Providing Easy Access to Powerful Location Data
The City of Cape Town, located in South Africa, has an enormous amount of publicly available data on the 850,000 properties within its boundaries, which includes the associated services and the wider environment. All this data can be accessed, explored, and analyzed with a variety of geographic information system (GIS) tools.
The City of Cape Town has a huge amount of spatial data and a range of data tools to make this data accessible and useful. The City's Information and Knowledge Management Department, serving as the custodian of that data, would like this extensive amount of information, and the tools to access it, to be more widely known.
The recent launch of the revamped CityMap Viewer has provided an ideal opportunity to introduce some of the City's powerful data tools to staff with computer access. One of the many tools accessible through the City's spatial information portal, it provides access to the enterprise GIS (eGIS), which is used to manage, edit, and display spatial information.
This type of geospatial data contains precise location information, such as coordinates, an address or erf number, aerial imagery, and other physical aspects such as boundaries and wayleaves. Spatial information also comes with a host of other data, from deeds information or municipal valuations to vegetation and soil types.
The spatial information available through CityMap Viewer—over 220 datasets provided by more than 30 City departments—is grouped by themes, such as health or transportation. Users can search for a specific point of interest, such as a property, address, facility, suburb, ward, or subcouncil boundaries. Once these are located, they can also search for information within a specified area. The aerial imagery views (some dating back to 1926) also show how different parts of Cape Town have changed over time. Although the interface is simple, there are several powerful functions that allow users to draw, measure, customize views, fade imagery, create bookmarks, and get directions between geographic points of interest. These features are available in both the desktop and mobile versions of CityMap Viewer.
The granular detail available with the tool is extremely precise. Every asset in the city—from a building to a single electricity pole or water meter—can be located and identified. The location data is also regularly updated via the available communications channels. For instance, when the Water and Sanitation department performs maintenance on a bulk water valve with a GPS-equipped valve exercising machine, the precise location of that valve is confirmed, and its service record updated in the system.
The spatial information is captured, managed, maintained, and analyzed by 360 GIS desktop users from various departments. For this process, users mainly utilize Esri's ArcGIS software suite. Based in California, Esri is the world's largest supplier of GIS software, with more than a million users in 200 countries.
Among the many benefits of online access to the detailed data and imagery CityMap Viewer offers are cost and time savings. This capability minimizes the need for field trips and site visits, such as physically confirming a property's built coverage in the event of a valuation objection. In addition, the representation of real-time location data assists in the allocation of resources and deployment of staff for the maintenance or management of utility services.
Not all data is available to everyone, though. Obviously, access to financial information or personal details relating to properties and City assets is restricted. Generally, viewing permissions are tailored to a specific user's operational requirements, ensuring they are not overwhelmed with unnecessary amounts of data and detail. Yet some of the spatial information is available to the public via CityMap Viewer and the City's Open Data Portal.
While the publicly available maps do not contain the exhaustive detail available to City employees, they do offer extensive property detail and contain some interesting features, such as historical aerial imagery and survey information.
Spatial information has recently been put to good public use. In January 2019, at the height of the drought, the Water and Sanitation department launched an innovative water map. With it, households could easily view their water consumption online (www.capetown.gov.za/watermap), displayed with location-specific usage indicators as light and dark green dots. The new water map was frequently visited by the city's residents and has played a key part in modifying their levels of usage. This has been documented by the dramatic increase in the number of light green dots on the map—signifying low consumption month over month—after the site's launch.
The water map is not the only GIS web tool the City offers its residents to begin living in a more environmentally sustainable way. The new recycling map is helping local citizens see if they are located within a Think Twice recycling area. These are identified as being near recycling drop-off points, while also providing guidelines on what materials the locations will accept.
There's much more location information available in the growing Open Data Portal. The City's Planning and Building Development Management Department, for example, has used GIS tools to design a customized business viewer (access rights protected) on its internal Spatial Information Portal.
The CityMap Viewer can also assist in the processing of development applications with geospatial tools, such as zoning extracts, locality maps, and property data reports. Additionally, three-dimensional model web scenes of various parts of Cape Town can be accessed via the Open Data Portal. The Information and Knowledge Management Department has also built some very impressive product offerings, and there are many more to come.
Rapid developments in drone technology will soon provide near real-time aerial photography capabilities, which are already being used to track informal settlement fires. Machine learning and other advances in GIS technology appear ready to vastly increase the accuracy and power of spatial information planning tools.
Cape Town's vision is to be the most digitally enabled city on the continent and among the world's leaders in digital transformation. With powerful and sophisticated geospatial tools already being utilized, in conjunction with the provision of online data in the City's public domain, that vision is being realized, one high-tech dataset at a time.
The CityMap Viewer is currently being used by over 30 City departments in the following ways:
- Utility departments can view infrastructure in exacting detail—down to the meter, switch, and valve numbers. This helps users accurately identify faults, plan servitudes and wayleaves, and ensure that new installations do not interfere with existing infrastructure.
- In addition to accessing survey, deed, and zoning information, city planners can examine a wide variety of features on a property—from soil type to flood lines and ecology—helping to guide development.
- Inspectors can efficiently address zoning violation complaints by viewing the imagery remotely and using the drawing and measuring tools.
- Officials can better estimate the population of informal settlements and view historical imagery to more accurately determine future growth.
The open data portal provides public access to a wealth of useful databases
The City of Cape Town became the first local authority in South Africa to provide open, publicly available data when it launched its Open Data Portal in February 2015. What began with 29 datasets has steadily grown to 220 datasets today. The portal continues to provide vast amounts of information available to the public. Any citizen can access the Open Data Portal by visiting odp.capetown.gov.za.
The Open Data Portal provides the following capabilities and benefits:
- Datasets: Access information on Cape Town's population, utilities and services, infrastructure, finance and budgets, dam levels, environment, biodiversity, and much more.
- Answers to questions: Where are all the protected natural areas? When is solid waste collected in my suburb? Where is my nearest recycling drop-off? Do we have detailed aerial imagery I can investigate?
- Maps: Many of the datasets can be viewed as maps, using the ArcGIS mapping and analytics platform.
- Accessibility: Users can download datasets in various formats, depending on the type of data. The available options include raw text, spreadsheets, and SHP and KML files (formats used by GIS mapping software). Many of the datasets have filters, allowing users to select partial datasets or limit the range of information displayed or provided in the downloadable file.
- Data usage: The data is accessed primarily by professional consultancies, researchers, small businesses, nongovernmental organizations, and entrepreneurs. Innovators and entrepreneurs use these large datasets to design new kinds of products, enhance their competitiveness within their market, build social capital, and engage in civic life. Making local government information available to the public in the form of open data also facilitates government transparency, accountability, and public participation.
- Open Data Policy: To maintain the right balance between making data publicly available and maintaining operational integrity and personal privacy, the City approved its Open Data Policy in 2014. This policy determines what is authorized for publication and how it is published. A dedicated user group engages with interested parties and manages requests for datasets.