nonprofit membership and began importing previously collected survey data into ArcGIS Desktop. Immediately, the value of using GIS for data analyses and graphic presentation, at first seen by small groups, was presented to hundreds of local residents and local government. Initial mapping results from 2006 data convinced local businesses not only to rebuild but also to expand from a temporary to a permanent Harrison Street Marketplace, a neighborhood event featuring crafts, food, and information. In 2009, the BUCRP worked with the Louisiana Recovery Authority to evaluate The Road Home Support and Shelter For Overcoming Homelessness organization's property condition data in the Beacon priority areas that identified a number of recipients who were unable to rebuild. Today, the mapped data provides a clear picture to local government regarding recovery progress, infrastructure problems, and blight.

Lack of adequate public GIS data and plotting hampered BUCRP until a partnership was formed with Lynn DuPont, senior planner/GIS coordinator from the Regional Planning Commission. The BUCRP remains a community/municipality/university partnership that continues to evolve. By late fall 2008, BUCRP produced a 1:2,100 condition map of the New Orleans Lakeview neighborhood with 7,197 parcels. This map was brought to neighborhood meetings, and residents were awed by the spatial representation of their survey data. While the survey results had been widely distributed, it was the visual representation of this data in digital and hard copy that awakened residents to the true picture of their neighborhood's recovery.

Using City of New Orleans parcel data, neighborhoods are split into survey team sectors, which are sections of roughly 50–100 parcels. There is one survey captain per sector. The survey team sectors are then imported into a spreadsheet, where they are ordered into a pattern based on walkability. Each of the survey captains receives a walking map that was created in ArcGIS Desktop, a printed survey sheet, and an overall map of their neighborhood that denotes where their specific survey sector is. Several meetings are held with BOH staff before the surveying to ensure that residents are comfortable with the maps and the surveying process itself.

When the survey data is finally collected by residents and input into a spreadsheet database provided to the data team manager, BUCRP completes the mapping and analysis. Each neighborhood is given one 24-inch by 36-inch hard-copy map, and all the finished maps are placed on the BUCRP Web site. This public availability of all data is another one of BUCRP's goals. The ability to collect survey data, create condition maps, and communicate the findings could not have been accomplished without developing a GIS implementation plan. The ability to replicate data through spreadsheet imports and provide consistent and reliable statistics, as well as seamlessly integrate public and community data, was due to the standard functionality that ArcGIS provides. The BUCRP is now focused on expanding the data structure into a personal geodatabase, creating mapping standards through the use of templates, and documenting methodology and metadata for future production. The goal of the BUCRP project is to ensure that BOH is self-sufficient in its future mapping and surveying projects. As an indication of its commitment, the Beacon of Hope Board voted in November 2008 to formally adopt GIS, as part of its ongoing operations, as a "BOH Community Data Information System."

While the effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita are slowly fading from the memories of those outside the Gulf Coast region, the role of GIS in community redevelopment has been an ongoing process that continues to evolve. Neighborhood associations, individuals, and community groups are realizing the important benefits that GIS can bring with community inventories. From following new construction and renovations to tracking blight to assist city code enforcement, residents are empowered through the use of GIS. Residents remain the engines for their own recovery and redevelopment using GIS. The model of public participation GIS that the BUCRP offers is one where residents have the tools and obligation to conduct their own surveys with the support of BUCRP to process and map condition data. Given the goal to collect data every three months, residents and public officials will have the benefit of using neighborhood, local, and regional information to plan from disaster to renewal for the city that will be a "new" New Orleans.

More Information

For more information, contact Dr. Michelle M. Thompson, University of New Orleans (e-mail: mmthomp1@uno.edu); Tina Marquardt, Beacon of Hope (e-mail: tina@lakewoodbeacon.org); Brian James Baldwin, University of New Orleans (e-mail: bbaldwin@uno.edu); or Milissa Orzolek, Beacon of Hope (e-mail: milissa@lakewoodbeacon.org), or visit the Beacon of Hope Resource Center at www.lakewoodbeacon.org, the University of New Orleans at planning.uno.edu, the Regional Planning Commission at www.norpc.org, or the Beacon of Hope/University of New Orleans Community Recovery Project at planning.uno.edu/BUCRP/index.html.

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