The GIS community came together for the Esri User Conference (Esri UC) this year, as it has for the last 40 years. However, the meeting space was virtual and not face-to-face. That change, necessitated by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, allowed an additional 70,000 people to attend the event—more than at any previous Esri UC.
“Interconnecting Our World,” the theme for this year’s Esri UC, turned out to be incredibly apt. The events of 2020 have made it glaringly, unavoidably apparent that interconnection is a fundamental characteristic of the world in which we live.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated, interconnection exists across physical, economic, and societal levels. The virus has traveled to nearly every country, causing lockdowns and shutdowns that have not only affected local economies but disrupted the delicate and far-reaching web of global supply chains, causing effects that are felt half a world away. The stress to societies caused by these economic displacements have disproportionately impacted communities of color, revealing how social inequities are connected to long-standing and pervasive policies.
Fortunately, interconnection is also how GIS works and why it works. Geography is the framework that lets us see those connections and the context of problems. GIS is the technology that enables the use of a geographic framework to supply context and suss out relationships. It provides analysis tools for answering questions ranging from where is the best place to locate a new fire station to anticipating where ventilators will be needed if cases of COVID-19 surge.
To solve larger-scale problems, GIS is evolving into an even more interconnected and powerful system of systems. Building out this geospatial infrastructure will connect the worldwide community of GIS professionals so that they can bring to bear more resources on the challenges of an increasingly complex world.
As was seen in response to COVID-19, the actions of the GIS community matter. The response to the pandemic was celebrated throughout Esri UC. Jack Dangermond, Esri’s president, characterized these efforts as “heroic work, no matter how you measure it.”
The GIS community continues to take the lead in developing strategies for dealing with the monumental challenges the world faces. Interconnection is more important now than ever.