As referenced in the previous blog entry, “Maps for the Masses: GIS on the web, Neogeography, Volunteered Geography,” there is a growing involvement of citizens using geographic information embedded in GPS, mobile phones, Google Earth, etc. Concurrently, almost every municipality, county and regional agency in the U.S. and a growing number in other countries have means for citizens to view geographic information about the city they reside, usually through some form of online GIS. This increases the transparency of urban planning and local government. However, this is still ‘top-down’ government which is not improving citizen participation directly. There is an opportunity to make GIS dynamic and interactive with its integration with social media, either existing or developed by those involved in public geographic information dissemination (local governments, regional organizations, etc.)
There could be many ways to integrate GIS and social media to enhance citizen participation in local government and urban planning. Many issues in local government are location-oriented: zoning/rezoning; subdivisions, street conditions (i.e., congestion, dangerous intersections/corridors, potholes etc.) crime; urban ‘eyesores such as overgrown yards, broken windows, abandonded buildings etc.; utility problems (i.e., power outages, water shutoffs, gas leaks) and hazardous weather (i.e, hurricanes, tornadoes etc.) These would be made more accessible through making public GIS usable on mobile devises.
For example, a citizen notices that there is a rezoning notice posted in his/her neighborhood and wants to find out more about it and make a comment. The person could search on rezoning on an agency’s online GIS, in his/her neighborhood, click on a link for the rezoning case. There could be the rezoning specifics, the opinion of the planning staff and other public officials with justifications. The person could comment on the rezoning and then give an overall point value favoring or opposing the rezoning (i.e., on a 1 to 10 with 1 meaning complete opposition and 10 complete support for the rezoning.) If there were enough responding around the vicinity of the rezoning, this could be considered an additional imput into the case for or against the rezoning.
The integration of social media and mobile technologies with public GIS opens up numerous possibilities. It may require more applications being developed that would allow for local citizens to interact thorough spatial technologies, but the benefits for citizens and local government may be extraordinary, if not revolutionary. Urban planners and public officials are often requesting information concerning citizen behavior and opinions on issues. This information has mostly been collected through traditional surveys that do not involve the citizens in the process as active participants. The integration of existing social media applications (i.e. Facebook, Twitter etc.) with urban spatial technologies may give a real time measurement of people’s opinions about existing urban problems and involve urban planners and other government officials in a dynamic process between local government and the citizens that they serve. Others such as GPS tracking, which may provide valuable information on citizen movement patterns, but more information could be acquired through its integration who social media. This is an emerging issue, as seen in the below references.
For further reading:
Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (UCL), "Social media and the emergence of open-source geospatial intelligence", in GIS and Agent-Based Modeling blog, 27 January 2012.
Andrew Hunter, Stefan Steiniger and Coral Bliss Taylor, Fédération Internationale des Géomètres/Internation Federation of Surveyors (FIG), "PlanYourPlace: Merging Social Networks and Participatory GIS for Participatory Planning", Proceedings of Working Week, 6-10 May 2012.
Daniel Sui, "Three Reasons GIS Should be Understood as Social Media", in GeoPlace.com,,,
14, October 2012.