Spring 2011

Online Exclusive

South Bend, Indiana, Uses GIS for Brownfields Inventory


  • GIS enhances services provided to the city's citizens.
  • Businesses looking for franchise sites use data shared by the city through GIS.
  • With ArcGIS, South Bend's parcel and environmental data can be easily maintained.

Home to the University of Notre Dame, the city of South Bend, Indiana, is the cultural hub of the stateline region where Michigan and Indiana meet—commonly known as Michiana. Rich in history dating back to early nineteenth century fur trading, the city has undergone many changes as it progressed from frontier and agrarian beginnings to a thriving industrial era, which in turn began to wane by the end of World War II. Today, remnants of abandoned industrial buildings can still be seen around the city. GIS is helping city managers designate areas of risk and prioritize redevelopment projects.

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GIS generated a parcel redevelopment ranking map that shows ranking and weighting factors for helping city planners prioritize parcels in need of remediation.

Seeking to revitalize its commercial corridors, South Bend had set aside city funds for the job and applied for and received an assessment grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Brownfields Program for a redevelopment study. As part of the EPA study, the city used its existing GIS to create a brownfields inventory. The primary goals of the inventory project were to understand the distribution of brownfields within the city, identify the best properties on which to expend redevelopment funds, and create and maintain a database for future projects. The inventory has been useful in applying for additional EPA Brownfields and Land Revitalization funding and for economic development planning.

South Bend's GIS department has been using ArcGIS software since 1999 to manage geographic data and generate maps for different city projects. "Various departments in the City of South Bend have embraced using GIS technology to enhance services provided to its citizens," explains Deb Kuehn, South Bend's GIS manager. "Examples are hot spot mapping of crime, tracking of basement flooding, utility inventory, and basic maps used for various city festivals and events. Much of the work has been taking existing data that has been in different departments and putting it into a standardized format and centralized repository where anyone within the city can find it."

Teaming with a consultant, Esri partner Hull & Associates, Inc., city planners and the GIS department designated the commercial corridors they wanted to study for the project and began creating attribute categories for the database. They identified assets and liabilities based on criteria and ranked them, helping the city target resources for remediation.

Managing and Seeing Data

Initially, the scope of the pilot study included 20,000 parcels for assessment. Today, the project has grown to include data for 46,000 parcels. The database contains ownership and tax information, parcel identification numbers, and zoning maps acquired from county records. The staff uses GIS to process data that represents real-world objects and dynamically links it to an on-screen map. When the data in the database changes, GIS updates the map to reflect these changes. This means that South Bend's parcel and environmental data can be easily maintained and kept current for timely reporting.

In the early years of South Bend's GIS department, much of this information was still in paper form and had to be prepared for computer use. Now the city's database includes digitized data about utilities, zones, parcels, and so forth. Good data is essential for analysis, and the project team considered data quality, quantity, source, and completeness when compiling data resources from local and state government resources. The team also captures information at the site that members verify and log into the geodatabase, which is a collection of geographic datasets for use by ArcGIS.

Inventory, Classification, and Rank

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Example of a South Bend brownfield property.

The brownfields project database includes structural and environmental data; for example, underground storage tank locations and ownership had been previously recorded on a spreadsheet. The project team reused this data by adding it to the geodatabase and generating an underground tank data layer. Numerical environmental risk-level ratings of High, Moderate, or Not an environmental issue were applied to each tank location in the geodatabase. Once location information is added to the geodatabase, it is available for analysis. The user runs a query and visualizes the result on a map.

The project team uses various criteria for ranking parcels in need of remediation and weighting their level for prioritizing remediation. If a property is attached to cross-referenced environmental data found in any of 16 government databases, such as the EPA's Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Information System, and the National Response Centers' Spills and Accidents Database, it is ranked accordingly. Parcels attached to ecological concerns, such as wetlands with unique and endangered species, are factored into the ranking.

Additional considerations are classifications for surface water (flood zones, water quality), groundwater resources (potential resources, use wells, existing wells, land use), general industrial activities (foundries, machine shops), and pollution potential. Community support is essential. Therefore, community acceptance of redevelopment, community input on specific properties, city and county support of redevelopment, and existing owner and outside investor interest are also ranked and weighted. ArcGIS calculates these ranking and weighting factors and generates a parcel redevelopment ranking map that uses a color scale to highlight redevelopment needs.

Support for Economic Development and City Services

The site analysis has also been useful for developing city services, such as adding a fire station. However, South Bend also needs to attract business. Large businesses that are prospecting for franchise sites use GIS technology to consider a site's location value, such as proximity to target markets, transportation, and commercial zoning. Because the city uses GIS, it can share data with these investors, thereby helping them make their decisions. Moreover, the city can support developers with their own efforts in applying for remediation project funds.

More Information

For more information, contact Ann E. Kolata, senior redevelopment specialist, Community and Economic Development, City of South Bend (e-mail:, tel.: 574-235-9374) and Deb Kuehn, GIS manager, City of South Bend (e-mail:, tel.: 574-235-5996). Learn more about urban redevelopment with Hull & Associates, Inc., at Read about other GIS brownfields projects and learn more about Esri's GIS solutions for brownfields management at

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