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Winter 2004/2005
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CMAP's GIS Service Bureau Strengthens New York's Nonprofits

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The Brooklyn Economic Development Corporation is one of the organizations CMAP helped develop a comprehensive mapping service for the entire Brooklyn area. Here, data from the 2000 Census is automatically displayed for a radius around the property selected.

The quality of life plays a prominent role in the measurement of a community's overall wealth. One of society's most important contributors to the preservation and increase of the overall quality of life is the nonprofit sector. These organizations put little emphasis on financial gains and focus on their service to the community. They provide human services that provide medical care, shelter and food, counseling, and housing; environmental support that maintains natural heritage, cultural arts, and natural resources; and educational services that train youth for the complex world, provide job training, and assist communities' workforces. As nonprofits connect people with resources, they often struggle to increase their own, especially in the area of technology.

To answer the technology needs of nonprofits, New York Public Interest Research Group Fund, Inc. (NYPIRG), a nonprofit organization itself, established the Community Mapping Assistance Project (CMAP) with the mission to strengthen nonprofit, philanthropic, and public service organizations by providing affordable access to computer mapping and other data visualization technologies. CMAP, which comprises a three-person team, provides GIS services to more than 300 nonprofit organizations in New York City and across the country.

"GIS technology is not always affordable for most nonprofit organizations," says Steven Romalewski, CMAP director and cofounder. "It's not so much the software, but to have at least one full-time staff person devoted to it and acquiring the data can cost. We decided to create a service bureau for nonprofits with the idea that we would devote our staff and time to collect the data, understand how to use the software, make the maps, and do the analysis for organizations of all different types so they wouldn't need to worry about devoting the resources."

Using ArcView 9, ArcInfo 9 (including ArcView Spatial Analyst), ArcIMS, and ArcSDE, CMAP creates customized GIS applications for an array of organizations that benefit from mapping services. "We work mainly with organizations that don't have or don't want to spend the resources to acquire the software, hire the staff, compile the data sets, figure out how to make maps, and do spatial analysis," says Romalewski.

During the late 1990s, NYPIRG decided to do more in terms of customizing its internal GIS applications and realized it would also be interesting to start creating online mapping applications. Through Esri grants, it received a Hewlett–Packard plotter and MapObjects, ArcView, and ArcIMS software. Since its beginning, the organization has grown into an essential resource to the community. "A lot of what we do is making the maps ourselves," says Romalewski. "But we've also begun using ArcGIS Publisher to create ArcReader applications, enabling organizations to zoom into an area on their own and print maps. We've also been customizing ArcView applications for organizations that want to use the application on their own."

Brooklyn Economic Development Corporation

The Brooklyn Economic Development Corporation (BEDC) is one of the organizations CMAP helped develop a comprehensive mapping service for the entire Brooklyn area. BEDC provides small businesses, entrepreneurs, small developers, and community organizations with a range of location-related information through Destination Brooklyn, a Web-based interactive map of Brooklyn that helps organizations and individuals conduct preliminary research about where to locate or build in the city. Destination Brooklyn's maps give comprehensive real estate and demographic information for every property and neighborhood in Brooklyn, including if an address is in an economic development zone, who owns a particular building, what kind of support exists for businesses in an area, which subway stops are closest to the property, the census demographics surrounding the address, and other valuable data.

"Destination Brooklyn makes it easier for companies to do business in Brooklyn by providing them with the information they need to locate or expand their operations in the borough," says Margaret Nelson, BEDC director of Real Estate. "We believe that this Web site is an important economic development tool that will help drive investment and business and contribute to employment growth in all of Brooklyn's neighborhoods."

Prior to Destination Brooklyn, BEDC received numerous inquiries from businesses and organizations about real estate and zoning information for Brooklyn properties. BEDC put out a request for proposal to hire an organization to create the site it envisioned. "We knew that CMAP had done similar work for other organizations and offered a very competitive proposal," says Nelson. "It was familiar with the data sources and issues in New York City, so we were confident of its abilities." With funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration, BEDC hired CMAP to create the online application.

Once BEDC specified its usability and user interface needs, CMAP's development team set the project in motion. Christina Knight Spielman, CMAP's senior GIS analyst and Web designer, and Marty DeBenedictis, CMAP's technical director and cofounder, took BEDC's needs and embarked on a plan to build the Web site (two other former CMAP staffers played a key role as well). Spielman used ArcInfo 9 to prepare the data, which entailed cleaning up attributes to ensure that information displayed when features are identified makes sense to the uninformed user, digitizing and analyzing data, importing data to ArcSDE, creating AXL files, and creating a Web site design template using Microsoft Visual Interdev.

With the completion of Destination Brooklyn, an easy-to-use Web site was born that offers community members free access to demographic and real estate information 24 hours a day, seven days a week. By entering a Brooklyn address or tax lot number, the Web site provides

  • Information about that Brooklyn property, including its owner, zoning designation, and block and lot numbers (provided under license by the New York City Department of City Planning)
  • A link to the New York City Department of Finance Web site, which provides more details about the property
  • Information about support services in the area surrounding the property, such as whether it is located in a Business Improvement District, Empire Zone, or Local Development Corporation area
  • Contact information for elected officials and community boards representing the property

For more information, contact Steven A. Romalewski, director, NYPIRG Community Mapping Assistance Project (tel.: 212-349-6460, ext. 1177; e-mail: sromalewski@nypirg.org). For more information about Destination Brooklyn and BEDC, visit www.bedc.org. More information about CMAP and its projects is available at www.nonprofitmaps.org.

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